We're conducting a survey of start-up packaged offered and awarded to new faculty/new scientists who do health research in Canada. You are eligible if you started a position as an independent investigator in health research in Canada between 2008 and 2018 (inclusive).
We will share the compiled results afterwards so you can see how your start-up package compared to those of your peers.
1. Restoring TriCouncil: B
The Good: Budget 2017—with nothing for the granting councils—was hard for Canadian researchers. We were still on our honeymoon with a new government that had told us everything we wanted to hear about how they valued science and recognized the dire condition our science funding system is in. Budget 2018 will increase the operating budget of the Tricouncil by $925M, though it will take five years to get there. This is a real dollar increase of 14%.
The Bad: It is not enough. It falls short of the recommendation of the Fundamental Science Review, which was considered by many to be a near-minimum, stabilizing investment. The Fundamental Science Review (page 35) identified an overall decrease of 35% in “resources available per active researcher to do investigator-led research.” We have heard from this government that Canadian science suffered a decade of neglect, and we agree. The TriCouncil increases described here can safely be called "no longer neglected" but they cannot be called a growth investment. Yet this government wants growth, as indicated by large investments in recruitment and infrastructure. We hope that this budget is a start to backfilling the hole the granting council programs have been in.
2. Open, unfettered programs: B-
The Good: 28.6% of the funds in section 2.1 are allocated to the first line item, “Granting Councils.” Another 9.2% are allocated to, “Granting Councils: New Tri-Council Fund,” and “Granting Councils: Increasing Diversity in Science.” The extent to which these latter two address shortfalls in open funding remains to be seen as details of implementation emerge, but there is potential for them to do so. The New Tri-Council Fund may help address the difficulties identified in the Fundamental Science Review around funding interdisciplinary research, particularly when disciplines cover more than one agency. We hope this new fund will reproduce the strengths of existing open programs. Open programs have few restrictions on field or investigator factors, use existing, rigorous processes to review proposals and administer funds, and are arguably the most efficient means of procuring research.
The Bad: Two of the main weaknesses of the funding system identified in the Fundamental Science Review were 1) an imbalance in which strategic funds were too large a proportion of federal science funding, and 2) a proliferation of niche mechanisms at the expense of core operating grant programs. About a quarter of the funds in section 2.1 are allocated to targeted programs. This approaches the same proportion as the potentially open operating funds above. The Fundamental Science Review recommended a significant movement back toward the 70:30 balance of open to targeted operating funds that existed in the 2000s. The programs listed in section 2.1 are undoubtedly good programs, but as details emerge of how these funds are allocated, the potential ratio between unfettered and fettered funds remains a concern.
3. Operating, salary, infrastructure, and indirects: C
The Good: Funding research is how the federal government procures knowledge and technical expertise, trains skilled workers for advanced industries, and addresses short-, medium-, and long-term societal needs on behalf of taxpayers. It is good that this government recognizes the real costs of research. There is little point in hiring and funding scientists who do cutting-edge research if our universities can't provide the buildings, facilities, and overhead required to support these efforts. This budget addresses some issues with the unpredictability of infrastructure funding.
The Bad: There is money in this budget for new CRCs (people) and an emphasis on infrastructure growth. These are necessary, but were never the major problem, as made clear well before and within the Fundamental Science Review. The most urgent problem is that operating funds have not kept pace and are insufficient for the people and infrastructure we have. This budget continues to get the balance wrong, in the same way the previous government’s budgets did. It maintains a low indirect cost rate to institutions against the strong recommendations of the Fundamental Science Review.
4. Equity, diversity, and inclusion: A
The Good: Canada seems to be moving toward a US Title IX-type requirement that institutions receiving federal funds have adequate policies for dealing with gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The government is incentivizing the implementation of Athena SWAN, an equity program that originated in the UK, and better data collection at research institutions.
