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The Black Hole

Pitching solutions: Transition awards and targeted hiring

BY JONATHAN THON | FEB 16 2012

Read Jonathan’s earlier related entries to catch up on the series:
Making the Case for Increased Federal Support of Biomedical Research and The Problem: A lack of faculty positions at top-tier Canadian Universities and Research Institutes

One approach, in which Canada is lagging, is the introduction of transitional awards (such as the K99 award, offered by the American National Institute of Health) that sees the best foreign postdoctoral fellows funded in their current fellowship position for two years, with an additional three years support provided for the establishment of a research lab at an American institution thereafter. Unlike Canadian new investigator awards in which a young scientist must first receive a letter of commitment to a faculty position from a Canadian university before they are eligible to seek funding, American transitional awards allow new investigators to approach research institutes with funding already in place, making employment all but guaranteed.

Another approach would be to follow the example of Germany or China, which prioritize government support of German/Chinese scientists seeking faculty positions back home. Health science innovation will undoubtedly benefit from increases in the number of repatriated Canadian scientists, in whom Canada has already invested heavily and who should be given the opportunity to give back to Canada when they are at their most productive. This is especially true of young scientists completing their post-doctoral research fellowships and entering tenure-track faculty positions, as a researcher’s most creative and marketable ideas are thought to come earlier in their career. It is also true that scientists at this stage in their career are often recently married, ready to settle down, and in the process of starting a family.

Employment at this stage guarantees security, and young research scientists are unlikely to pick up and move again until much later in their career (typically after their children have graduated from high school and moved away from home). Affectionately referred to as the “two-body problem” in academia, this issue is compounded in family partnerships involving two highly-trained health/research professionals. In my case, my wife (a Canadian citizen and Ph.D. chemist in her 3rd year of medical school at Boston University) is facing the prospect of remaining in the United States with me if I am unable to find employment in Toronto, despite a deep desire to return home. Ironically, this is true of most Canadian researchers I have met and their (more often than not) physician spouses. I cannot imagine that this is good for Canada, and I have no doubt that the repercussions will be felt within the next 10-15 years as we find ourselves losing ground to the United States, Germany, and China in health research and technological advancement.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter 
~Winston Churchill

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the Founder and CEO of STRM.BIO. Before STRM.BIO Dr. Thon Founded Platelet BioGenesis where he served as CEO and Chief Scientific Officer. Before Platelet BioGenesis Dr. Thon was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.
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  1. Pitching solutions: Transition awards and Targeted Hiring « Dr. Thon / February 16, 2012 at 23:09

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