Last week, I attended a lecture by Jorge Cham, creator of PhD Comics who preached about the “power of procrastination.” For those who have seen this lecture before, you may have left wondering whether his statements about what you do while procrastinating are true. He maintains that such oft-demonized activities are the process of discovering what you really want to do with your life, but not everyone has the same career potential associated with their procrastinating. However, I was also reminded what CIHR founding director Alan Bernstein once quipped about clever people – if their dream job doesn’t exist, they will create it. Such stories are difficult to find any precedent for, but a good step in that direction came last month with the release of a simple and fun website.
Eva Amsen of “The Node” fame and Lou Woodley, creator of Cambridge’s BlueSci magazine, launched a new website called “My Sci Career” with the intention of gathering stories from scientists across the world about what careers they’ve pursued with a science degree. Several efforts have been previously made by individuals, graduate school committees, or universities to collate such stories, but none have really succeeded in building a one-stop shop for those wondering what they could do with an advanced degree in the sciences. The unique thing about this site is that it doesn’t have a defined stop point but rather it holds the potential to grow into a highly interactive and career-inspiring space for science trainees across the world.
Typically a series of articles are sponsored by an organization (such as the Node or even our age-old So you want to be a … series) or are confined to a careers booklet about the types of “non-academic” careers one could pursue. These resources are often hard to find and often get pursued only when someone sits down and says “I really need to find a new career.” The personal anecdotes that Eva and Lou are collating have the benefit of telling stories that may simply be a pleasant coffee break read rather than a mission to discover something.
The organization of the site is simple and seems effective in its current form. The stories are sorted by level of training and career type and even offers readers a stream of quotations to randomly click upon in a bid to find out what inspired individuals to make their bold career moves. Time will tell whether increased posts will burden the navigation, but hopefully Eva and Lou have big plans for how to keep stories easy to find and relevant for their readers. A couple of quick suggestions I would have are to build a more magazine feel (e.g., get some pictures, create a style, think New Yorker) and to regularly publicize popular posts so they do not get lost in the Internet ether. Great start so far though – I’m looking forward to seeing more!
Finally, if you’re a science graduate of any ilk and feel that you’ve undertaken a career path that might be interesting for others to hear about, why not consider writing up a post for Eva and Lou? Personal stories are pretty easy to write about, do not require extensive research and sometimes, they are all it takes to help guide a lonely soul into a fruitful and rewarding career.
I was recently invited to give a keynote address at the Human Disease Mapping conference at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland that was coordinated by a small group of the college’s PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. I was asked to share my experiences and story of my academic career in a period where global financial and humanitarian crisis is affecting young scientists’ hopes of doing what they love most – science.
This was an incredible honor for me (certainly one of the major highlights of my career), and while I may not have given the talk that was expected, I did give the talk that I felt needed to be heard. The address itself was very well received, and because of several requests to make it publicly available, I thought I would share it with you here.
Given its length, I have divided the original talk into multiple posts that I will be uploading bi-weekly. I hope you find them useful.
It’s past time to speak candidly about the realities of academic training, and share – genuinely – where it falls short regarding career advancement. I hope to provide an altogether different perspective from what you are used to hearing on the real value and promise of your education by sharing some of my own experiences. A lot of what I will say needs to be said, but this will not make it any easier to hear. I don’t want to pretend to tell you how you feel, or what to do – so I will tell you how I feel, and what I have done, in the hope that some of what I say will strike a chord and resonate.
For starters, you need to know that 86% of you will not hold tenure-track academic faculty positions. Figure 1 represents what your career pipeline actually looks like – with most of you entering a period of postdoctoral training before pursuing other research-focused career paths, or leaving basic research outright. What is shown here is a career trajectory plot, and it is extremely important that we remove all value judgments from these figures right now. Leaving academic science is not “failure.” In fact, quite the opposite is true, and the stronger case suggests that remaining on the academic trajectory is the mistake.
Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that career prospects in academia will not improve any time soon. Figure 2 highlights the reason so few of you will become tenure-track academic faculty despite it being the only career in which most of us will ever receive formal training.
And still: statistically, 72% of you expect to be principal investigators in academia and 92% of you expect to pursue a research-focused career path (Figure 3).
