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WHAT'S NEW  ::  CSM & Microbiology

CSM & Microbiology

September 29, 2017
Science and Policy Exchange -Open Letter

To: Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth Cc: Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance; Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science; Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Science and Economic Development

10 July 2017

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

As student researchers training to be Canada’s next generation of scientists and innovators, we have been encouraged to see you take meaningful steps toward fulfilling your commitment to supporting scientific research excellence in Canada. We were especially pleased by the decision to commission an Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science. The resulting Fundamental Science Review (FSR) provides a thorough evaluation of the research funding ecosystem and offers 35 clear recommendations to strengthen the foundations of Canadian research through increasing federal funding, improving coordination of funding agencies, and promoting diversity. The Canadian scientific community has overwhelmingly welcomed the Review and its recommendations, and has called for their implementation in a unified voice. We join our colleagues to strongly urge that the recommendations from the Fundamental Science Review be implemented in full.

Canada has fallen behind in its support of research compared to our peer nations. Not only is Canada the only G7 country where R&D spending (as percentage of GDP) has declined in the last decade, we are no longer among the top 30 nations in total research spending. This decline jeopardizes Canada’s competitiveness in research and innovation on the international stage. Implementing the funding increase recommended in the FSR, an increase of 37% over 4 years, restores federal annual spending to 2007 levels and is a crucial step in reaffirming your commitment to research excellence in Canada. Furthermore, and of equal importance, the FSR highlights the need to remedy the prolonged funding imbalance between priority-driven research and independent, investigator-led fundamental research8 . The current federal budget prioritizes initiatives which support the growth of Canadian innovation, including the development of innovation superclusters, artificial intelligence, and clean energy developments. While we applaud this, it is fundamentally important to support investigator-led basic research, as innovation is impossible without discovery and new scientific knowledge.

While we advocate increased funding for fundamental research because it yields discoveries that are important for all Canadians, it is important to specify that the majority of research grant dollars are dedicated to job creation and training. These are the salaries supporting graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other research staff who perform discovery research in the field, in the lab, and in the computational cloud. As both the next generation of scientists and the current workforce of Canadian research, we are the population most affected by changes in research funding and operations. Guided by the research goals outlined in their supervisors’ tri-council grants, trainees (students and postdoctoral fellows) have catalyzed innumerable breakthroughs in technology, medicine, and agriculture, which continue to impact Canada’s economy and international standing. Classic examples of societyaltering achievements borne out of basic research in Canada include the discovery of the atomic nucleus and insulin, giving rise to the discipline of nuclear physics and a life-saving treatment for diabetic patients, respectively. Today, fundamental science continues to produce impactful discoveries from mechanisms of fungal resistance in crops to innovative and inexpensive water purification processes. These discoveries are frequently translated into industry and new businesses, stimulating the creation of new jobs. Increasing federal support for fundamental research creates jobs for skilled professionals, which in turn grows the Canadian economy and middle class.

Several reports, have stressed that students are veering away from research careers, and that a majority of graduates now find employment outside of academia. While we agree that the more favorable research climate envisioned by the FSR may retain more graduates in knowledge-generating research careers, it is equally important to view the graduate degree as a training program for advanced vocational and professional skills. Your decision to act according to the recommendations of the FSR will provide training opportunities to an entire generation of talented students who otherwise may not have the means to pursue research or to develop critical skills which can accompany a graduate degree; these include project management, self-directed learning, leadership, big data analysis, digital literacy, creative problem solving, effective communication, and entrepreneurship. These students are no longer only the next generation of scientists, but also the next generation of skilled professionals across the public and private sectors. Investing in students through fundamental research supports a training program that positions Canada to reach its potential as a global leader in innovation and scientific knowledge into the next decade.

Supporting students through fundamental research also furthers values that are integral to the fabric of Canadian society. Students are a hugely diverse population. Within our academic departments, we not only share our labs and offices with colleagues of all cultural backgrounds and from all parts of Canada, but also with international students from across the globe. Furthermore, women now outnumber men in many graduate programs, while the ranks of tenured professors are still dominated by men. We know that your government is strongly committed to fostering diversity and equity in science and beyond. Reinvigorating scholarship and fellowship programs that propel the careers of diverse student researchers, as recommended by the FSR, promotes diversity and equity beyond the student body and into the professoriate and other leadership positions.