The Bad: Giving funds to institutions to address their equity problems is good, but does not directly address the biases some researchers fact in obtaining research support. The government "expects" granting councils to target new CRCs to early-career researchers (ECRs). CRCs are salary awards. Early-career scientists, just like everyone else, need operating funds to conduct research. It is worth noting that in 2015, over half of the scientists holding a CIHR-funded Tier 2 Canada Research Chair lacked CIHR operating funds. Neither the expansion of this program nor its suggested targeting toward ECRs will address the research funding concerns faced by ECRs. The most equitable and fair way to support ECRs (who are also the most diverse pool of scientists) is to have robust open granting programs. These programs are where early-career researchers thrive, and this is where gender disparities in funding outcomes are lowest. (We lack data about any other disparities.)
5. Sustainability: C
The Good: Multi-year commitment to permanently increased base budgets for granting councils.
The Bad: The mismatch between growth in people and infrastructure relative to open operating funds, unaddressed in this budget, will continue to impede Canadian research. There is little in this budget addressing the carefully articulated and critical "researcher lifecycle" issues raised in the Fundamental Science Review. Without a clear signal that Canada's research ecosystem will have the long-term capacity to provide fair, competitive opportunities for researchers at all career stages to obtain operating funds, sustainability remains a weakness.
6. Honesty: A-
The Good: The budget is largely transparent in terms of science policy.
The Bad: This was referred to this as "the single largest investment in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history." This is not a single investment, it goes into effect and ramps up over five years. Annualized, the investment is better characterized as moderate compared to previous budgets. In the early 2000s, the granting councils had multiple larger annual increases to their base budgets than this budget proposes.
Overall Grade: B
We approached this grading exercise from the reference point that full implementation of the Fundamental Science Review would result in an A. This budget is a good start, thus earning a B. It is responsive to the Fundamental Science Review and takes steps toward the Minister of Science's laudable and essential goal of improving equity in academic research. However, "responsive to" is only a start, and Budget 2018 falls short on important parts of the Naylor Report: the scale of the reinvestment in open operating supporting, correcting the strategic vs. discovery imbalance that has developed over the past decade, and improving the balance among operating, infrastructure, and salary support. These imbalances remain, with moderate investments made across the board.
Researchers need to make a stronger case for how essential open programs are to the government's goals of a world-class, equitable research enterprise that trains and supports the next generation of researchers, generates new knowledge, puts Canada back on track to compete internationally in research, and solves problems for Canadians and people around the world.
The federal government of Canada is releasing its annual budget Tuesday. Rumour has it that this budget will have a significant focus on science, and on women. Both of these issues are of interest to us. We are scientists, and because we are early in our careers as professors and research scientists, we have a higher proportion of women than more senior cohorts.
About ACECHR. Our purpose has been and continues to be to advocate for a healthy, equitable, sustainable health research enterprise. We have been engaging actively with federal science funding policy since we formed in 2016 in response to changes in health research funding. We have worked with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and with officials from the federal government to address projected inequities in health research funding for early career and mid-career investigators and for investigators who are women. Results from grant funding competitions with and without the policies we advocated show that without these policies, gaps in funding would be even worse than they are. We have also advocated for evidence-based investment in research through social media campaigns and--together with organizations like Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange, and large groups of researchers across fields--supported researchers meeting with elected representatives to discuss evidence-based science policy.
About the Naylor report. Our group formed around concerns with changes at CIHR. Many of our members were invited to several different meetings with the Fundamental Science Review, most notably the panels focusing on early career researchers and on equity. Like many in the scientific community, we were concerned when the members of the Fundamental Science Review were announced and were almost entirely former administrators, not active scientists. However, we were pleased to read their measured, evidence-based report, grounded in a solid understanding of how science and research function. We looked forward (and continue to look forward) to the federal government acting on the advice they had requested.
About our report card. We will be assessing the budget on how well this government does on six items:
Overall grade on evidence-based science policy. Our overall impression of this government’s commitment to implementing the evidence-based report they commissioned and investing in the future of Canadian science.
Here is a one-page brief to help researchers (and others, if desired) contact the Minister of Finance and express support for increased funding for TriCouncil.