I want to be crystal clear here. There is nothing wrong with choosing a career in academia – but choice necessitates options and I don’t believe options truly exist here. From day 1, academic scientists are taught to be academic professors by mentors who have only ever known this one track. Academic departments do not acknowledge that there are insufficient faculty slots to absorb their own trainees, and ironically provide little training support for the major career trajectories pursued by the vast majority of students passing through their halls, despite their primary educational mission. It’s not surprising that 72% of you want to be university professors, but what ensues is the illusion of free and informed choice, with a predictably crushing awakening. Without an offer in-hand from another employer, you are not so much choosing a career in science, as only ever being presented that one option – and your decision to pursue it blindly, however noble, is ill informed, and will end up doing you more harm than good.
It’s not a question of if you go on to do more with your degree and skill set, it’s when – and to be perfectly frank, there are better jobs out there.
Some of you need to be professors, but the rest of you can be so much more.
Editors Note: The Black Hole team is delighted to have guest blogger Dr. Kelly Holloway share her thoughts on the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference and the dangers of pushing researchers toward an entrepreneurial mindset. Her research group focuses on this issue and others and their website is listed below.
The November 2013 meeting of the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) brought together hundreds of members of the private sector, government and academia to discuss new directions for a Canadian “innovation-based” economy. One mission of the conference, in its fifth iteration, is to mentor future science and innovation policy thinkers. Many of the panelists featured in a series of sessions aimed at early career scientists argued that emerging scientists need to be entrepreneurs; most PhDs will not get academic jobs, so they need to get better at courting the private sector.
As a conference participant I was not surprised by that message. It has been the prevailing theme at career-development sessions, in government reports and in the mainstream media. I am a postdoctoral researcher studying the commercialization of academic science, so I was particularly interested in the string of CSPC conference sessions aimed at the newbies in the crowd, with titles like “Is a PhD Really a Waste of Time?”; “From Pipeline to Network: Rethinking Graduate Training to Embrace Diversity and Promote Innovation” and “Student Entrepreneurs as a Knowledge Vehicle.” I found myself in rooms full of youngish-looking scientists anxiously awaiting answers, hoping for a “no,” that their PhD was not a waste of time. It turns out it isn’t. Not completely.
There were prevailing themes to these sessions, which their titles portend.
Theme 1: Few of you will get academic jobs, so suck it up and move on.
Okay no one actually said, “suck it up,” but one panelist, Ron Freedman of Impact Group did say that the number of people who will get a job as an academic is diminishingly small, “so just live with that.”
This argument is bolstered by reports with grim predictions for PhDs and postdoctoral researchers. According to figures from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the number of tenure track positions held by individuals under the age of 35 decreased from 35% in 1980 to 12% in 2005. At the same time, in the past 10 years the country has doubled the number of PhDs enrolled.
I enter panic mode when I hear these numbers, as my many years of graduate school suddenly appear entirely futile. But I can’t help turn to that very training I have acquired as a social scientist to question how these figures are put to us – as entrepreneurial peer pressure. The dearth of plum faculty positions is repeated consistently, a fixed and unavoidable fact – one which has come from nowhere and cannot be changed. In fact, it is the direct result of a transformation in higher education taking place over the past 30 plus years involving federal and provincial strategies that place more emphasis on private funding for research, provide fewer resources to support tenure-stream jobs, and offload enormous teaching responsibilities to contract faculty that have no job security, few benefits and, in most cases, ridiculously low pay.
This shift has been referred to as “corporatization” or “commercialization,” and subjected to ample criticism (Chan and Fisher 2009, Newson and Polster 2010, Slaughter and Rhoades 2004, Turk 2000, 2008). But those historical transformations of the university did not enter into the CSPC discussions of the dilemma, put to emerging researchers as something they just have to live with.
Theme 2: Be an entrepreneur. Learn soft business skills.
Panelists consistently lamented the lack of what they called “soft skills” amongst graduate students and postdocs in the sciences: Leadership, communication, administration, creativity and interpersonal ability. For example, Nana Lee, coordinator for graduate professional development at the University of Toronto, claimed she can help PhDs communicate, manage their time, learn entrepreneurial skills, understand and apply ethical practices, and work effectively in teams and as leaders. The message is a little patronizing. Do graduate students not have experience working in teams (i.e., the laboratory?), planning and managing their time (i.e., researching, teaching, publishing, participating in departmental governance, conferencing, etc.), understanding and applying ethical practices (i.e., doing research and filling out grant applications)?
