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CSMB advocacy – February 2014

The CSMB is advocating for increased support for fundamental research in Canada pursuing three complementary strategies.

First, we ask recent recipients of funding from major federal granting agencies to contact their local MPs as well as the ministers overseeing funding agencies to write brief letters outlining the discoveries this funding will facilitate and how this will benefit all Canadians. We have been having an impressive response, and we encourage all members to continue. Importantly, we have initiated a dialogue with the Honourable James Moore, Industry Minister regarding research funding in Canada.

We have also responded to Industry Canada’s recent request of consultation for feedback on Canadian Science, Technology and Innovation policy. Our response to Minister Moore highlights what we feel is positive about the current direction of the government, but we also strongly advocate for funding enabling increased success rates at the NSERC and CIHR open operating grant competitions. This letter supports a similar response from Research Canada – supported in part by your CSMB membership dues. 

Finally, the CSMB has issued a formal response to the recent federal budget again reminding the government that while increased overall funding for research is appreciated, a major problem continues to be the declining funding rates at the major agencies that fund basic molecular bioscience research in Canada (NSERC and CIHR).


 

 

CSMB Response to NSERC Request for Consultation

April 1, 2013

Ms Isabelle Blain
Vice-President
Research Grants and Scholarship
NSERC

Dear Ms Blain,

The Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB), previously known as the Canadian Society of Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology (CSBMCB), thanks you for the opportunity to participate in the evaluation of the Discovery Grants Program. Since 2011, the CSMB includes the members of the former Genetics society of Canada and therefore represents scientists with a wide variety of disciplines in the biosciences.

The consultation questions were circulated to all of our members who were requested to forward their comments to the CSMB for preparation of a response from the Society. A number of responses were forwarded which assisted greatly in the preparation of this report.

Our report is structured as a series of responses to the consultation questions.

Role of the Discovery Grants Program

Q.1 ? What role does or should the Discovery Grants program play in funding NSE research, including basic or fundamental research, high-risk research and multidisciplinary research?

The NSERC Discovery Grants program and its predecessors the NSERC and earlier the NRC Operating Grant programs have played a crucial role in the development of excellent research programs at Canadian universities. As stated by one of our members “There are few, if any, other sources of stable funding for fundamental research, which supplies ideas and new discoveries that can eventually be incorporated into applied research”. Basic research is the engine behind applied research and it also provides the training for personnel who will later be involved in basic research. As another member states “As you are aware, the International Review Committee reported in 2007 that NSERC’s Discovery Grant program was a model for broad-based support of basic science, and specifically noted that there was no evidence to suggest that NSERC was funding anything other than excellent research.” Clearly NSERC should be proud of its central role in the development of an excellent basic research community. Certainly the NSERC Discovery Grants program should continue to play this crucial role in Canadian Science.

Nevertheless, a major concern expressed by members was their perception of the declining portion of the NSERC budget dedicated to basic research with more emphasis being placed on applied research.

Certainly applied research is important and we realize that there maybe political directives to increase the proportion of funding dedicated to it. However, basic research is of fundamental importance to the maintenance and advancement of the Canadian research community as well as for all the applications that will ultimately emerge. One member states “It is difficult to understand why the government needs to be continually reminded that lack of funding for fundamental and high-risk research in the present will cripple applied research in the future?” We hope that NSERC will continue to make this point to decision makers.

A related major concern is the decline in success rates and in the size of the average grant. The funds available do not allow for successful applicants to have research programs that reach their full potential. The low success rate of new applicants prevents them from developing research programs at the important initial stage of their university career. The failure of productive applicants to obtain renewals means a break in continuity of their research programs and possibly demise of them while applicants still have years of potential productivity ahead of them.

Finally, the decline in success rates reduces the diversity of research in Canada and concerns were especially expressed for smaller universities. To paraphrase a comment from a member an extra $30,000 to a large lab provides support for example for an additional postdoctoral fellow doing research closely related to others in the laboratory whereas that same funding given to a small laboratory supports an entire research program in a completely different area.

Q.2 ? Do you believe that the current focus and objective of the Discovery Accelerator Supplements are appropriate?

There was a difference of opinion of members responding to this question. Some supported the DAS but felt that they should not be targeted but rather available to the most outstanding applications. Others thought the DAS should be discontinued and the funds put into the Discovery Grants budget to increase success rates and/or average grant sizes. Considering that the new evaluation process allows for significant increases of funding given to excellent applications, it is not clear whether the DAS program is still as justified as it was when it was originally designed.

Program Design and Delivery

The performance and outcomes of the Discovery Grants program are measured against three program objectives:

  1. promote and maintain a diversified base of high-quality research capability in the natural sciences and engineering in Canadian universities;
  2. foster research excellence; and
  3. provide a stimulating environment for research training.