Increased TriCouncil funding was a key recommendation of the Fundamental Science Review commissioned by the federal government.
CIHR recently announced more changes to their open grant programs:
CIHR stated: "To ensure that ECIs are not disadvantaged by this new restriction, CIHR will continue its policy of equalizing the success rates of ECIs in the Project Grant program (i.e., the success rate of ECIs will be equal to the proportion of ECIs who applied). This equalization should ensure that a comparable number of ECIs still receive funding."
This equalization policy was already in place in the Project Grants program and will simply be continued within that program. Cutting ECIs out of the other open program represents a potential net loss of funding to ECIs.
To ensure equity for ECIs going forward, we estimate that there should be approximately 50 additional funded ECI grants in the Project grants competition this year. We expect that CIHR’s commitment to intervene if necessary will include ensuring that this increased share in Project Grants is reflected. Otherwise, this new policy will increase damage to young investigators by further reducing overall funds available to ECIs.
We also continue to strongly recommend equalization for mid-career investigators (MCIs). The group of 50–60 scientists that met last summer on July 13, 2016 recognized the importance of supporting both ECIs and MCIs. Failure to move forward on this disappointed our national co-chairs who served on the Peer Review Working Group. Mid-career is a stage of enormous innovation and productivity. Let’s make use of that potential to improve the health of Canadians and the quality and sustainability of the Canadian health systems.
 ECIs previously received 5% (Foundation 1) to 13% (Foundation 2) of total funds allocated to Foundation. Taking the average of these two competitions (9%) and the new allocation to Foundation ($125M), this new policy is removing around $11M from ECIs. Note that we also look forward to hearing CIHR’s proposed plans for an off-ramp for those ECIs and others holding Foundation grants, given that the program is being scaled down considerably. ECIs who received a Foundation grant in the 2014-2015 competition are now in budget year 3 of their 5-year grants. They need a way to move forward.
 Based on mean grant size in the last Project grant competition (about $670K), $125M represents approximately 185 Project grants. ECIs submitted 22.7% of applications in the last Project grant competition and ECI grants tend to be smaller. Therefore, if this $125M were awarded as Project grants under the equalization policy, the ECI share would be in the neighbourhood of 50 additional grants. In the context of the new Foundation/Project split, equalization within the Project grant competition may result in that many additional ECI grants. If it fails to do so, we expect to see CIHR intervene immediately.
We sent the following letter to Dr. McInnes, interim president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in response to the announcement of a delay to the upcoming Project Grant cycle.
[May 7: edited from original to list only primary affiliations in signature]
Our national co-chairs are meeting with the International Peer Review Expert Panel tomorrow. Here is our brief report without appendices:
And the version with appendices:
One of our national co-chairs, Holly Witteman, prepared a document this summer for the CIHR Working Group about funding equity. She has since updated the document to include newly available data and removed the sections that were specific to the Working Group. This 4-page document is freely available here:
Given the importance of the Project Scheme competition to health researchers across career stages, we were pleased to have our national co-chairs invited to attend the rapidly-organized CIHR Summit in Ottawa on July 13, 2016 along with 50-60 other health researchers to discuss how to improve the peer review process in time for the Fall Project Scheme cycle. Two of our three co-chairs (Dr. Kristin Connor, Dr. Holly Witteman) were able to attend, as was ACECHR member Dr. Meghan Azad. In preparation for that meeting, we prepared a document based on wide consultation with all engaged ACECHR members and other early career investigators, using our Slack team, Facebook group, email lists of those who had participated in our survey, and other methods to reach out to as many early career investigators across Canada as possible.
In our final consensus document, we recommended similar points as those that we had recommended previously, specifically:
To address the disadvantages affecting ECIs, we recommend three immediate changes, before the next grant cycle:
1. Equity: Enforced equity in grant funding rates across all career stages and by sex, with changes to the Canadian Common CV to help support this.