They may be lacking “entrepreneurial skills,” but PhDs aren’t training to be entrepreneurs. They are training to do high quality scientific research.
Theme 3: Don’t feel constrained by the expectations of academia.
A session called “Student Entrepreneurs as a Knowledge Vehicle” explored how to break down the divide between academia and the private sector by introducing the “entrepreneurial mindset.” Panelists argued universities must transform the “culture” of academia to be friendlier to the private sector and create better infrastructure in the academy to train emerging scientists in business skills. These speakers ignored differences in values, norms and ethics in the academic world and the business world. In the academic world, some scientists place a high value things like open access, peer review, academic freedom, science for the public good and ethics. In the business/industrial world, profit is the bottom line.
There are certainly excellent and well-meaning scientists working for this sector, but this does not mitigate the profit motive. When research is aimed at producing profit for a company’s shareholders, the quality of the research is by definition not the top priority. There are enough examples of research “mishaps” from the pharmaceutical industry to warrant concern. In this context, it is noteworthy that CSPC panelist Thomas Corr, CEO of Canada’s flagship model for university-industry research partnerships, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), stressed that the OCE’s involvement is guided more by economic considerations than the quality of the research.
There is a dangerous trajectory at play here – a science policy direction that undermines the importance of science in the public interest, or even science for the sake of knowledge – that values economic considerations over quality. Campaigns like Get Science Right have started to document the kinds of research that are not going to fare well in this economy, painting a bleak picture for the future if things do not change.
Kelly Holloway recently received her PhD in sociology from York University. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Dalhousie University, studying emerging health research and the commercialization of academic science – for more information about the project see: recommercialize.ca. @kellyjholloway.
We are very pleased to introduce a guest post from Dr. Mark Larson, an associate professor of biology at Augustana College, South Dakota. Mark is a distinguished scientist, a gifted lecturer and a strong advocate for science education. His article this week is particularly timely in light of recent events in the South Dakota Legislature.
Early in February 2014, a member of the South Dakota State Legislature submitted a bill for consideration that would prohibit administrators of public schools in South Dakota from reprimanding teachers who chose to teach their students about intelligent design in the science classroom. South Dakota is not the first place where such bills have been introduced. However, teaching of intelligent design has largely been outlawed after the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in 2005 which ruled that intelligent design was, in effect, biblical creationism in disguise.
While there are some scientists who are trying to promote intelligent design on scientific grounds, most proponents of the idea are unabashed in their view that evolution is the problem, and is particularly a problem from certain religious standpoints. It is not hard to conclude that most of the support for intelligent design is not from a scientific perspective, but a concern that evolution undermines the culture and values that certain Christian sects tightly adhere to. Thankfully, the bill was pulled from consideration shortly after it was introduced. However, the need to defend evolution will never cease.
Editor’s Note: Below is Mark’s response to an op/ed piece that ran in South Dakota’s largest newspaper on February 6th.
As a professor at a private, church-based college, I am not compelled to follow any governmental decision about what can and cannot be taught in a public education setting. We are not bound by the precedent set by Edwards v. Aguilar (1987), which prohibited the teaching of literal biblical creationism as science in schools, or the findings of Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005), which found that intelligent design was religious enough in nature and scientifically questionable as to not be acceptable in the science classroom.
We teach evolution for the simple reason that it is the best scientific explanation for the diversity of life, and because evolution provides an underlying architecture that unifies all of biology. There are other ideas about how life came to be as it is (intelligent design is one), and there are scientists who are examining these possibilities. I won’t claim to know their motivations for doing so, religious or otherwise, and I won’t impugn their scientific acumen for exploring ideas off the beaten path. But their ideas must be subject to scrutiny, as all scientific ideas must be.
Under this scrutiny, the vast majority of scientists resoundingly reject the main premise of intelligent design – that if something looks designed, it is. Design proponents point to many cellular components as evidence for this idea, including blood clotting, the cellular immune system, and the main energy-producing protein in all cells. As we have learned more about these systems, there is surprising clarity and simple chemical explanations as to how these systems evolve. Not every scientist sees it this way – and in science, there is never 100% agreement. But to give equal footing to evolution and intelligent design has no basis in the scientific literature. To teach that evolution and intelligent design are in any way on equal footing is to basically discard the last 150 years of scientific progress. We do our students a tremendous disservice to claim the equality of scientific ideas that are not equal.
