Federal Research Funding – How much do you know?

Do you know where your funding comes from? In the Life Sciences at McGill graduate students are guaranteed a stipend. Whether that comes from external scholarships, internal awards or directly from your supervisor’s grants depends on a lot of factors. But where does your lab get the money for your reagents, equipment, technical support or publishing costs? How much do you know about the funding climate in Canada? Do you understand how the 3 major federal funding agencies work? Well I didn’t. Not for a long time and not in the grander scheme of things; beyond not getting CIHR 3 years in a row.

However, I’m beginning to appreciated how important it is for us to be informed about how the federal government funds research (science and otherwise). As graduate students, we are directly and indirectly affected by these funding decisions. How many of us have worried about whether or not our boss will renew their grant, or know of labs shutting down for lack of funds? Are there any aspiring PIs out there? If you are hoping to become a PI in Canada, now is the time to get informed about (and involved in) how these funding decisions are being made because in 5, 10, 20 years it will be your grant application that is under review at CIHR, NSERC or SSHRC.

So now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that you should be informed, what would be a good first step? Earlier this year a report was put out that does a large scale review of the major federal funding agencies as well as how research in Canada compares to our peer nations in general, known colloquially as the Naylor Report. It offers many recommendations to the government on how to address perceived concerns in the way research is funded in Canada. I would urge you to read it. I found it rather illuminating.

It’s difficult to summarize here as it touches on a lot of complex points and I wouldn’t want to misinterpret what they are saying, but among other recommendations, it calls for a significant increase in investment in Canadian research, including increased funding for graduate students and post-docs and support for early career investigators. It also highlights investigator-led research over priority-driven research. Admittedly it’s not the easiest read if you, like me, aren’t used to reading policy. And you might not agree with all of it (or any of it); I’m not sure I agree with everything it proposes either. But if this is our future, it’s worth the time to try and understand it.

Now that you’re informed, what’s next? Well I’ve never been overly political and 10th grade civics was a long time ago, so what can I suggest? Well if you have an informed opinion on this report, share your view point! Educate your family and friends; nothing goes better with summer BBQs than politics right? Use social media, #SupporttheReport and #SummerofScienceCAN, and learn about other people’s opinions on this matter. We need more polite, informed discourse. And talk to your Member of Parliament. They are the ones that are going to ultimately support these recommendations or not, and they deserve to hear from their constituents. Federal budgets aren’t drafted the night before. If we want our opinions heard, we need to start early, we need to start now.

So in conclusion, whatever your opinion might be, make sure it’s an informed opinion. I’m not here to preach, I only recently started taking an interest in politics and I know we all have a million other things on our minds. But I think this is one issue that really does touch a lot of graduate students and if it wasn’t brought to my attention I wouldn’t have known about it either. So this is me bringing it to your attention and making a promise to myself to try and be more informed in general.


Banner Image by Gautherottiphaine // pixabay.

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