The Executive Summary is below, while the comprehensive report is available in PDF format.
Health research funding has become increasingly competitive in Canada. Between 2005-06 and 2014-15, success rates for full term open operating grants at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) halved from 30% to 15%. Grants deemed fundable by reviewers went from being funded about half the time to about one fifth of the time. Low funding rates undermine health researchers’ ability to generate new knowledge and improve Canadians’ health outcomes.
These falling success rates have had negative impacts on many scientists. Early career investigators (ECIs), defined as those within the first 5 years of their independent careers, have been particularly hard hit. Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, CIHR funding awarded to ECIs declined by 38%. Adding to these concerns, recent changes to CIHR funding programs (‘CIHR reforms’) threaten to remove a full third of total funding awarded to ECIs annually.
The Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers (ACECHR) organized and ran an informal survey Mar 17-24, 2016 to gather personal accounts from ECIs about their experiences in the current funding environment. In one week, we received 143 responses from verified early career health researchers in Canada who hold competitive positions and have a history of research success. Highlights of our findings include:
In respondents’ words:
I am Canadian and always wanted to come back to Canada after my training but am starting to think that I have made a mistake. -Respondent 40 (page 37)
I am falling behind scientists in other countries [...] I am deeply worried that this will end my career in research right as it is meant to be taking off. -Respondent 7 (page 42)
There is a feeling among our trainees that there is no future for them in science in Canada. Some leave the country, and others decide to pursue other fields. -Respondent 113 (page 45)
Some of my highest quality colleagues are leaving Canada because of the uncertain funding climate. I am considering the same. -Respondent 42 (page 55)
If Canada wishes to foster the future of health research in our country, a recognition of this significant ECI disadvantage and a meaningful resolution must be reached immediately or the investment made to train today's most ambitious and successful young researchers in our country will be lost. Time is of the essence. -Respondent 41 (page 59)