“CREATE”, Command and Control

NSERC Communications replied to our guest blogger Karel Casteels, about his post regarding the dwindling numbers of  graduate and postgraduate fellowships (CGS and PGS and PDFs). Cutting through the maze of budgetary reporting, the key to the story lies in the following NSERC statement: “Some reassignment has taken place to manage pressures within the S&F suite of programs – for instance, increasing the funding available for Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships and the CREATE program.”   Here come again the magic words!

It is not re-allocation of funds, not re-assignment of resources, not research re-prioritization, not dirigisme by staff … Only, a simple “management of budgetary pressures!”.

The last time we checked, one is usually led to “manage budgetary pressures”, when faced with serious budget cuts, or if an existing program proved to be more popular than others, causing it to be oversubscribed. This is normally when management needs to “manage budgetary pressures” and shift resources from one envelope to another.

But NSERC officials are also saying that they haven’t really had budget cuts, and that to the contrary, the government has been more generous than ever with research funding. Moreover, NSERC’s statement leads us to believe that the “Industrial Postdoctoral Programme” is overwhelmed by demands from recent graduates. But why are they then writing to non-successful applicants for academic PDFs to encourage them to apply for industrial PDFs?

And what about CREATE? NSERC’s new “Collaborative Research and Training Experience” program, which is supposed to “support the training of students and postdoctoral fellows, specifically in settings that provide them with professional skills to complement their academic training”. To create this new program, NSERC –admittedly– shifted major resources from the  scholarships and fellowships funding envelope.

Fair enough! but do you remember the newest twist about this CREATE program? Here is a headline from the latest NSERC-Contact newsletter. CREATE adds industrial and international opportunities“The CREATE program will have two new dimensions in the 2012 competition. In keeping with NSERC’s goal to give students the opportunity to learn skills needed in Canadian enterprises, an industrial stream has been added to the program. Up to half of the grants for the 2012-13 fiscal year will be awarded to proposals featuring a formal industrial link.” But don’t worry, industrial partners, this won’t cost you anything! “An industrial financial contribution is encouraged, but not required.”

Surely, NSERC defended this new shift in a letter to “Piece of Mind”, but what about this –probably unintended– consequence of this new policy/grand announcement. The leader of an outstanding multi-university research and training program in “Mathematical biology” told me recently that, without an industrial component in hand,  the CREATE program was out of question for his group. It is not clear to me yet whether the group was dissuaded or plainly rejected by their VP-Research offices,  who normally make the pre-vetting for NSERC.

In any case, CREATE seems to be perceived nowadays as another industrial program! Even as front-line researchers try to resist this trend, VP-Research offices are not. More on that in a future post.

Talking about the CREATE program, here is an interesting email I got recently from a colleague.  She says: “I just received the following … after re-reading it a few times I think it belongs on your blog.  Following NSERC “directives” it seems we these days MANDATE graduate students to attend presentations from the military about “leadership”.

“Subject: ….  Seminar – Command and Leadership

Hi, all.
In response to NSERC’s directive that we provide graduate students with opportunities to acquire professional skills, we are pleased to offer the following seminar by Commander K. L. of the Canadian Navy who is assisting us with our NSERC CREATE … proposal. This is a MUST ATTEND seminar for all grad students. Practicing engineers are encouraged to join as well.

….The aim of this presentation is to discuss aspects of command and leadership within the context of a major military mission: the preparation and deployment of a Canadian guided missile frigate to conduct high intensity maritime security operations … This presentation will discuss: Anatomy of a warship and the Leadership challenge, …. Counter-terrorism, … Counter-smuggling, Piracy Suppression, … Theatre Security Cooperation with neighbouring states, … Preparation for operations in a high threat environment, etc. “

The abstract of the talk also includes topics such as: “Leading people during the good times, the not-so-good times, and when the worst happens.” 

Faced with the new dirigisme from Ottawa’s bureaucrats, academic leaders surely have lots to learn from this seminar! More so than our graduate students.

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