We value your membership, opinions, and on-going feedback in helping early career health researchers achieve scientific success across Canada. We do our best to hear your voices, listen to your feedback and integrate your innovative ideas. The pandemic has impacted our professional and personal lives and our goal will always continue to provide any support possible for our great Canadian early career health researcher community. In this blog post, we want to tell you - ACECHR members - about our successes and what we have accomplished as a group during the year of 2020-2021.
Members of the National Steering Committee
We thank Dr. Meaghan Jones (National Co-Chair) and Dr. Renée El-Gabalawy (National Steering Committee Member) for their service and commitment to ACECHR. Meaghan will now move into the position of Exiting Chair for the next year. Renée was recently promoted to Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba - Congratulations! This also means we are hosting elections to fill one seat on the National Steering Committee. Stay tuned for details on this upcoming election.
CIHR “Paused the Clock” for ECRs
CIHR reached out to ACECHR in Fall 2020 to identify general areas for improvement for the Canadian early career health researcher community, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One area we discussed was an extension to the limits on “ECR status” for CIHR related matters, equal to delays associated with the pandemic. We recommended a minimum of an additional 12 months, arguing that at the time we were six months into the pandemic and while many labs had reopened, capacity and supply issues were still delaying productivity. Other Stakeholders were consulted on this matter, including the CIHR College Chairs, University Delegates Executive Committee, and representatives of the U-15, NAPHRO, Universities Canada, the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, and HealthCareCAN. From these conversations, CIHR temporarily extended the clock for ECRs: All those who held ECR status as of March 1, 2020—or who secured their first academic appointment after this date—will have their status extended by one year. Subsequently, for the Fall 2021 Project Grants competition, CIHR extended this pause for all ECRs for one additional year (i.e., the ECR term would be extended from 0-72 months to 0-84 months), unless the individual submits a request to opt-out of the pause.
CIHR Reviewer in Training (RiT) Program
When CIHR reached out to ACECHR in Fall 2020 to identify general areas for improvement for the Canadian early career health researcher community, one area we all noted that could use additional thought was the CIHR Observer Program. As a whole, the CIHR Observer Program was an important initiative, but could be improved to give the early career researcher a more prominent voice. We had many fruitful discussions, and the product of these discussions was the CIHR Reviewer in Training (RiT) program. The RiT program was first launched for the Spring 2021 Project Grant competition and offers Early Career Researchers an opportunity to better understand the peer review process through direct participation in the Project Grant competition, with the support of a Mentor. RiT participants are assigned 3 applications to conduct practice reviews, attend the peer review meeting, present their review(s), and participate in the meeting. Following completion of the RiT program, participants will be promoted within CIHR's Reviewer Pathway to participate in peer review when requested and available. The first RiT program (Spring 2021 Project Grants) had 802 applicants, with 122 selected for the program. The most recent competition was for the Fall 2021 Competition, with more information available here.
CIHR Health Research Training Platform (HRTP) Pilot
In January 2021, CIHR released plans for a new and ambitious opportunity to develop research training programs in Canada. A number of ECRs expressed concerns about the structure of the program in its draft version, in particular equity and combining support for trainees and ECRs into a singular approach. The ACECHR National Steering Committee and members submitted a letter to the CIHR Executive asking for clarifications and made suggestions to strengthen the HRTP program. Members of the National Steering Committee subsequently met with a group of CIHR Directors to discuss our concerns. CIHR was receptive and subsequently released a statement clarifying the expected role of early career researchers on HRTP applications. Changes were made to expand possibilities for ECR access to funding for teaching or clinical release.
The Gairdner Foundation
The Gairdner Foundation’s main goal is to recognize and reward international excellence in fundamental research impacting human health. The President and Scientific Director of The Gairdner Foundation, Dr. Janet Rossant, contacted us to initiate a partnership between Canadian Health ECRs and previous winners of the Gairdner award. Six ECRs from Canada were selected to give oral presentations at the Gairdner Science Week 2021: Drs. Van Lu (University of Western Ontario), Hermann Nabi (Université Laval), Tobias Karakach (Dalhousie University), Bertrand Routy (Université de Montréal), Sarah Elton (University of Toronto), and Samira Mubareka (Sunnybrook Health Science Centre). Congratulations to the presenters!
Canada Research Contingency Emergency Fund (CRCEF)
In response to the needs of the research community early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal government implemented the Canada Research Contingency Emergency Fund. This fund was meant to help researchers cover costs associated with lost time, resources, salary, and materials during the time laboratories across the country were shut down for safety. Early on there was confusion about who qualified for these funds and how - many of the initiatives were focused on external funding sources from federal, provincial, or nonprofit sources. ECRs were concerned about losses on their startup funds, which are essential to establishing new research labs, and which were specifically excluded from early rounds of CRCEF funding. ACECHR Steering Committee members reached out to CRCEF to determine a) why startup was excluded and b) how pandemic-related losses to startup funds would be managed in the future. Their recommendation was lobbying at the individual institution level for access to later waves of funding, as CRCEF’s mandate did not cover internal funds like start-up without specific requests from institutions. Rollout was patchy and mixed across institutions, but many ECRs across Canada did receive some compensation for startup costs incurred during lab shutdown.
ACECHR Representation at the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC2020)
On Monday, November 16, 2020, ACECHR Co-Chair, Dr. Meaghan Jones, participated in a panel discussion at CSPC 2020 on "Supporting the Research Ecosystem in Times of Crisis: Good Practices for a More Resilient Research | Soutenir l'écosystème de recherche en tant de crise: Bonnes pratiques pour une recherche plus résiliente". The aim of this panel was to have a critical discussion on COVID-19’s negative impacts and the best practices to tackle them. Dr. Jones discussed ECR-specific challenges early in the pandemic, including building and maintaining an engaged research group in a primarily virtual setting, the cancellation and reinstatement of the 2020 Spring CIHR project grants, differences across institutions on extensions of tenure clocks, and the need for future reviewer training on interpretations of the impacts of the pandemic on ECRs establishing their independent research groups.
Thank you, everyone!