While evolution provides a powerful explanation for the diversity of life, the findings of evolution do not (and cannot) provide absolute proof as to the existence or non-existence of a higher power. While some people, scientists included, look at evolutionary biology and other aspects of science and conclude that there is no God, we don’t teach that either. However, there is no escaping that evolution does provide an explanation for the diversity of life on earth in a way that does not require a higher power’s intervention. Molecules following very basic chemical and physical principles come together in ways that are compatible with what we know of evolution. Organic molecules can form from inorganic precursors. RNA can be synthesized that self-replicates. Cells are organized in ways that are chemically spontaneous. Genes change and new cellular components arise in ways that are easily observable. Organisms show clear biological relationships to one another.
I am not naïve – I know that this can have profound implications. If one believes that a higher power is responsible and necessary for life as we know it, the fact that evolution provides a model where no intelligent agent is necessary can be extremely disconcerting. This is not the intent of science. Science’s only intent is to explain the unknown, and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead – separate from questions of meaning or purpose. The questions of “ultimate concern” do not change no matter what evolutionary biology tells us. We should not be fooled to believe that we are beholden to evolution in our examination of “how then shall we live.” Accordingly, we should not let this fear dictate how we teach our students in the science classroom.
Last spring I wrote an article called “Postdoctoral mentors and a regular reality check” which discussed the topic of a secondary mentorship program. The postdoctoral-fellow second mentor is something I’ve been pushing to create here in Cambridge. Many people find some type of mentorship on their own through departmental seminars, collaborations, conferences, etc. – but are all types of mentorship getting covered?
First of all, I had a short think about what the core components of a mentor should be in my own field of life sciences:
- scientific – how to do scientific research, how to write papers/grants
- network – how to engage other scientists (e.g., at conferences), how to review papers, how to publicize research
- career – how to make it in academia, when to apply (or not!) for grants/fellowships, when to leave the current post, non-academic career options
Much ink has been spilled on the lack of non-academic career mentoring and we’ve also written quite a lot about this on our site (“So you want to be a…” series, “What to do with a PhD“, Engaging Early”). However, this type of mentoring must be preceded by a real assessment of whether one should or should not be thinking about these options.
The “reality check”
The mentoring that virtually nobody in our line of research gets is perhaps the toughest to deliver and the toughest to hear: the reality check. It comes in two flavours: 1) you don’t have the necessary skills to become an independent group leader, and 2) you could be an independent group leader, but you have a whole set of other skills that could potentially be better applied elsewhere. I would maintain that the vast majority of early career researchers have very little mentorship in this area and the “reality check” could save quite a lot of teeth gnashing.
Some of the best mentors I’ve had in my own career have been question askers – the people who weasel out of me what I am motivated to do despite me not having made up my mind. They are informed (i.e., they understand the system), they are non-directive (they don’t say “if I were you, I would do X”), and they are invested in your success and happiness. This is not always your supervisor – in fact, it often isn’t – but is rather a good friend who has more experience and understands your situation.
Inevitably, some people figure this out for themselves and find these mentors throughout their career and it usually is not a formal relationship. However, many people never get a broad level of mentorship that covers all the needed areas, so many universities and postdoc associations are rumbling about how to make this happen for all researchers. The Catch-22 however is that this often requires a formalizing of a currently informal relationship.
Indeed, there are examples of very formal mentorship programs, such as at the National Institutes of Health, where the structure is mandated, the outcomes are measured and the frequency of interaction fairly prescribed. At most institutions this might meet with resistance due to the large time commitment for the mentor and could feel burdensome for those being mentored that already have established informal networks of mentors. We’d love to hear from people involved in formal mentorship programs as to whether there is value in such initiatives.
There are also many efforts by scientific societies to encourage early career scientists to meet established researchers (meet-the-expert lunches, social events at smaller conferences, selected trainee/fellow programs etc) though I would argue that most of these are geared toward identifying those on track for academic careers. So how do we get people advice on the missing reality check?
