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Getting in the research game

The Government of Canada announced an increase in research funding to a multitude of universities with 14 Ontario institutions taking home millions. Northern Ontario universities were no where to be found on the list.
Signing agreement
submitting reports

The Government of Canada announced an increase in research funding to a multitude of universities with 14 Ontario institutions taking home millions. Northern Ontario universities were no where to be found on the list.
Joe Preston, Member of Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology) announced 61 new or renewed Canada Research Chairs amounting to $58.6 million in the areas of natural sciences, engineering, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.
"Our government recognizes the important role that research excellence plays in furthering innovation and competitiveness, two main elements in our science and technology strategy," said Mr. Preston.
“The Canada Research Chairs Program helps universities attract and retain the best researchers in Canada and in the world, which promotes job creation, enhances the quality of life of Canadians and strengthens the economy for future generations."
Fourteen Ontario universities located within larger centres have obtained funding allocation from three federal arms: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Based on the amount of funding provided from the private and public sectors, the university then is evaluated for chair status, said Marie Lynne Boudreau, senior program officer of the Canada Research Chair(CRC).
Admittedly, it is harder for smaller universities to access large funding pools since it usually goes to the larger more competitive post-secondary institutions, she said. It was why CRC developed an access pool for universities that receive less than one per cent of the granting agency funding.
So how do you make it to the big leagues?
“Attract excellent researchers who get federal agency granting dollars,” or submit a grantsmanship, she said.
“Now some people are better at this than others.”
One Northern Ontario professor/researcher, who has asked not to be identified, has gone through the grantsmanship and said the funding pool for smaller universities is too small with no traveling allowances. He must use the funds to travel to Toronto or Ottawa in hopes of obtaining partners and that pretty much uses it all up, especially if he has a student with him.
When he worked in the private sector or with the government on various research projects, he had almost a $350,000 budget. Now he obtains pats on the back from colleagues who think $20,000 is significant.
“To me, it is an insult,” said the 20-plus year scientist who accepted the recognition from colleagues graciously.
Still, something is better than nothing and so he remains anonymous because he doesn't want to harm his chances for future funding.
“If I thought I had nothing, I will have less than nothing after that.”
But he still has some issues with NSERC and how funds are divided.
If a research project is problem solving, then NSERC is unlikely to approve it because they only grant funds to “researchers who generate more research.”
“You cannot solve a problem, but you have to generate a problem,” and typically universities generate more questions because they “leave no stone unturned.” Having come from the private sector, he is diligent about his research but remains focused on results, rather than stirring up more questions, he said.
“There is so much that is not relevant.”
Typically a grant application is evaluated on one's curriculum vitae, the amount of published articles or books and on one's track record, he said.
If a researcher has done work in the private sector or another agency, then it is unlikely to hold credibility in the grant application process, he said.
“So you think you are really going in there with a team effort, but you find out pretty fast that it is an individual approach.”
He said that the system is too interdependent where one agency relies on the others for project approval.
“It is almost like building a house of cards. Each relies on the other to stand up. If one is taken away, the rest falls.”
He knows how to apply to the agencies, how to include all the necessary material, meet deadlines and check for grammar.
These are all items suggested by Boudreau adding that the document has to reveal that the individual has spent time preparing for this because the committees spend hours labouring over each submission.
“It is all about knowing how to play the game,” she said.
But to this scientist, it is hard to play the game when you are not recognized for past achievements, and when the base level funding does not supply rural and remote universities.