Applicants to the Discovery Grants program are assessed on the following three selection criteria, as judged by their peers:

  1. the excellence of the researcher(s) as demonstrated by the quality and impact of their recent research achievements;
  2. the merit of their research proposal; and
  3. their achievements in, and plans for, research training.

Currently, these three program selection criteria are equally weighted.

Q. 3 ? Do you believe that this is appropriate, based on the three program objectives, or should certain criteria be weighted higher or lower relative to the other criteria, and why?

Members responding agreed that all three program objectives should be assessed but differed in the proportions that they believe should be assigned to the criteria. Several suggested the HQP criteria should be weighted less than the other two criteria.

In 2009 and 2010, NSERC implemented a new peer review system, which involved the following changes:

  1. a two-stage review process that decouples the merit assessment of applications from the funding decision;
  2. a merit assessment that provides a rating for each of the three selection criteria based on a common set of Merit Indicators; and
  3. a new committee structure made up of 12 Evaluation Groups that function in a conference model.

Q. 4 ? Does the new peer-review system enable NSERC to ensure consistency and fairness in the assessment process, across applications?

Members expressed general satisfaction with the new peer-review system. As one member stated “Peer review is a human system and, as such, will never be perfect. But the one we use now is probably better than the alternatives.”

Q. 5 ? Does the new peer-review system enable meritorious applicants, regardless of their career stage, to increase their funding more quickly?

One member answered this question as follows. “YES with the exception of HQP. By virtue of their ‘newness’ in the system, ECR generally score moderate for HQP, with a few getting strong. It is recognized that new faculty in a first tenure-track position cannot possibly have the same HQP record as an ER, even with a stellar training plan. This is accounted for to some extent by funding to bin K for ECR. However, beyond that, anyone can get into a high funding bin if they have the past record and an excellent proposal.” I would concur with this but would add that the overall funding available for the Discovery Grants program does put a brake on the level of increased funding available for applicants at all career stages.

Arthur J. Hilliker
President, Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences


Research and innovation remain at the forefront of the Federal 2013 Budget
CSMB Board Members' Response to the Federal Budget

Posted: April 6, 2013

The 2013 Federal Budget made it clear that Research and Innovation remains a key priority for the government and that they have positive impact on Canada’s economy. Importantly, while other sectors are being impacted by austerity measures and budget cuts, overall federal support for research and development was increased. The Canadian Society of Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) applauds the government’s continued commitment to build a world-class research and innovation culture that is essential for Canada’s long-term prosperity. However, the CSMB is concerned that the emphasis on applied research may erode Canada’s capacity for discovery-based research and as a consequence, its applications in future.

The CSMB was pleased to see that there was an additional $165 million for Genome Canada to support new competitions. Further, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has been granted access to accrued interest on the foundations endowment which will allow them to invest $225 million into advanced research infrastructure. This is especially welcome news for academic researchers in light of the fact that equipment grants were terminated at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and that the size of the program was reduced at NSERC.

Importantly, the overall funding of the Tri-council granting agencies remained unchanged and did not experience substantial budget cuts seen for other agencies. Though there was an announced increase of $37 million, this compensates for planned cuts of the same amount and these newly announced funds are targeted to specific priorities. In the case of the $15 million per year new funding for NSERC, $12 million of that will be targeted to the College and Community Innovation Program. The $15 million received by CIHR are slated for the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research. There was no increase for core research grants or trainee scholarships.

The biggest gains for research in the 2013 Economic Action Plan were for applied research and business innovation. This included $121 million over two years to align the research of the National Research Council with key business sectors; $20 million over three years to aid small and medium sized business with access to research and business development services at post-secondary institutions and significant changes to Canada’s Venture Capital system to promote innovation.

Though it is important for the Canadian economy that business-related Research and Development (R&D) is supported and that Canada creates an innovation-based entrepreneurial business environment that funds R&D, the CSMB is concerned that this is occurring at the expense of basic discovery research. “Blue-sky” research and training have a value as such in a knowledge-based society like ours, even though it may not appear to have immediate commercialization possibilities. In addition, “Blue-sky” research is known to provide the foundation for entire industries and to be the basis of novel therapeutics. Sufficient and stable funding of unfettered discovery research is therefore essential for Canada to maintain a healthy research enterprise, as well as sustain its longer-term competitiveness and future prosperity, and also to train the next generation of innovators.

The CSMB is committed to continue advocating for increased funding for discovery based research for Canadian researchers through both our own initiatives and our continued involvement with Research Canada.