2. Opportunity: Flexible grant applications allow ECIs to demonstrate what reviewers expect to see. Structured forms are suboptimal for all and they are especially hard on ECIs, who no longer have the flexibility or space to demonstrate aspects of a grant that reviewers expect to see from ECIs.
3. Expert review: Reviews from people who have (a) expertise in our fields and (b) sufficient time to adequately review our grants and offer constructive feedback.
Following these immediate changes, we further recommend to CIHR:
4. Transparency and accountability: Greater transparency and accountability from CIHR and reviewers.
5. Funding balance: Foundation Scheme restructured as a grant consolidation mechanism for those with 2+ or 3+ grants, in which researchers trade off a small amount of budget for greater stability and flexibility.
To the federal government, we recommend:
6. Investment in health research: A return to more sustainable levels of health research funding in pursuit of (a) a healthy and stable health research enterprise, (b) young Canadians pursuing degrees and careers in health research and related fields, (c) a flourishing knowledge economy and (d) strong production of new knowledge and health benefits for Canadians.
Our document and these recommendations were well-received at the meeting July 13, and we felt that the final recommendations reflected our priorities and the shared priorities of the Canadian health research community.
Both Dr. Connor and Dr. Witteman were subsequently invited to serve on the Peer Review Working Group. Both attended the in-person working meeting in Ottawa on August 5, 2016, and one or both attended each teleconference, according to availability. Throughout this process, Drs. Connor and Witteman reported back to our Association and consulted with our members about proposals.
CIHR posted the Chair's final message along with the final recommendations of the working group today. We are pleased with many of the recommendations. Specifically, the final recommendations reflect our recommendations 2 and 3 from our CIHR Summit recommendations report, and they partially reflect recommendation 1.
We are pleased about the Working Group’s final recommendations for:
Equalization for ECIs. Equalized success rates in the Project Competition for ECI applicants such that ECI success rates match those of the overall competition. The additional 30 million dollars that was allocated to CIHR by the federal government and that was planned to be used “with a focus on early career investigators” will help to pay for this. We support this use of those funds.
Some CCV flexibility. A partial solution to address the inequities within the Canadian Common CV (CCV) by allowing those who took a leave from research during the time limits of the CCV to append a file detailing an equivalent amount of time’s worth of productivity.
Format flexibility. An open format application, with unlimited references and letters of support.
Expert reviewers. Greater likelihood of expert reviewers by having Chairs and Scientific Officers (SOs) verifying and/ or selecting reviewer assignment and by allowing more options for applicants to specify the types of expertise required to review their application. We recommend to all applicants that they select from those lists (Descriptors, Themes, Suggested Institutes, Areas of Science, Methods/Approaches, and Study Populations and Experimental Systems) carefully, and use the Other option as needed. These selections may help to determine which reviewers will be assigned your grant.
Helpful reviews. Greater likelihood of helpful Stage 1 reviews. We hope that the unstructured review format combined with reviewers’ knowledge that even if they don’t go to the face-to-face meeting, their review--with their name attached--will be reviewed by the Chair/SO and may well be presented at a face-to-face meeting by another peer reviewer.
An ability to respond to reviewers more quickly. Although it can’t be put in place for the Fall cycle, the idea to allow a 1-page rebuttal/response between Stage 1 (triage) and Stage 2 (face-to-face) may help ECIs iterate their grant applications into the funded pile more quickly.
We will be watching to see:
Transparency in results. We recommended to CIHR that this time, when they provide applicants with their results, that they provide full data, including the raw scores from each reviewer, the distribution of scores that that reviewer assigned to all of her/his applications, the rank assigned by each reviewer, and how many grants the reviewer had in her/his pile.
Transparency in methods. We further recommended that CIHR be fully transparent about how scoring and ranking works.
Transparency in data. CIHR has told us they are working on a data access strategy. We look forward to seeing this promise enacted so that the research community can perform their own analyses.
Transparency in analysis. The Working Group recommended that CIHR undertake analyses to evaluate recommendations for which the Working Group lacked data, that CIHR share the results with the Canadian health research community, and that CIHR make changes as required to address any problems identified in those analyses.
