CSEE might have seemed to be hibernating since the last newsletter. It was winter after all! But the Council has been slowly chipping away at important projects to make the Society better at serving its members.
What’s new with NSERC?
In December, the Council has its annual meeting with NSERC representatives. The outlook is bright, with a promised 25% increase in NSERC funding between now and 2023. Last April, $70 million were injected into Discovery Grants, over 5 years. Many of you saw your awards increased in the 2018 round and some of the new funding was earmarked for the first year of the Discovery Grant of Early Career Researchers. In the past few months, NSERC has engaged the research community as part of a quinquennial evaluation of its Discovery research program. When NSERC comes knocking on your email door, please answer! This is the most direct way to tell them what you think. The beginning of 2019 saw another call for the Discovery Frontiers program, this one aimed at anti-microbial resistance in the environment. This was the second call in a row with a focus relevant to CSEE members for this program. Early career researchers were also the target of a new funding opportunity in the shape of the New Frontiers in Research program – to conduct high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research.
In our meeting, we asked NSERC LOTS of questions, and they were forthcoming with answers to most of them. Some stats on DG success rates: 69% and 47% of early career women and men, respectively, were successful in the 2018 DG competition, compared to 86% and 84% of established women and men researchers. Established researchers not holding a grant continue to struggle to achieve success (26% success for men; data withheld for women because of sample size). The average grant of ECRs was $31k, while that of established researchers was $45k. The success rates of applicants in the Ecology and Evolution evaluation group were in line with those of other evaluation groups. There continues to be a distinct disadvantage for small universities, which achieved a DG success rate of 48% compared to medium (60%) and large (71%) universities. Average grant sizes at small universities were also smaller ($31k vs $39k for large universities).
NSERC has a number of programs to support researchers who become new parents, and these apply not only to faculty but to graduate students and PDFs too. If you’re expecting a happy event soon, look into the programs for primary caregivers, family and medical leave, and the paid maternity/parental leave for students and PDFs. The latter offers up to 6 months of paid leave to students and PDFs supported by NSERC grants. Relatively few researchers avail themselves of these programs. We don’t know if that’s a reflection of the low number of people who need them or lack of awareness.
We got interesting stats about the major NSERC awards. Over the last four years, 67% of Steacie award winners, 75% of Herzberg medal winners, and 75% of Polanyi award winners have been men. However, for these three awards, 76%, 89% and 88% of nominated researchers were also men. The solution seems clear: we all need to nominate more women for awards.
In relation to gender and other equity issues, we pressed NSERC on the metrics of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which is now a consideration in the evaluation of Discovery and other grants. This is clearly something that is important to NSERC. They are putting a lot of time and effort in developing training (e.g., about bias in peer review for peer reviewers) and tools to address the issue, but the criteria for researchers remain vague. The best we can do right now is point you to their EDI guide for applicants (http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/EDI/Guide_for_Applicants_EN.pdf).
We had lots of other questions. What’s the relative productivity of Banting and Vanier fellowship holders vs standard PDF/PhD award holders? (No data.) Can PhD awards be increased to 4 years to better reflect how long PhDs take? (No, probably not.) Are there plans to increase the number of times a person can apply for NSERC PDF? (No) Are there plans to increase the value of PDF and other awards to account for inflation? (Mmmm, maybe.) How much of a researcher’s DG is taken up by open access fees? (No data yet.) Can you do something about the CCV? (Sigh…)
Overall, it was a productive meeting. We truly appreciated the openness of the NSERC reps we met.
Made-in-Canada Athena Swan, aka ‘Dimensions’
Several CSEE members participate in NSERC consultations that have just wrapped up on a Canadian version of the Athena SWAN charter, which recognises good practices in UK higher education and research institutions towards the advancement of gender equality. The Canadian charter has now been released (http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/NSERC-CRSNG/EDI-EDI/Dimensions_Dimensions_eng.asp) and it aims to address systemic barriers to the inclusion of not just women, but also Indigenous peoples, people with disability, visible minorities, and LGBTQ2+ persons. The national program – known as Dimensions – applies to all members of the research community in post-secondary institutions. While the UK version was initially limited only to STEM and broadened later, the Canadian version includes all fields of study. Adhesion to the Charter is voluntary for institutions, which stand to gain bronze, silver or gold certification using a set of clear, standardized, self-assessment criteria. Fifteen small institutions received EDI capacity-building grants, but beyond that, unfortunately, there will be no new money for chair programs for women or for ECR women, and no consequences in terms of tricouncil funding for institutions that do not adhere to the Charter or fail to improve over time. A Letter of Intent call to join the first cohort of institutions seeking a Dimensions award will open on 3 June 2019.
I am glad to report that CSEE has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Canadian Institute for Ecology and Evolution, committing us to a funding contribution to our partner (or is it offspring?) organisation for the next 5 years. This agreement formalises the financial relationship that we have had with CIEE since its inception, and will help to provide CIEE with some certainty of funding as it continues to grow.
New award for science engagement and policy
I am also delighted to announce the creation of a new CSEE award for science engagement and policy. The award was suggested by CSEE member Aerin Jacobs, and CSEE Council loved the idea! The award will recognise engagement with the public or decision-makers about science, activities that reflect two of the four objectives of the CSEE (“to raise public awareness about the importance of ecology and evolution to Canadian society” and “to facilitate communication between members of the Society and decision-makers in the public, private, and non-governmental sectors”). We are working out the details but we envisage the award being given at our annual conference every other year, alternating with the President’s Award. So watch this space, and put your thinking caps on to identify and nominate a worthy recipient of our newest award in 2020.
Looking forward to seeing you in Fredericton!