What you can do? CSMB members are encouraged to write to the Prime Minister, their Member of Parliament and/or Cabinet Ministers  to thank them for their support of the research enterprise in Canada with a short personal success story (discovery, invention, start-up company, successful trainee, etc.) showing the benefits of the continued investment in discovery research.


Research Canada's Health Research Advocacy Newsletter
October 2012

CIHR Reforms Update

As you are aware, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has undertaken a reform of its Open Suite of Programs and peer review process. From the outset, Research Canada’s members expressed concerns both with regards to the proposals being put forward by CIHR and the quality of the communications surrounding the initiative. Many of our members were not clear on what the reforms’ process would entail and how long it would take. Nor were you clear on the agency’s plan to engage you in constructive dialogue and glean the expertise and experience of the community in reshaping the Programs and peer review process.

You also know that Research Canada took it upon itself to communicate our members concerns to Drs. Alain Beaudet and Aubin in the spring of this year and to engage in an ongoing dialogue to stress the importance of clearly communicating information to the community as it becomes available and to offer counsel on ways the agency could engage our members and the broader sector in meaningful exchanges where all parties were heard and understood.

In September of this year, Research Canada undertook a Membership Survey to engage RC’s members in the organization’s strategic planning process by soliciting their views on organizational and sectoral challenges and RC’s role in the sector. During the interviews our members raised the CIHR reforms’ process and provided us with more of their views.

You told us the following:

  • The reform process is a lot of change all at once especially in light of all of the other changes that are occurring simultaneously at other funding agencies at the federal and provincial levels and within the health charity sector. While many of our members recognized the need for changes to the current system, this amount of change all at once was causing push back on CIHR reforming both the Open Suite of Programs and peer review at the same time.

  • The reform process must be driven first and foremost by the need for better results from both the Open Suite of Programs and the peer review process. It should not be driven by a costs-saving agenda.

  • The implementation of the proposed changes will have significant costs associated with them. RC’s members want to know how the implementation phase will be funded.

  • The creation of a Task Force comprised of members of the health research community to advise CIHR on the reforms’ process was seen as a step in the right direction by many of our members. Also, CIHR’s receptivity in terms of piloting and modeling of the proposed changes gave some comfort to our members.

  • More information is required from CIHR on an ongoing basis. Many of you told us that more regular updates from CIHR would help you to feel much more a part of the process and provide you with opportunities to offer your suggestions and voice your concerns.

  • There were many other detailed suggestions that we took away with us from these interviews. Last week, Research Canada met with CIHR to share these latest views from RC’s members. They were very receptive to the concerns and points we raised and indicated that these points reinforced a lot of what they were hearing from their own town halls across the country. They informed RC that they are in the throes of having internal discussions and will be sharing more information with the health research community in the weeks ahead.

Research Canada will continue to monitor this issue moving forward in the interests of ensuring that our members’ individual and collective voices are heard and understood.

Let us continue to work together to build a strong health research enterprise in Canada.


About Research Canada: An Alliance for Health Discovery

Research Canada is a national, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health and prosperity of Canadians by championing Canada's global leadership in health research. Working for all Canadians, its members and partners are drawn from all sectors dedicated to increasing investments in health research, including the leading health research institutes, national health charities, hospitals, regional health authorities, universities, private industry and others.


 

The Scientific Community Responds to CIHR's Proposed Reforms to the Open Suite of Programs and to the Peer Review Process

Updated: May 1, 2012

Dear Colleagues,

On February 9, 2012, CIHR released a document describing proposed changes to the open suite of programs and the peer review process. If implemented, these proposals will introduce broad-ranging and fundamental changes to the mechanisms by which operating grant funds are distributed. We urge all members of the "CIHR community" to carefully examine the proposals  and to respond to the on-line poll established by CIHR. In addition, considering the inherent limitations of prescribed questions, we encourage you all to personally or collectively communicate your views directly to CIHR.

We also encourage you to share your views of these proposals and so this site has been set up for that purpose. We believe that the proposed changes would represent the most significant changes since CIHR was established and therefore merit a careful examination from all possible perspectives. Your views will be especially valuable at this time in helping to shape policies that will enable Canadian research community to sustain it's enviable reputation on the international stage.

