CIHR response letter to members of the Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers (ACECHR)

This letter was shared with members of the Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers (ACECHR) in response to their letter sent to CIHR on May 23, 2016.

June 13, 2016

Dear ACECHR members,

Thank you for your thoughtful follow-up letter to our meeting of May 4, 2016. CIHR is fully aware that the reforms have a direct impact on researchers and their careers, and we very much appreciate you sharing your experiences and concerns.

We acknowledge in particular the challenges that Early Career Investigators (ECIs) are facing in the current financial climate. During federal pre-budget consultations earlier this year, CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC, and CFI strongly recommended that funding envelopes be increased specifically for the purpose of better supporting ECIs. In fact, to emphasize the importance we attached to this issue, this was the only budgetary recommendation submitted this year by the Tri-Agencies and CFI.

As you know, CIHR received an additional $30 million in this year's federal budget.  As indicated by our President in his "Open Letter to Canada's Health Researchers," the entire $30 million will be dedicated to Project grants, with a focus on ECIs. Details on the exact distribution of these funds will be released soon, and we are confident that you will find that our strategy aligns with your recommendations.

It should also be noted that this $30 million will be in addition to funding awarded to ECIs based on their ranking in the peer review process. Consequently, our modelling predicts that we can expect a satisfactory number of ECIs to be funded in the Project Grant competition. However, as we monitor the outcomes of the competition, we will re-evaluate our approach, taking into consideration your proposal of a mechanism to address disproportionate success rates across career stages.

I would also like to take this opportunity to address ACECHR follow-up questions regarding applicant sex disparities in the results of the 1st Foundation Grant Live Pilot competition. CIHR takes the issue of sex disparity (and other disparities) very seriously, and we are examining the issue closely, as evidenced by the 2014 Foundation Grant "Live Pilot" Report, the recent IHSPR article on health services and policy research funding, and the data that will be available in the report of the 2nd Foundation Grant Live Pilot competition. As part of our efforts to eliminate sex disparity, we continue to educate reviewers about unintended biases that can occur during the review of applications, and are currently developing training modules for peer reviewers to ensure they are aware of the potential for unconscious bias in the review process.  In addition, as this first competition was a pilot, we will carefully review and consider additional eligibility criteria, application process, and peer review system modifications that may be necessary to ensure that the program meets its objectives and avoids any unintended biases.

We also note that one of the benefits of an open reporting process is that it allows the research community to analyze the data and provide valuable insights and suggestions.  That is why we are currently examining how best to make our Project Grant and Foundation Grant data more quickly accessible to researchers and other stakeholders.  As such, we appreciate ACECHR's input on the issue of sex disparities and welcome further analysis. 

There are many issues and variables associated with distributing funding equitably. At CIHR, we are dedicated to balancing all of these factors, with the ultimate goal of supporting excellence across all pillars and career stages of health research. As such, CIHR will contact ACECHR shortly to organize a conference call to advance this important discussion. We look forward to continuing to work with Canada's health research community, including ACECHR, to ensure the continued success and sustainability of Canada's health research enterprise.

Sincerely,

Michel Perron
Vice-President,
External Affairs and Business Development
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

          

Jane E. Aubin
Chief Scientific Officer and Vice-President,
Research, Knowledge Translation and Ethics
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

          
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