Overall, the simplest solution in my mind would be to cultivate an informal and low maintenance relationship between mentors and researchers which would require an identified willingness (maybe as simple as a list of people willing to be approached) and a mental preparedness on the part of both mentor and trainee.
Last week, the creators of the AAAS myIDP published an article that serves as a very useful reminder to people searching for mentors to not expect everything to be done for them. Mentors can be most effective when you know what questions you want to have answered and have given the issue some thought. If you’re at a career decision point, I’d advise a read and, as always, a click through the myIDP questionnaire to help identify your own motivations.
Following from last week’s post containing an overview of different pathways to immigration in Canada, today’s entry by guest blogger Sonja B. will focus on specific considerations relevant to the Canadian Experience Class.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on immigration issues relevant to international trainees in science. I hope readers will find this a useful springboard for further discussion and share their thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section. This series of blog posts should not be considered legal advice. Rather, the intention is to create a framework to facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences. We will attempt to link to official sources wherever appropriate, encourage our commenters to do the same, and we will remind readers to consult the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website as the only authoritative and up-to-date source of information.
The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream is a popular choice for skilled workers hoping to immigrate to Canada. Because applying to the program doesn’t require a permanent job offer (increasingly rare in today’s economic climate), the CEC is especially attractive to recent university graduates working in temporary positions or on contracts. A full list of requirements to apply to the program is available on the CIC website; some of these are discussed in detail below.
The major requirement for applying to the CEC is possession of at least 12 months of full-time (defined as over 30 hours/week) paid work experience in a skilled occupation in Canada. Skilled occupations are defined as those falling within the National Occupation Classification skill types 0, A or B (with some exceptions). Of note, the aforementioned work experience cannot be acquired on a student work permit (co-op, on-campus or off-campus).
In practice, most international students hoping to immigrate to Canada through the CEC would need to work for a year following graduation in a skilled occupation (not necessarily in their field of study) to meet the work experience requirement. In my personal experience, I worked in two “skilled” jobs for eight months each as a co-op student; however, I couldn’t use this experience to qualify for the CEC. However, the contacts I made while enrolled in the co-op program were instrumental to helping me find a job after graduation, which in turn made me eligible to apply for permanent residency through this program.
One important wrinkle to take into consideration when applying through the CEC is deciding which NOC code best fits one’s job description; a non-trivial endeavor, as many job titles don’t readily translate to NOC codes. Postdocs in particular have faced uncertainty over whether to use the generic NOC code for postdoctoral fellow (4011, “University professors and lecturers” including postdocs), the description of which emphasizes teaching responsibilities, or to pick a code that better reflects the discipline they’re conducting research in (e.g. 2121, “Biologists and related scientists”). Anecdotal examples exist of people achieving successful outcomes with either approach; it’s currently unclear what criteria one would need to evaluate in order to decide which code to use.
To provide proof of qualifying work experience, an applicant needs to submit a reference letter from their employer(s) detailing their job responsibilities and duties, NOC code, salary, hours of work per week and other information (Document Checklist, item 10). Applicants would be well advised to ensure their employers have ready access to all the required information (one’s immediate supervisor may not necessarily be familiar with the NOC classification system, for instance). The reference letter is also an opportunity to provide an explanation for any discrepancies, for example between one’s official job title and the NOC code used, or one’s salary and the average salary for that NOC code.
In my personal experience, proving that my employment qualified as “skilled” work experience for the purposes of the CEC was a source of much anxiety. My official job title, “Research Student” implied that I was a student, even though I was a full-time employee, held a post-graduation work permit and was not enrolled in any educational institution. I was concerned that my job title would negatively impact my application, as work experience gained on a student work permit expressly cannot be used to qualify for the CEC.
In the end, my supervisor’s reference letter described in detail the ways in which the job duties I actually performed were consistent with the NOC code I used (2221, “Biological technician”), clarified that I was a full-time employee and not a student (despite my job title), and explained that my salary – while far below the national average for the NOC code I used – was consistent with my experience, having just graduated with a BSc degree. Ultimately, my application was approved.
