An open letter from early-career scientists in Canada

UPDATE: Please visit the web site of the Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers to for news and updates.

This letter was written to succinctly describe the funding environment we find ourselves in while trying to start our labs, to be distributed to MPs at the March 7 Health Research Caucus reception in Ottawa.

Together, we are asking that the government renew its investment in health and biomedical research. This is essential to enable the discoveries and innovations that will increase our understanding of health and disease.

There are currently 118 signatories to this letter. If you are interested in having your name added and/or in joining our group, please contact me at michael.hendricks@mcgill.ca

A PDF of the letter in French and in English is available here.

A crisis for new investigators in health and biomedical research

“Early-career investigators” (ECIs) are typically assistant professors at research universities and hospitals who have held their positions for 5 years or less. Like many other researchers in Canada, ECIs rely on CIHR for grant funding. However, increased competition, declining success rates, and recent changes to the grant programs at CIHR have severely disadvantaged early-career scientists. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs program, and universities invest millions each year to recruit these scientists and equip their labs. These investments are squandered when ECIs are not given adequate opportunities to obtain funding to operate their labs and conduct research.

Under the previous CIHR grant system, ECIs received approximately 18% of the funds. Starting in 2015, however, CIHR transferred 45% of its grants budget to the new Foundation Scheme. In the first year of the Foundation, ECIs received just 5% of the funds awarded. While a quota guaranteed that 15% of grants were awarded to ECIs, these awards were on average a third the size of those given to established researchers. CIHR is the only major health research agency in the world whose current granting system awards systematically smaller grants to early-career investigators.

The remaining 55% of the CIHR budget goes into the new Project Scheme, launching this year. At current budget levels and with increased application pressure, success rates will be at an all-time low. Even if ECIs do as well in the Project Scheme as in the old system (~18%), an optimistic assumption, low funding in Foundation means that CIHR will decrease overall support for ECIs by over 30%, from approximately $90 million per year to $60 million.

ECIs face obstacles at grant review due to a lack of documented experience compared to established investigators. In the previous system, CIHR review panels had a culture of actively promoting ECI success. These in-person panels have been disbanded in favour of an online system where reviewers are not required to consider career stage, which is likely to reduce ECI success in the Project Scheme.

SOLUTIONS: Most funding agencies like CIHR have compensatory mechanisms to ensure ECI success, yet CIHR’s Project Scheme has none. At the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, the “fundable score” cut-off is adjusted so that ECI success rates match those of other applicants. This simple solution does not require a special funding program or changes to the peer review process, and it has worked well since its implementation in 2009.

On behalf of current and future new investigators in Canadian health and biomedical research, the signatories of this letter request immediate action to fulfill CIHR’s legal mandate to build research capacity through equitable investment in the next generation of scientists:

  1. Guarantee that ECI success rates match those of non-ECI applicants in the Project Scheme through an NIH-style adjustment to the fundable score for ECIs.
  2. Set a minimum ECI quota in Foundation of 15% of funds rather than 15% of grants.
  3. Renew Canada’s commitment to health research by bringing CIHR’s budget back to a level where it can support the growth of discovery and innovation in health and biomedical sciences.

These steps are essential for the recruitment and retention of the best young scientists in Canada and for the future of Canadian health research.

Thierry Alquier, Professeur adjoint
 Département de médecine
 Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal

Benoit Arsenault, Professeur adjoint
 Département de médecine
 Faculté de médecine
 Université Laval

Jean-Mathieu Beauregard, Professeur adjoint
 Département de radiologie et médecine nucléaire
 Université Laval
 Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec

Chantal Bémeur, Professeure adjointe
 Département de nutrition
 Faculté de médecine
 Université de Montréal

Jackie Bender, Assistant Professor
 Dalla Lana School of Public Health
 University of Toronto
 Research Scientist, ELLICSR Health, Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre
 Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, University Health Network

Nicolas Bertrand, Professeur adjoint
 Faculté de pharmacie
 Université Laval

Steve Bilodeau, Professeur Adjoint, Faculté de Médecine
 Canada Research Chair in Transcriptional Genomic
 Université Laval
 Centre de recherche sur le Cancer
 Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec (Hôtel-Dieu de Québec)

Nicolas Bisson, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Cancer Proteomics
 Centre de Recherche sur le Cancer
 Centre de Recherche du CHU de Québec
 Université Laval

Patricia Blackburn, Professeure agrégée
 Programme d’étude en kinésiologie
 Département des sciences de la santé
 Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

