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THE BLACK HOLE

Come on NSERC, really – you’ve completely missed the point…

By DAVID KENT | August 14, 2012

I always knew that bad news was released on Fridays in the summer… but last Friday was pretty ridiculous.  NSERC has just announced that in order to improve its success rate (just clocked at 7.8% in the most recent competition) it will now reduce the number of times an individual can apply for a postdoctoral award from two to one.

…  now that your jaw is back in place,  let’s look at what really matters.  The absolute number of fellowships awarded by NSERC represents how many scholars it supports each year through its program, and no matter how many people are applying, this is the most important number.

Sadly, the last five years have seen NSERC’s funded fellowships drop dramatically (awards / applicants):

  • 250 / 1169 (2008)
  • 254 / 1220 (2009)
  • 286 / 1341 (2010)
  • 133 / 1431 (2011)
  • 98 / 1254 (2012)

This is unbelievable and it cannot be sugar coated with a letter about streamlining or complaints about increased applicants (just a 7% increase in applicants from 2008 to 2012).

The sad facts are that NSERC is awarding 66% fewer fellowships.  As you can imagine, this has had an effect on success rates, but NSERC’s solution is to try and reduce the number of applicants in an effort to bring up the rate so that they can rid themselves of their sub-10% success rates.

I can’t even begin to explain everything that has run through my mind while writing this post other than repeating that NSERC has completely missed the point.

If you would like your comments to be raised at the next CAPS executive meeting, I strongly encourage you to write them below.

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
David Kent holds a PhD in Genetics (UBC) and a BSc in Genetics and English (UWO) and is currently a CIHR postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK. He studies normal and malignant stem cell biology and currently sits on the executive for the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars.
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  1. Erika / August 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    This is infuriating. And I’m one of the lucky 9% from 2011. You hit the nail on the head Dave: Reducing the number of applicants does not increase the number of people being awarded fellowships.

    Furthermore, if you give people a single opportunity to apply for an NSERC PDF, they are going to wait until they have as many pubs as possible. So instead of applying during the final year of their PhD, people will have to wait until a few years after their PhD has been completed in order to accumulate more pubs so they have an increased likelihood of succeeding. Which just a) increases the age of the applicant and the total number of years of training required to march down the academic road and b) increases the requirement to receive a fellowship (e.g. it was estimated that you needed 8 pubs in 2011 – soon it will be 12 or more!).

    And just to make matters worse, $40,000 is a pathetic salary for a highly trained postdoc. I’m currently using my NSERC PDF in Australia and I make less than minimum wage. The other postdocs here make $70,000-$80,000. So young Canadian scientists are fighting tooth and nail to live in poverty.

    Why would I want to pursue a career in academia in Canada when science is so poorly funded?

  2. Casteels / August 15, 2012 at 10:14 am

    NSERC’s reason for the drop this year (and partially the year before) is that money had to be moved to fund this year’s crop of new CREATE programs. The scary part is that there are still two more years of new CREATE programs that will need money from somewhere! Which I guess implies that unless the scholarships and fellowships budget is greatly increased there may only be about 30 PDFs in a few years!

  3. Richard Gordon / August 15, 2012 at 11:59 am

    It might be relevant to read:
    Gordon, R. & B.J. Poulin (2009). Cost of the NSERC science grant peer review system exceeds the cost of giving every qualified researcher a baseline grant. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance 16(1), 1-28.
    and ask where all that money is going. Contact me for copies. DickGordonCan@gmail.com

  4. […] screwing the scientific research community and early career scientists around enough, they’ve decided to artificially inflate their grant success rate by limiting the number of times you can app…. So much for the old try, try […]

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