Finally, another potential source of uncertainty for postdocs is the requirement to submit T4 information slips or other supporting documentation for the period of qualifying work experience (Document Checklist, item 10). Many postdocs are paid on a T4A form, which can also be used to disclose income derived from self-employment. As work experience gained while self-employed cannot be used to qualify for the CEC, it would seem prudent to provide a clarification of the employer-employee relationship if a T4A form is used as proof of qualifying work experience. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some postdocs paid on a T4A have been rejected, whereas others’ applications have been successful. This specific issue has not been brought up on the CIC Help Centre, and official clarification would be welcome.
We hope that readers will find this series of posts a useful springboard for further discussion. We hope that the comments section will stimulate exchanges of stories, experiences and insights by international scholars working in Canadian science labs to help each other move through the sometimes arduous but potentially very rewarding process of immigrating to Canada.
We are very pleased to have a series of posts from Sonja B. in the coming weeks on the experiences of an international student moving from Europe to Canada. The idea of the posts is to stimulate a discussion amongst international scholars in Canadian science labs to help each other wade through the sometimes confusing and difficult process of immigrating. The first post is below and will be followed next week by Part 2.
Immigration issues are increasingly relevant to trainees at higher education institutions in Canada. At my alma mater, the University of British Columbia, international students comprise 14% of the undergraduate population, and 25% of grad students; the number of foreign trainees is even higher at the postdoctoral level, with 38% of postdocs in Canada here on temporary work visas. Many of these highly skilled individuals consider staying in Canada permanently, but the immigration process is lengthy, complicated and expensive, though potentially very rewarding.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series on immigration issues relevant to international trainees in science. I hope readers will find this a useful springboard for further discussion and share their thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section. This series of blog posts should not be considered legal advice, but rather the intention is to create a framework to facilitate sharing ideas and experiences. We will attempt to link to official sources wherever appropriate, encourage our commenters to do the same, and we will remind readers to consult the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website as the only authoritative and up-to-date source of information.
As a newly minted permanent resident in Canada, the challenges and frustrations of the application process are still fresh in my memory. Perhaps the biggest obstacle I encountered was the inability to get questions answered; the application forms were replete with ambiguous and at times conflicting instructions, but there was nowhere I felt I could turn to for help. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) call centre was always busy; my calls would inevitably be dropped before I was able to get through to an agent, and so I ended up having to make educated guesses in the many areas in which there was uncertainty (the recently added Help Centre on the CIC website was definitely a positive development!).
With time, I discovered a few online forums where applicants shared their stories of success and failure. Some of these anecdotes were helpful and were backed up with references to official (if obscure) documents; many were not. The only other reliable source of advice seemed to be to contact an immigration lawyer, which was incompatible with my grad student budget. It would have been extremely helpful to have institutional support throughout the immigration process, in the same way that most universities guide their trainees through the process of applying for grants and fellowships, etc; however, most of the time, I felt I was on my own.
Several options exist for international trainees wishing to stay in Canada permanently. In this post, I’ll cover a few routes available to “economic class” applicants. I won’t delve into the “family class” pathways partly because of the wealth of information already available online, and also because they contain no special provisions for university graduates and other highly qualified personnel.
The three main options available to international trainees (including recent graduates from Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD programs, grad students and postdocs) wanting to immigrate to Canada are the Provincial Nominee Program, the Federal Skilled Worker Program, and the Canadian Experience Class.
Provincial Nominee Program
The Provincial Nominee Program was established in an effort to give provinces more control over recruiting new immigrants. Provinces first assess applications and nominate candidates for permanent residence; these are forwarded to the federal agency CIC for further processing and issuing of permanent resident visas to successful applicants. In my home province of B.C., recent college and university graduates can apply to immigrate through the PNP if they have a permanent job offer; MSc or PhD graduates in the natural, applied or health sciences do not need one. The B.C. PNP does not require an applicant to have any work experience, so this is a pathway students can potentially pursue if they want to start the immigration process immediately after graduation. The eligibility criteria vary considerably by province; some provinces do not require applicants to have a permanent job offer; others additionally include a minimum period of work experience as a prerequisite to apply. People with postdoctoral experience may also be eligible to apply as skilled workers through this program if they have a permanent job offer. At the time of writing, the processing time for the second step (i.e., by CIC) was 17 months; it’s unclear how much time the provincial-level assessment takes.