Roxane Borgès Da Silva, Professeure adjointe
 Faculté des sciences infirmières
 Université de Montréal

Patrice Brassard, Professeur agrégé
 Département de Kinésiologie
 Faculté de médecine
 Université Laval
 Chercheur, Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec

Mylaine Breton, Professeure adjointe
 Département des sciences de la santé communautaire
 Université de Sherbrooke — Campus Longueuil
 Chercheure, Centre de recherche
 Hôpital Charles-Le Moyne

Jamie Burr, Assistant Professor
 Human Health & Nutritional Sciences
 University of Guelph, HHNS

Eric Campos, Assistant Professor
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology Program
 University of Toronto

Emmanuelle Careau, professeure adjointe
 Département de réadaptation
 Faculté de médecine
 Université Laval
 Chercheur, Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale et Centre de recherche sur les soins et services de première ligne de l’Université Laval

Jean-Philippe Chaput, Assistant Professor 
 Department of Pediatrics
 University of Ottawa
 Research Scientist, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group
 Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute

Marie-Annick Clavel, Professeure adjointe
 Département de médecine
 Faculté de médecine
 Université Laval
 Chercheure, Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec

Julie Claycomb, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Small RNA Biology
 Assistant Chair, Assistant Graduate Coordinator
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 University of Toronto

Kristin Connor, Assistant Professor
 Department of Health Sciences
 CHAIM Centre
 Carleton University

Evelyn Cornelissen, Clinical Assistant Professor
 Department of Family Practice
 University of British Columbia

Hélène Decaluwe, Professeur adjoint de clinique
 Université de Montréal
 Service d’immunologie et rhumatologie pédiatrique
 Centre de recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine

Mathieu Dehaes, Professeur adjoint
 Département de radiologie et Institut de génie biomédical
 Université de Montréal
 Chercheur scientifique, Centre de recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine

Geraldine Delbes, Assistant Professor
 Division of Environmental Toxicology
 INRS — Institut Armand Frappier

Michael Downey, Assistant Professor
 Cellular and Molecular Medicine
 University of Ottawa

Arnaud Duhoux, Professeur adjoint
 Faculté des sciences infirmières
 Université de Montréal

Robin E. Duncan, Assistant Professor
 Physiology & Nutrition
 Department of Kinesiology
 University of Waterloo

Alexander Ensminger, Assistant Professor
 Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
 University of Toronto
 Adjunct Scientist, Public Health Ontario

Jennifer Estall, Assistant Research Professor
 Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
 Université de Montréal

Philippe Fait, Professeur adjoint
 Département des sciences de l’activité physique
 Chercheur, Groupe de recherche sur les affections neuromusculosquelettiques
 Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC)
 Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez, Assistant Professor
 Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering
 Department of Cell and Systems Biology
 University of Toronto

Andrés Finzi, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair on Retroviral Entry
 Université de Montréal
 Centre de recherche du CHUM (CRCHUM)

Amélie Fradet-Turcotte, Professeur adjointe
 Département de Biologie Moléculaire, Biochimie Médicale et Pathologie
 Université Laval
 Principal Investigator, CHU de Québec Research Center

John P. Frampton, PhD, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Cellular, Biomaterial and Matrix Interaction
 School of Biomedical Engineering
 Dalhousie University

Daniel Fuller, Assistant Professor
 School of Public Health
 University of Saskatchewan

Claudia Gagnon, Professeur adjoint
 Département de médecine
 Université Laval
 Chercheure, Axe endocrinologie et néphrologie
 Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec
 Endocrinologue, CHU de Québec

Claudine Gauthier, Assistant Professor
 Department of Physics
 PERFORM Centre
 Concordia University

Jérôme Gauvin-Lepage, Assistant Professor
 Faculty of Nursing
 University of Montreal
 Researcher, Research Center of the Sainte-Justine University Hospital

Nader Ghasemlou, Assistant Professor
 Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine 
 Department of Biomedical & Molecular Sciences
 Queen’s University

Anik Giguere, Professeure adjointe
 Vice-décanat à la pédagogie et au développement professionnel continu
 Département de médecine familiale et de médecine d’urgence
 Université Laval

Audrey R. Giles, Associate Professor
 School of Human Kinetics
 University of Ottawa

Sylvie Girard, Professeur-Chercheur Adjoint
 Département de’obstétrique et gynécologie
 Université de Montréal
 Centre de Recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine

Anna Goldenberg, Assistant Professor
 Department of Computer Science
 University of Toronto
 Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology Program, SickKids
 Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

