Reboot NSERC by engaging and empowering the researchers it serves

I described in a previous post some of the impediments to NSERC’s ability to optimize government’s investments in support of scientific research and innovation. Namely, how its rigid and insular operational structure hinders its capabilities to partner internationally; to coordinate nationally; to operate coherently and inclusively; to collaborate, leverage its federal resources, and multiply research opportunities; to adapt to the ascendance of interdisciplinary research, and to knowledgeably and confidently address emerging areas of research. To metamorphose NSERC from its current state of a reactive and unimaginative funnel of government money, to a pro-active and nimble organization that can multiply it and optimize its use, there is one simple solution.

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President Arvind Gupta on the essence of the academic mission…and an endorsement

Commentaria

By Professor Arvind Gupta

Dear colleagues,

As many of you are aware, there is a by-election for a faculty representative to the Board of Governors. This is an important election for UBC Vancouver faculty, and I feel compelled to send this message, given what has been happening at UBC over the past few years. I have been dismayed to witness disregard (and at times attacks) on our most fundamental values: the very essence of our academic mission, and the collegial governance and academic freedom required to fulfill it. We, the faculty, have long argued that these values are necessary for the free and unhindered pursuit of knowledge and discovery, for preserving a culture of openness and transparency, for upholding the rights of the underrepresented, protecting the vulnerable, and for speaking out against injustice of any form. Any undermining of these values is felt, not just within our institution, but more broadly across society.

I believe…

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Why am I running again to represent the faculty on UBC’s Board of Governors?

A good question indeed. My official statement below (restricted to 250 words) tells a part of the story but not all. I was personally stunned, upon rereading it, by how many times I call for “refocusing, re-establishing, reversing, returning, recovering …” An unintended illustration of how, long-held assumptions about the values of our academic mission, have been in full retreat. And, we the faculty, are merely trying to recover some of what we used to take for granted even less than 20 years ago.

Another part of the story goes back to my post of October 2015, i.e., before we even knew more through the unintended leaks. Much damage has been done to our institution, and this needs to stop. It gets to be even more urgent to do so, when remnants of those responsible come to epitomize, including through their candidacy statement, the continuing lack of transparency, the waste of university resources, the conceit, and the arrogance of someone who has been “an admin. groupie” for too long.

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Overhauling NSERC is a long overdue national priority (I)

With an annual budget of $1.1 billion, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is the agency through which the federal government funds advanced post-secondary research in science and engineering. Thousands of Canadian researchers rely on it, hence expect it to operate fairly, competently, and efficiently. Unfortunately, NSERC is an organization that seems to be stuck in the past, enamored with the sanctity of its own outdated ways. Its flawed operational structure keeps being mercilessly exposed by the changing times. It never caught up to the evolving ways of funding and supporting research. It needs to change. In this post, I will identify impediments to NSERC’s ability to optimize government’s investments in support of scientific research and innovation. I shall suggest a way forward in the next blogpost.

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Fettering unfettered research funding: The NSERC ways

Last week, I resigned from a committee that is supposed to liaise between NSERC and Canada’s Mathematics and Statistics communities. The reason? An unsettling lack of transparency, shoddy consultation, and poor decision-making by NSERC’s management in handling recent government budget increases. These problems are not new to NSERC. They date back to the presidency of Suzanne Fortier, but they seem to be reaching a crescendo with Mario Pinto. Fortier had to deal with the tightly earmarked budget increases of the Harper years, and so mastered the art of quietly re-allocating what used to be “internally unfettered” NSERC funding. Pinto has been living the dream of allocating three consecutive installments of new unfettered money from government. NSERC claims that all the new funds are going straight to the Discovery Grant program. We beg to differ. Once the funds arrive to NSERC, they become less unfettered than you think.

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For UBC faculty, the malaise persists

It is amazing what a couple of investment bankers can do to a university! Thirty months after the highjacking of UBC’s governance and processes by government appointed Board members, the faculty are still feeling the angst. But so does the administration. In March 2016 and in an unprecedented act, 800 faculty members voted non-confidence in the UBC Board of Governors. The Chancellor, a retired banker, remained. In a poll executed earlier that year by the Faculty Association, 642 out of 885 respondents said they had no confidence in the Chancellor leading the presidential search. He remained. Subsequently, an elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position from that committee citing “manipulation of information and processes to achieve desired decisions and to minimize academic voices.” He remained. Last week, another elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position on the Board of Governors. The Chancellor remains. Continue reading

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Statistical science is everywhere

By Professor Nancy Reid, OC, FRSC

On Saturday, April 7, The Globe and Mail published a long article on advances in counselling and therapy around mental health—Rethinking therapy: how 45 questions can revolutionize mental health. The punch line? A new emphasis on data collection and analysis is helping therapists to track patients’ progress, alert them to troubling trends, give patients affirmation with their progress, and more. The use of these data collection efforts have been validated by clinical trials. Data collection and clinical trials have informed medical practice for chronic and acute diseases for more than seventy years.

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