On March 10, 2020, we – a pan-Canadian multidisciplinary group of 20 youth – were selected by Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser, to serve on her inaugural Youth Council. Our mandate was broad: identify key challenges facing the science community, and weigh in on varying issues from the perspective of youth.
As we end our three-year term, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the future of science in Canada. We think of the youth. Whether it is advancing research as a trainee, or advocating for change as a postdoctoral fellow, it is this next generation of scientists and researchers who are working hard to make a better tomorrow possible. They are doing this, in spite of navigating persistent inequities, struggling to make ends meet amid crushing debt, and overcoming significant roadblocks to employment.
If we want to develop a strong next generation of change-makers, then we must invest and provide opportunities to foster the potential of youth and early career scientists. In our report released last fall, we urged that science in our country be more open, inclusive, collaborative, interdisciplinary and reflective; a collective matter for us all, not just youth. Our report also provided a series of calls to action. Here are what we believe to be a few steps in the right direction:
Multiply the on-ramps
Let’s begin to foster the next generation of scientists and researchers by multiplying the on-ramps to science to allow for different people to engage with it, and to do so at different times in their lives. Just as a river is fed by multiple streams and watersheds, the scientific workforce should be made up of people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences – akin to a braided river workforce. This ranges from recognizing the crucial role that elementary and high school teachers play, to drastically rethinking how we approach graduate level and postdoctoral scholarships, and more broadly, funding for science and research.
Open to all
In creating opportunities, we must ensure that science is open for everyone to explore. Women are still under-represented at almost every level, especially in decision-making roles. Black and Indigenous communities, as well as people of colour, face a sort of hostile glass obstacle course, and LGBTQ+2 individuals experience higher rates of social exclusion in science.
There are several efforts underway to promote a change in culture, but we can think bigger. Let’s look beyond basic metrics, such as research output, and expand our definition of excellence. For example, what if we valued teaching and community engagement more when it comes to award applications, hiring and promotion? We must also go beyond surface-level representation and ensure that historically excluded communities have agency (with appropriate support) within institutions to guide these necessary changes, and to ensure everyone can truly thrive in science.
Make findings accessible
Our report also explored the role of science in broader society. For example, we know that research isn’t complete until it has been shared, yet too much of science is hard to access, locked behind paywalls, or difficult to understand due to technical terms. Just as we are taught to think critically and to carry out fieldwork, our research training must also include how to share our findings with a broader audience, from interested bystanders to policy-makers. We must also continue to foster two-way public engagement and bring science out to the streets, through celebrations like International Day of Girls and Women in Science.
These actions are part of an ambitious vision penned by our council. All of this is only possible because Dr. Nemer created a structure to involve the next generation in science advice, and to do so meaningfully. We challenge decision-makers to do the same.
A second cohort of the Youth Council will soon be announced, but we need not wait for change – the future of science lies collectively in all of our hands. A brighter future is possible, but only if we are all willing to work together, and genuinely listen to the next generation of scientists and researchers.
The authors are members of Canada’s chief science adviser’s inaugural Youth Council. This article originally appeared on the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Science, Society and Policy blog. It has been reprinted with the authors’ permission.