Sara J.T. Guilcher, Assistant Professor
 Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy
 University of Toronto

Benjamin Haibe-Kains, Assistant Professor
 Department of Medical Biophysics
 University of Toronto
 Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
 University Health Network

Joe J. Harrison, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Biofilm Microbiology and Genomics
 Department of Biological Sciences
 University of Calgary

Michael Hendricks, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biology
 McGill University

Matthew Hill, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair
 Departments of Cell Biology and Anatomy & Psychiatry
 The Hotchkiss Brain Institute
 University of Calgary

Jeremy Hirota, Assistant Professor
 CIHR New Investigator
 Department of Medicine
 Co-Director — Chan-Yeung Centre for Occupational and Environmental Respiratory Disease
 Division of Respiratory Medicine
 University of British Columbia

Simon Hirota, Assistant Professor 
 Canada Research Chair in Host-Microbe Interactions and Chronic Disease
 Department of Physiology & Pharmacology
 Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Diseases
 Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases
 University of Calgary

Michael M. Hoffman, Assistant Professor
 Departments of Medical Biophysics and Computer Science
 University of Toronto
 Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

Pingzhao Hu, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics
 University of Manitoba
 Scientist, Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba

Humberto Jijon, Clinical Assistant Professor
 Division of Gastroenterology
 Department of Medicine
 University of Calgary

Antony Karelis, Professeur
 Département des sciences de l’activité physique
 Université du Québec à Montréal

Phillip Karpowicz, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biology
 University of Windsor

Woo Jae Kim, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
 University of Ottawa

Connie Krawczyk, Assistant Professor
 McGill University
 Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Centre
 Departments of Microbiology and Immunology/Physiology

Baptiste Lacoste, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
 The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
 University of Ottawa

Christian Landry, Professeur agrégé
 Département de biologie
 Université Laval

Julie Lefebvre, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neural Circuitry
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 Scientist, Neurosciences & Mental Health
 The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute

Mathieu Lemaire, Assistant Professor
 Department of Pediatrics
 University of Toronto
 Staff Nephrologist, The Hospital for Sick Children
 Scientist-track Investigator, Cell Biology, Sick Kids Research Institute

Wenbin Liang, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
 University of Ottawa
 Scientist, University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Gregory Lodygensky, Professeur adjoint de clinique
 Département de Pédiatrie et Pharmacologie
 Université de Montréal
 Centre de Recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine

Adam J. MacNeil, Assistant Professor
 Department of Health Sciences
 Brock University
 Joseph McPhee, Assistant Professor
 Departments of Chemistry and Biology
 Ryerson University

Corinne Maurice, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Gut Microbial Physiology
 Department of Microbiology & Immunology 
 McGill University

Justin MacCallum, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair (Tier 2)
 Biomolecular Structure and Design
 Department of Chemistry
 University of Calgary

Serge McGraw, Professeur-Chercheur Adjoint
 Département d’Obstétrique et Gynécologie
 Université de Montréal
 Centre de Recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine

Roman A. Melnyk, Assistant Professor 
 Department of Biochemistry
 University of Toronto
 Scientist in Molecular Structure & Function Program, 
 Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children

Josh Milstein, Assistant Professor
 Department of Physics
 Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering
 University of Toronto.

Craig S. Moore, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Brain Repair
 Memorial University of Newfoundland

Ernesto Morales, Assistant Professor
 Department of rehabilitation
 Faculty of Medicine
 Université Laval
 Researcher. Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale

Anne-Sophie Morisset, Professeure adjointe
 École de nutrition
 Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec/INAF
 Université Laval

Mathieu Morissette, Professeur Adjoint
 Département de Médecine
 Faculté de Médecine
 Université Laval

Marlene Oeffinger, Assistant Research Professor
 Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
 Université de Montréal

Paul Delgado Olguin, Scientist
 Physiology and Experimental Medicine
 The Hospital for Sick Children
 Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

Silvia Penuela, Assistant Professor
 Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
 Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry
 Western University

Jean-Philippe Pialasse, Professeur
 Département de chiropratique
 Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Andrew Pruszynski, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Neuroscience
 Physiology and Pharmacology, Psychology
 Scientist, Robarts Research Institute
 Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
 Western University

Rithwik Ramachandran, Assistant Professor
 Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
 Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
 University of Western Ontario

Manu Rangachari, Professeur adjoint
 Département de médecine moléculaire
 Faculté de médecine
 Chercheur, Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec
 Université Laval

