Driving natural sciences and engineering research in Canada

natural sciences
© Ann Rodchua

Open Access Government discusses the importance of funding visionaries, explorers and innovators who are searching for scientific and technical breakthroughs in Canada

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is the country’s largest supporter of discovery and innovation, funding innovators, visionaries and explorers who drive scientific and technical breakthroughs throughout Canada. The departmental corporation came into existence on May 1, 1978, and works today with universities, colleges, businesses and not-for-profits to remove barriers, develop opportunities and consistently attract new expertise helping Canada’s research community to thrive.

The three main pillars of the NSERC are:

  • Using science to empower: Through NSERC promoted science activities and embracing “a STEM mindset,” two million young people, parents, teachers and curious Canadians are reached every year. Furthermore, each year 500 partners come together to offer many different events in over 300 different communities throughout Canada.
  • Partnering with innovators: In 2020, there were over 3,800 NSERC supported collaborations, between researchers, private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
  • Investing in discoverers: Canada’s most esteemed scientists and engineers train 37,000 students each year, and 67% of all natural sciences and engineering researchers at Canadian universities and colleges are funded by NSERC Discovery Grants.

It is extremely important for NSERC to fund innovators, visionaries and explorers who are searching for the scientific and technical breakthroughs that will benefit Canada. As we can see in the recently released “Progress Report: Mobilising Canadian Research,” throughout 2020, the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) and the federal research funding agencies made headway in several areas of science such as:

• Strengthening equity, diversity and inclusion in R&I.

• Supporting Indigenous self-determination, leadership and capacity in research and training.

• Supporting early-career researchers.

• Increasing engagement in interdisciplinary, international, high-risk, rapid-response research.

• Enhancing cooperation and collaboration in international research.

• Supporting Canada’s research response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Ensuring widespread trust in science

The world is shining the spotlight on science now more than ever as we face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to this, science as a whole has been put under tremendous strain. Now, it is more important than ever to make sure the public has great trust in scientists and their research. During times of crisis and socio-economic disruption, researchers provide key knowledge that can pave the way for a more promising future both nationally and internationally. Canadian research can offer clear and diverse insights to help Canada navigate complex social, economic, public health and political challenges.

Earlier in 2021, the federal granting agencies announced the launch of a special $2.25 million funding opportunity to support activities that promote vaccine confidence in Canada. The agencies hope and expect these activities and transparency will improve public understanding of vaccines and help Canadians to make evidence-based decisions, especially among populations that are unsure of vaccine safety.

Furthermore, the agencies are encouraging organisations to consider the needs of official language minority communities in the development of their proposed activities and to have official documentation and promotional material in both official languages. This is to make sure that no one is left out of the conversation and everyone has access to vital information in a time of great uncertainty.

Support for researchers

In March 2021, the Government of Canada announced it was providing wage support for up to 32,000 research staff whose salaries were adversely affected by COVID-19, and who were not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. In addition, the government provided help to about 22,000 research projects to cover unanticipated maintenance and high costs that would not normally have been incurred if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst the individuals awarded funding, about 9,300 were students, 3,000 were postdoctoral fellows and 19,500 were other research personnel.

Alejandro Adem, Chair, Canada Research Coordinating Committee; and President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) commented on this, stating:

“The CRCEF demonstrates the Government of Canada and federal research funding agencies’ commitment to stand by our country’s research personnel as we navigate the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada’s universities and health research institutions have been resilient through this pandemic, and we are proud to support them.”

When it comes to discovery and innovation, countries must work to attract new expertise helping their research community thrive, and Canada is no different. To inspire innovation and competition, NSERC celebrates research excellence every year with a wide range of prizes including individual awards that focus on accomplishments ranging from innovative discoveries by young researchers to lifetime achievement and influence. As Canadian science and engineering researchers continue to lead on the world stage, the Government of Canada celebrates the country’s research excellence by honouring some of its best and brightest. This also helps to encourage recognition and support the research community.


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