Transparency in reviewers. The Working Group recommended that, immediately after each grant cycle, CIHR post the lists of clusters (unnamed) along with the names of reviewers in each cluster.
Appropriateness of reviewers. The Working Group discussed ideas such as allowing applicants to indicate which cluster(s) from the previous year might have been most appropriate to review the proposal they are submitting now. This will not be immediately possible due to the fact that the dynamic clusters (dynamic panels) are being used for the first time this fall. Members of the Working Group and CIHR staff also raised concerns about setting expectations among applicants that their application will be assigned to the selected cluster, which may not be possible for a variety of reasons, including that the clusters are expected to change somewhat from cycle to cycle, in response to the applications submitted. We will be watching to see what strategies CIHR uses to ensure that applications are assigned to the most appropriate reviewers and we encourage the use of applicant preference as an element in that strategy. [We edited this post on Sep 13, 2016 at 14:45 to add this paragraph, which was inadvertently left out when we drafted the post.]
ECI participation in peer review. Many Canadian ECIs hold CIHR funds and/or have experience reviewing grants. We would like to see ECIs recruited to the College of Reviewers as soon as possible so that ECIs can both serve the community by providing expert review and can also benefit from the learning and networking aspects of grant review. If ECIs are going to be invited to observe a face-to-face meeting, we’d like to see this start in the Fall cycle.
Time allowed for between-stage response/rebuttal. We remind CIHR that the Working Group discussed the need to set the between-stage response/rebuttal dates well in advance and to provide a minimum of 3 weeks. Although some suggested that 48 hours would be enough, we believe strongly that this disadvantages people who do certain types of research (e.g., field work in areas with intermittent Internet access), who have heavy teaching loads, who have family responsibilities, and so on. Three weeks is a much more reasonable time limit.
Equity. Equity is important because when there is systemic or structural bias in grant review, the best research is not being funded. CIHR and the College of Reviewers are charged with continuing to pursue fair, equitable grant review and allocation. We didn’t get as far on this point as we wanted during the Working Group (see below) but the Working Group recommended that CIHR, the College of Reviewers and others continue this critical conversation. We remind these people that there may well be other dimensions on which to consider equity that are not yet well-captured by CIHR (e.g., race, ethnicity, disability). We are pleased to see the efforts of the Appropriate Review Practices Reference Group on Indigenous Health Research at CIHR. We highlight that the Ginther report in the US offers relevant findings regarding grants submitted to the National Institutes of Health by people of colour. We don’t know whether or not similar issues as those identified in the Ginther report exist in Canada because CIHR is not collecting those important data. Canadians deserve to know whether or not public funds are being used in a way that respects the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that if they are not, that prompt action will be taken to remedy problems.
We note here that although we had initially recommended a mechanism to ensure sex/gender equity, data shared by CIHR suggested that the Project Scheme demonstrated parity by sex of nominated principal applicant, meaning that there was no drop-off in success rates for female researchers at any career stage. This further reinforces the hypothesis that the poor success rates for mid-career and senior women in the Foundation Scheme is a function of the gendered structure of that competition, particularly Stage 1, in which 75% or more of the score is from criteria (leadership, significance of contributions, productivity) for which there is empirical evidence of gender bias in other contexts.
Imbalances in Canada Excellence Research Chairs and Canada Research Chairs (CRC) also need to be addressed. We offer a suggestion that if CIHR made allocation of Chairs conditional not only on the current criteria such as that around research funding obtained by institutions, but also on whether or not institutions become signatories to or earn awards from the Athena SWAN program, the problems faced by women researchers in Canada would be resolved far more quickly than they are progressing now.