Federal Skilled Worker Program
The PhD student stream of the FSW program allows international doctoral students to apply for permanent resident status while they complete their degree. The requirements specific to this stream are to have completed at least two years of study towards a PhD (or have obtained one within the past 12 months), be in good academic standing, and not be the recipient of an award that mandates the return to one’s home country. Additional requirements specific to the FSW program apply, including demonstrated language ability, a minimum of one year of skilled work experience (not necessarily in Canada), as well as possession of a Canadian or Canadian-equivalent diploma, degree or certificate. A maximum of 1,000 applications are processed under this stream each year; the current processing time is 25 months.
Canadian Experience Class
The Canadian Experience Class is one of the fastest and fastest growing paths to permanent residence, the current processing time being only 13 months. It also has relatively few eligibility requirements compared to the PNP and FSW programs, the biggest ticket item being 12 months of skilled full-time work experience in Canada. The program has been promoted by CIC as a mechanism to retain international student graduates who wish to stay in Canada, although there are currently no special provisions made for university graduates. In effect, this means that anyone who meets the eligibility criteria (including, potentially, postdocs!) may be able to acquire permanent residency through this route. It’s worth noting that, unlike the PNP in many provinces, applying through CEC does not require a permanent job offer – something that many scientists working in academia will know can be difficult to acquire.
Part 2 of this series will follow next week and will break down some of the specific challenges faced by different classes of applicants to this program, including recent university graduates, grad students and postdocs.
It’s a new year, and with it come renewed efforts to improve the status of academic funding in Canada. While our reader feedback has been phenomenal this last year, our government’s has been less so. Back in June 2013 I wrote a series of open letters on the status of science funding in Canada which I addressed to the Honourable Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the New Democratic Party), the Honourable Daniel Paillé (Chef du Bloc Québécois), the Honourable Elizabeth May (Leader of the Green Party of Canada) and the Honourable Justin Trudeau (Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada), culminating in an open letter I posted on this site to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper.
I received my first response within weeks from M. Paillé, and had been hoping to run a follow-up article comparing the priorities and vision of our members of Parliament and their respective parties regarding the future of Canadian academic science. Surprisingly, this first response was also the only one I received as of this writing, and I share it with you here both in commendation of Daniel Paillé, who stepped down as leader of the Bloc Québécois on December 16 due to health reasons, and in riposte to our other representatives from whom I am still interested in hearing.
As the letter is in French, I have transcribed it below for the benefit of our extended readership and included the original response for reference. Please excuse any errors in translation, after nearly 5 years in Boston my French is a bit rusty.
Mr. Noah Thon
Thank you for taking the time to write about the importance of investing financial and human resources for academic research and higher education.
50 years ago, Quebec had the lowest school enrolment in North America. In 1960, only 63% of students who entered primary school finished their seventh year. Barely 13% of Francophones finished Grade 11 and only 3% had attended university. To address this major gap, the Government of Quebec has made the shift toward accessibility. Result: the level of school attainment in Quebec has almost reached that of the rest of Canada in certain areas and exceeded it in others.
Unfortunately, while it is more necessary than ever to invest resources to ensure that our society remains at the forefront of the knowledge economy, Quebec’s efforts to ensure a high level of education are checked by the financial resource decisions of the federal government.
In the mid-1990s, the federal government made drastic cuts in transfers to Quebec and the provinces to fight against the deficit, which had the effect of causing significant financial pressure on the Quebec system’s postsecondary education.
One way to overcome this lack of funding for postsecondary education lies in adequate support from the federal government.
The Bloc Québécois is asking the federal government to first restore the financing of postsecondary education indexed to 1994-1995 levels, that is to say before Ottawa slashed transfers. For Quebec alone, this represents $ 800 million annually. The Bloc Québécois believes that this amount will then have to be revised according to the growing number of students attending the Quebec university network.
This money would empower Quebec to attract more teachers and researchers of international caliber and to preserve access to postsecondary education to address once and for all the historic deficit of schooling.
Be assured that the Bloc Québécois will continue to demand that the federal government improves its financing of postsecondary education by increasing its contribution to the transfer for education and social programs in Quebec.
Please accept, Mr. Noah Thon, my best regards.
(The letter in its original French is here, in PDF).