  1. March 14, 2012 - U. of Toronto, Dept. of Biochemistry, Research Committee
  2. 16 Mach 2012, Jacques Cote, Laval University, Cancer Research Center
  3. March 20, 2012 - University Affairs
  4. March 21, 2012 - McGill Univeristy
  5. March 27, 2012 - Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation
  6. March 27, 2012 - UBC Junior Investigator Response Letter
  7. March 30, 2012 - Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  8. April 2, 2012 - UBC - Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences
  9. April 7, 2012 - The Lancet Editorial - Vol 379 "Catastrophic neglect of the basic sciences in medicine"    
  10. April 20, 2012 - CSMB Response Letter to CIHR Reforms - Sent to Drs. A. Beaudet and J. Aubin
  11. April 23, 2012 - UBC - Biochemistry Department
  12. April 23, 2012 - Mike Tyers - Université de Montréal
  13. April 26, 2012 - University of British Columbia - Department of Medicine Response to CIHR
  14. April 26, 2012 - Research Canada Letter to RC Members re CIHR Reforms
  15. April 27, 2012 - Laval University and Québec University Hospital - CIHR Letter
  16. May 1, 2012 - Universite de Montreal, Department de biochimie

Further updates from CIHR on the proposed changes to the open suite and peer review process


The 1,000 Letters Project

Posted: March 11, 2011

The goal of this project is to send 1,000 letters to the Minister of Health, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and your local M.P. concerning the need for further investments in CIHR to provide internationally competitive levels of funding to our researchers and to allow CIHR to fulfill its mandate to improve the health and prosperity of Canadians.

Via Post:
The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, P.C., M.P.
Health Canada
Brooke Claxton Building, Tunney's Pasture
Postal Locator: 0906C
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9


The letter should be positive and include the following elements:

  • Re: CIHR
  • thank the government for its many investments in health research
  • tell a personal story on the positive impact of CIHR and how the research we conduct improves the health and prosperity of Canadians
  • raise a concern about the research enterprise, operating grants, international competitiveness, etc
  • suggest further government investments in CIHR (e.g., The 7% Solution: a government commitment to an additional investment of 7% per year in CIHR would double its budget to $2 billion in 10 years.)

Reinhart Reithmeier
University of Toronto
CIHR University Delegate
r.reithmeier@utoronto.ca

Jean-Pierre Perreault
Jean-Pierre.Perreault@usherbrooke.ca 

Send Your Letters Today!


From the President’s Desk

March 10th, 2011

Dear Members:

The Toronto Star recently published a powerful Op-Ed piece by Dr. Reinhart Reithmeier, entitled « Let’s Own the Podium in Health Research ». You can read it at: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/947633--let-s-own-the-podium-in-health-research

Briefly, Dr. Reithmeier points out that Canada’s investments in the Let’s own the Podium Program have been an outstanding success that led to heightened performances by our athletes and a record number of Canadian medals at the Vancouver Olympics. He went on to point out the excellence of Canadian health researchers whose past contributions have been rewarded by Nobel Prizes. Dr. Reithmeier warns, however, that if Canada is to maintain its competitive edge and its position as one of the world’s health research leaders, it must not fall behind in its financial support to CIHR. Injecting an additional 7% into CIHR’s annual budget every year over the next 10 years would double the budget of Canada’s leading health research funding agency. New investments will enable Canada’s best scientific minds to remain leaders at the international level and step up to the Nobel podium once again! Importantly, this investment would also help us to maintain and enhance the quality of our health care system and ensure that we are training and recruiting the best people to build for the future.

I invite you all to actively take part in the 1,000 Letters Project, the details of which are posted on the CSBMCB Advocacy page: http://www.csbmcb.ca/advocacy.aspx . The goal of this project is to send 1,000 letters to the Minister of Health, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and your local MP concerning the need for further investment in CIHR to provide internationally competitive levels of funding to our researchers and to allow CIHR to fulfill its mandate to improve the health and prosperity of Canadians. If each and every one of us sends out a letter, we will collectively succeed in making a difference for the development of Canadian health research and a stronger economy.

Jean-Pierre Perreault
President, Canadian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology


2010 Canadian Science Policy Conference
Better Policies, Better Science

October 20-22, 2010
Montreal, Canada
www.sciencepolicy.ca

Canadian Science Policy Conference Canadian Science Policy Conference CSPC is designed to fill a critical gap in the Canadian science policy environment: the absence of a permanent national forum to discuss science policy.

CSPC is Canada’s most comprehensive, multi-sector, multi-disciplinary event devoted to science policy: a “must attend” annual conference for Canada’s science policy community.

CSPC objectives:
  1. To identify and discuss current Canadian science policy.
  2. Forge stronger links between stakeholders and policy- makers.

2010 Conference: 

• Build on momentum and dialogue of CSPC 2009
• Also, considering the global economic recession, increasing competition for talent, labour market shortfalls and demographic challenges, S&T investment and appropriate supporting policy have never been more critical.
• Federal government is shifting from short-term stimulus efforts to long-term strategies for productivity and innovation.

Therefore, the presence of science policy community is more important than ever. CSBMCB is a bronze sponsor of the CSPC 2010 Conference. A representative from the CSBMCB Executive will be participating and later reporting to the membership.


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