I am supposed to participate in a public debate with Isabelle Blain, NSERC’s Vice-President, Research Grants and Fellowships.
Topic: Comparison of NSERC Discovery Grant Application Evaluation Systems: New and Old
Time: Sunday, December 5, 5 PM – 6:20 PM
Place: Nelson Room, Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites, 1763 Comox Street, Vancouver, BC
Recall that NSERC introduced a new system for its Discovery Grants in the Feb 2009 competition. Applicants are rated under 3 criteria:
EoR = Excellence of researcher
MoP = Merit of Proposal
HQP = Training of HQP.
There is a 6 point rating scale:
Exceptional (6 points)
Very Strong (4)
The expectation is that most researchers will get ‘S’. An ‘I’ on any criterion is likely to mean the grant is not funded, as does a ‘M’ on EoR. Once these applications have been removed, the 3 scores are added, giving between 18 and 3 points. Each possible total score is called a funding bin, labeled A (i.e., ‘EEE’) to P (‘III’). Everyone in the same bin gets the same grant. (Well… nearly – there are minor perturbations due to ‘cost of research’ and also slightly different rules for first time applicants). Under the new system the panel decides the ratings. The group chairs then recommend a ‘bin to funding map’, but the final decision on this is made by NSERC.
Where do you think I stand on this? Well, I will surely be talking about the 50 ways to “bin” bureaucrats.
This change seems to be aimed at elevating the training of grad students (HQP) to the same importance as the quality of the research being done. What if a proposal and researcher had ground-breaking potential, but only required one or even no grad students? Is this really the major value that the government sees in funding scientific research, which is that it creates more scientists? For example, the commercial potential of the research or impact on our understanding of the world should be just as important as student training, yet gets no category of their own.
Then we look at an earlier posting in this blog on how the Canadian government is making it much more difficult for PhD students to stay on in Canada after graduation. NSERC sees the purpose of science as creating more scientists, while immigration wants to kick them out.
In my opinion, NSERC has really hurt Canadian science with this change.
I’ve been saying for years that NSERC would do better by Canadian professors if they simply gave every eligible professor a Discovery Grant according to some formula based on seniority. Given that it typically doesn’t amount to that much money anyway, and that there isn’t that much difference between a really good grant and a fairly ordinary one, all this sound and fury seems a bit ridiculous. Plus, it’s truly a royal pain to apply for, but not getting one can be a real stigma, particularly for a young professor, which can be very hard to live down.
Of course, bureaucrats can always be counted upon to take things in exactly the wrong direction, and they certainly haven’t disappointed in this case.
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