Happy New Year to all of our readers. It was an extremely busy autumn and there has been a lot of reader commentary on the Black Hole site – many thanks from both Jon and me. Of particular note, we ran a session at the Canadian Science Policy Conference and asked readers for feedback on three major questions:
- Should there be multiple career streams for publicly funded researchers?
- Should the time to complete a PhD be reduced? (And if so, how can this be achieved?)
- Should PhD researchers be treated like medical residents and junior accountants despite unclear career outcomes?
The feedback we received was great, and we’ll be using the material in future posts to help outline some proposals for alleviating the human resources crunch in early-career researcher streams. In particular, we had good cases made for shorter PhD programs (i.e., hard caps of 5 years) and different styles of graduate training programs to accommodate non-academic career paths.
Finally, I am once again making an annual call for guest posts on topics near and dear to the hearts of our readers. We have a two-part series on the practicalities of immigrating to Canada for studies/research coming in January and we’re always on the lookout for future posts.
Our posts from this past quarter can be found below in case your autumn was as busy as ours!
- A model to help bring discoveries to the marketplace
- A case for principal investigators as independent contractors
- Supporting excellence in science
- Attracting and retaining talented researchers
- Tough love and a plan for the future – CSPC panel recap
- Our panel this week at the Canadian Science Policy Conference
- Official launch of the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations
- Half of Canada’s early career researchers are not Canadian
- Sick of studenthood, early career researchers want employee status
Dave also continued to write for the Signals blog on stem cells and regenerative medicine with three posts from the 2013 Till and McCulloch Meeting in Banff
- EMC: Theory of regenerativity
- Day 2 at #TMM2013: Outliers and Rebellious Cells
- Day 1 at #TMM2013: Hongkui Deng breaks down iPS cells
All the best for 2014 – we look forward to another great year!
Dave and Jonathan
In a previous post I made the argument that one way of recovering federally funded-research costs and bringing discoveries and innovations to the marketplace is by having governments included in intellectual property agreements. My guess is that getting universities to give up their patent rights and ability to claim indirect costs from incoming grants are going to be the major hurdles in academic reform. To justify this income, research institutions should be tasked with turning basic research programs covered by government grants into profitable (and therefore sustainable) ventures. Indeed, this was a conclusion shared by a report released by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, State of the Nation 2010, showing that while Canada has talent and resources in spades, it is not leveraging them effectively to take a global leading role in innovation.
One solution is to emphasize infrastructure by recruiting industrial partners, and connecting scientists with physicians, business professionals and engineers. In return, research institutes can retain their fair share of the profits deriving from the intellectual discovery, distributed as salary and laboratory support amongst the research faculty, with a major portion directed back into departments overseeing the commercialization of future research projects. By putting funding decisions in the hands of academic departments, which are subsequently supported by profits deriving from the technology their faculty develop, the emphasis for research faculty will be shifted toward translational research for which research institutes will have a vested interest in commercializing.
What distinguishes this model from a private start-up company is that federal support of academic institutions with public funds will direct research into areas of public need. For example, instead of supporting individual investigators, money can be paid out to select (often collaborating) departments with the necessary expertise to expand the understanding of a certain field/condition for the purposes of improving its treatment – promoting more collaborative research amongst the faculty involved.
While research labs are already exceptional at making potentially profitable and applicable discoveries – as is evidenced by a booming pharmaceutical industry in the United States – federal research support of academic institutions and departments frees researchers in these settings to pursue higher-risk science by subsidizing risk (as governments are meant to do). In order to take advantage of these funds, and support their continued existence, research institutions will have a vested interest in expanding their technology development department to turn good ideas into marketable products, sold at near-cost to Canadians (in exchange for the public’s support of academic infrastructure) and for more sizable profits outside of our borders.
Not all research will be profitable and creating allowances for profit-sharing by making academic departments responsible for funding salaries and lab support will promote faculty collaboration to turn good ideas into marketable products with broader applicability, as ensuing profits will support the individual basic research efforts of all faculty involved. Technologies developed at academic research institutes can then be leased to pharmaceutical companies at profit to develop the lower risk technological advances that will see major research breakthroughs made into practical applications.
Helping scientists develop their ideas into commercial products and allowing them to keep a larger share of the ensuing profits (perhaps as bonuses) would help leverage our current scientific excellence, recruit top scientists to Canada, and improve our global standing in technology and innovation.