We are disappointed:
Circular definition of excellence. We continue to be disappointed by the misuse of the term excellence in discussions with CIHR. When one defines "excellence" as "ranks highly in the system we designed", one cannot then make claims that the system one designed is good at identifying excellence. We are confident that all awardees deserved the grants they received, but this does not mean that those who were not funded were not excellent. They simply did not rank as highly in this system. It is worth noting that evidence from the National Institutes of Health suggests that there may be no meaningful difference in productivity between grants ranked in the 3rd to the 20th percentile, underlining that, outside of the few applications at the very top of the pile, peer reviewers may be unable to predict which projects are going to be most impactful.
No mid-career equalization. We have consistently recommended and advocated for equitable funding across career stages, including MCIs. Funding data suggest that ECIs and MCIs are disadvantaged in the new system, and we have recommended corrections accordingly. Our continued recommendation for such equity across all career stages may be seen in all of our policy and other documents of April 24, 2016, May 23, 2016, July 4, 2016, July 12, 2016, and in the draft equity policy document that we distributed to the Peer Review Working Group by email in advance of our call Aug 25, 2016:
Unfortunately, the working group as a whole did not agree. The working group discussed the health research community's potential discomfort with providing a possible ‘boost’ to people 15 years into their faculty career. We offered as an option that there could be equalization for the group of investigators 5-10 years in. This would align this equalization mechanism with the time limits for Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs and with the CIHR Gold Leaf award for New Investigators, both of which list a researcher in the first 10 years of their appointment as being eligible. However, this recommendation on our part was not endorsed by the Working Group. We are very disappointed that equalization will extend only to those who are between zero and five years into their independent careers. We are very concerned that mid-career investigators will be significantly disadvantaged in the next competition.
We remind the leadership at CIHR and the College of Reviewers that someone who started her faculty position in 2011 began her career in a time that included two cancelled competitions and implementation of untested programs, all at a time of ever-lower grant success rates. Although nearly all Canadian health researchers are feeling the pain of low funding, those who are currently MCIs, particular those in years 5-10, have not had the same opportunities to launch their careers as those further ahead. We will not stand by and watch this cohort of excellent researchers be disadvantaged, simply because they happened to start their positions in a time of significant change.
We also further remind leadership at CIHR and the College of Reviewers that at the meeting July 13, there was strong support for providing additional funding to both ECIs and MCIs. Attendees in the room expressed discomfort with the idea of providing a ‘boost’ to those nearly 15 years into their faculty appointment; however, after some discussion, there was agreement that providing additional funding to those 0-5 years into their career (ECIs) and those 5-12 years into their career (MCIs) would help to address some of the disadvantages faced by researchers in these groups.
Senior members of the Peer Review Working Group described periods in which more junior investigators consistently had approximately a 5% higher success rate, simply through the culture of the panels. For example, when the overall success rate was 25%, for younger investigators it would end up being 30%. When the overall rate was 30%, for younger investigators it would be about 35%. (These are the actual example numbers, reflecting success rates at that time, used by the senior scientists.)
Finally, we remind administrators at institutions that, when it comes to health research, assistant professors, researchers and scientists are facing the most challenging funding climate in memory. Institutions should carefully consider their criteria for tenure, contract renewal, extension of start-up funds, and other policies in light of the current funding situation:
Want to make your own images? Here are templates for you to use.
Images: If you want to add an image, make sure you use an image that is shareable. There are lots of sites that offer images that are in the public domain, sometimes referred to as CC0. (Creative Commons 0.) The images we used in our campaign are all from Pixabay. If you use that site, make sure you don't grab one of the Shutterstock images by mistake. You can tell because the Shutterstock images have a watermark. Here is a list of other places to find images in the public domain, courtesy of the Harvard Law School Library.
How do I edit these? Use an image editor if you have one, or use whatever program you use to mark up and edit pdfs.
Hashtag: When you post these on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere, don't forget to add the hashtag #InvestInCanadianHealthResearch.
Tags: Consider tagging relevant political leaders, e.g., @JustinTrudeau, @janephilpott, @ScienceMin @Bill_Morneau.
Reason to Invest template, short version (has less vertical space)
Reason to Invest template, tall version (has more vertical space)