A strong foundation of fundamental research that is robustly supported by both the government and the public benefits Canada in many ways – including scientific and innovation excellence, job creation, cultivation of the next generation of skilled professionals, and diversity. The benefits of research are not always obvious, and we cannot overemphasize the importance of fostering a society which is driven by curiosity.

“A society that does not widely nurture curiosity and creativity across successive generations is at risk of turning inwards. In contrast, a society that values and supports scientists and scholars from a range of disciplines is much more likely to remain a global beacon of inclusion and social solidarity —as we firmly believe Canada has become, and must remain.”

Our intent with this letter is to highlight the reality that students are not merely participants, but rather are primary stakeholders in how the landscape of federal support for fundamental research unfolds in the short and long term. We enthusiastically support the recommendations of the Fundamental Science Review, and we look forward to taking part in future discussions on decisions that will affect the training, employment, and careers of Canada’s students.


1. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (2016, March 22) Growing the middle class: the 2016 Canadian federal budget, p113. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2016/docs/plan/toc-tdm-en.htm

2. Memorandum of Agreement Between the Treasury Board and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada with Respect to Scientific Integrity. (2016, Dec 8). https://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/.../moa_ scientific_integrity.en.pdf

3. Statistics Canada (2015, Nov 6) Statement on the 2016 Census of Population and the mandatory long form. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/about/smr09/smr09_056

4. Department of Finance Canada (2017, March 30) Growing Canada’s Advantage in Artificial Intelligence.http://www.fin.gc.ca/n17/17-026-eng.asp

5. Government of Canada (Accessed 2017, June 28) Funding to develop and grow business-led innovation superclusters in Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/innovation-scienceeconomic-development/programs/small-businessfinancing-growth/innovation-superclusters/fundingsuperclusters.html

6. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p30. http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home

7. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p151. http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home

8. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p115.

9. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (2016, March 22) Growing the middle class: the 2016 Canadian federal budget, p150. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2016/docs/plan/toc-tdmen.html

10. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p139. http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home

11. NobelPrize.org (Accessed 2017, July 2) Ernest Rutherford - Biographical http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laure ates/1908/rutherford-bio.html

12. NobelPrize.org (Accessed 2017, July 1) The Discovery of Insulin https://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/insulin /discovery-insulin.html

13. Mousa W et al (2016) Root-hair endophyte stacking in finger millet creates a physicochemical barrier to trap the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum. Nature Microbiology 1:16167. doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.167

14. Chemical Institute of Canada (2017) Queen's University chemistry professor Philip Jessop is using a switchable solute to drive a forward osmosis process for cleaning industrial wastewater. http://www.cheminst.ca/magazine/feature-story/newswitcheroo

15. Science & Policy Exchange (2016, Nov 7) Student perspective of STEM education in Canada. http://www.sp-exchange.ca/news/STEM-White-Paper/

16. Global Young Academy (2017) Restoring Canada’s Competitiveness in Fundamental Research: The View from the Bench. https://globalyoungacademy.net/wpcontent/uploads/2017/06/GYA-2017- FundResearchReport-LoRes.pdf

17. The Conference Board of Canada (2015) Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PhDs for Careers. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/elibrary/abstract.aspx?did=7564

18. University Affairs (2017) Why Canada has become a destination of choice for international graduate students. http://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/in-myopinion/canada-become-destination-choiceinternational-graduate-students/

19. Statistics Canada (2016, Oct 20) International students in Canadian Universities, 2004/2005 to 2013/2014. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-599-x/81-599- x2016011-eng.pdf

20. Statistics Canada (2010) University enrolment, by sex, registration status and program type, Canada and provinces, 1998/1999, 2003/2004 and 2008/2009. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-582- x/2010004/tbl/tbld1.5-eng.htm

21. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p93. http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home

22. Canada Research Chairs (2017, May 4) New measures to recruit more women, underrepresented groups to Canada Research Chairs. http://www.chairschaires.gc.ca/media-medias/releasescommuniques/2017/equity-equite-eng.aspx

23. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Accessed 2017, June 28) Selection Criteria for PromoScience. http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/PromoterPromotion/PromoScience-PromoScience/CriteriaCriteres_eng.asp

24. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (2017, March 22). Building a strong middle class #Budget 2017: The 2017 Canadian Federal Budget. ScienceBudget 2017 Proposal: Innovative Solutions Canada focus on women and underrepresented, p86 http://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/plan/toc-tdm-en.html

25. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science (2017) Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, p21. http://www.sciencereview.ca/eic/site/059.nsf/eng/home


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