Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) Vice-Chair Bruce Lennox wrote in the previous issue of ACCN, “The commitment to science in Canada over the past 15 years or so has been nothing less than extraordinary.” Billions of dollars indeed have been invested in science and innovation in Canada, with most of this money going to universities and academic researchers. Despite all of this research funding, many of the CIC members I talk to feel that things are not going well. Although NSERC’s Discovery Grants Program funds about 9,700 science and engineering researchers, many are being shut out. For the first half of my career, I worked in industry, running chemical plants and laboratory research and services for one of the largest companies in Canada. My experiences taught me that there are different ways and means in which to access federal government funds. I also learned that MPs are approachable and welcome input.
Whether you are a Canada Research Chair or a non-funded research chemical scientist or engineer, consider meeting individually with your federal MP and the industrial leaders within your community. Start with the parliamentarians in Ottawa. They and their staff usually get their information about research funding via reports such as the Council of Canadian Academies’ “ Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness.” Other reports, such as the bi-annual publications of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), are created by government, academic and industrial leaders. These inform government policy and budget strategies.
Ask your MP where they stand with respect to research funding and why they take this position. Do they understand the difference between basic and applied research? Do they know that, while overall research funding has increased in the past 15 years, the actual dollar amounts have eroded due to increased competition for funds as well as inflation?
You can further increase the impact of your visit by letting your MP know that you are well connected to local industry leaders. It’s worth reminding them that the businesses who drive economic growth in your area place high importance on qualified scientists and engineers, and that sustained funding of research will keep feeding the pipeline with young professionals.
If you are not connected to local industry, make the effort to do so. The insight that you will gain will help enormously. Industry understands the importance of both applied and basic, or discovery, research. It also understands that basic research provides the greatest risk but also the greatest opportunity for advancement. Tell them about NSERC’s Strategy for Partnerships and Innovation and how its purpose is to link university knowledge and expertise with industrial needs. In the past three years, NSERC has grown from working with 1,500 companies to more than 2,700. Could there be an opportunity for young professionals as well as the company you are meeting?
The CIC and its partner organizations have already laid some of the groundwork in the form of briefs submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA). Bring these documents along in order to further bolster your case. The documents, prepared by the CIC and the Partnership Group on Science and Engineering (PAGSE) are available under Media & Advocacy at www.cheminst.ca. Finally, take your undergrad and grad students and post-docs with you. Not only will the MP see and be moved by the passion these young professionals have for their work, but they will be able to put a human face on research. This can go a long way towards convincing them of the importance of science funding to Canada’s future prosperity.
Roland Andersson is the executive director of the Chemical Institute of Canada. To respond to his column write to us at email@example.com.