Katey Rayner, Assistant Professor
 Director, Cardiometabolic microRNA Laboratory
 University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Juri Reimand, Assistant Professor
 Department of Medical Biophysics
 University of Toronto
 Principal Investigator, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

Dave Richard PhD, Professeur Adjoint
 Boursier FRSQ Junior 1
 Département de Microbiologie-Infectiologie et Immunologie
 Faculté de Médecine
 Université Laval

Blake Aaron Richards, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biological Sciences
 University of Toronto Scarborough

Martin J. Richer PhD, Assistant Professor
 Department of Microbiology and Immunology
 McGill University

Elizabeth Rideout, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences
 University of British Columbia

Eléonor Riesco, Assistant Professor
 Department of Kinanthropology
 Faculty of physical activity sciences
 University of Sherbrooke
 Research Center on Aging, CIUSS-Estrie CHUS

Olivia Rissland, Assistant Professor
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 University of Toronto
 Scientist, Molecular Structure and Function Program
 The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute

Stephanie-May Ruchat, Professeur adjoint
 Département des sciences de l’activité physique
 Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Ryan Charles Russell, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
 University of Ottawa

Siham Sabri, Assistant Professor
 Department of Oncology 
 Division of Radiation Oncology
 McGill University
 Principle Investigator, Cancer Research Program 
 The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre

Selena M. Sagan, Assistant Professor
 Department of Microbiology & Immunology
 McGill University

Jon Sakata, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biology
 McGill University

Beate Sander, Assistant Professor
 Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation
 University of Toronto
 Scientist, Public Health Ontario
 Adjunct Scientist, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences

Jonathan D Schertzer, Assistant Professor
 Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
 Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute
 McMaster University

Daniel Schramek, Assistant Professor
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 University of Toronto
 Principal Investigator, Program in Systems Biology
 Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute
 Mount Sinai Hospital

Adrian Serohijos, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biochemistry
 Robert-Cedergren Center in Bioinformatics & Genomics
 Faculty of Medicine
 University of Montreal

Alain Simard, Assistant Professor
 Chercheur en neuro-immunologie et professeur
 Département de chimie et biochimie
 Université de Moncton

Carlo Spallanzani, Professeur adjoint
 Département de kinanthropologie
 Faculté des Sciences de l’Activité Physique
 Université de Sherbrooke

Jesper Sjöström, Assistant Professor
 McGill University
 Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery
 Centre for Research in Neuroscience
 Montreal General Hospital

Matthew J. Smith, Research Assistant Professor
 Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC)
 Université de Montréal

Jason Snyder, Assistant Professor
 Department of Psychology
 Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health
 University of British Columbia

David H. St-Pierre, Professeur
 Département des sciences de l’activité physique
 Chercheur, CHUSJRC
 Université du Québec à Montréal

Marie-Pierre Sylvestre, Professeure adjointe
 Département de médecine sociale et préventive
 École de santé publique 
 Université de Montréal
 Chercheure, Centre de recherche du CHUM

Mikko Taipale, Assistant Professor
 Department of Molecular Genetics
 University of Toronto

Elitza Tocheva, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Microbial Ultrastructure
 Université de Montréal

Tod R. Thiele, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biological Sciences
 University of Toronto — Scarborough

Robin Urquhart, Assistant Professor & Ramia Scientist
 Department of Surgery
 Dalhousie University
 Senior Scientist, Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute

Christine Vande Velde, Associate Professor, Research (Professeure agregee sous-octroi)
 CIHR New Investigator
 Department of Neurosciences
 Universite de Montreal

François Vandercleyen, Professeur adjoint
 Département de kinanthropologie
 Faculté des Sciences de l’Activité Physique
 Université de Sherbrooke

Alain Veilleux, Professeur adjoint
 École de nutrition, Université Laval
 Institut sur la Nutrition et les Aliments Fonctionnels (INAF)
 Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de cardiologie et pneumologie de Québec (IUCPQ)

Catharine Walsh, Assistant Professor 
 Department of Paediatrics
 University of Toronto
 Education Researcher, Learning Institute
 Scientist-Track Investigator, Research Institute
 Staff Gastroenterologist, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition
 Department of Paediatrics, Hospital for Sick Children

Jing Wang, Assistant Professor
 Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine
 University of Ottawa
 Scientist, Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research
 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Alanna Watt, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biology
 McGill University

Joel Watts, Assistant Professor
 Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases
 Department of Biochemistry
 University of Toronto

Holly Witteman, Professeure adjointe
 Département de médecine familiale et de médecine d’urgence
 Vice-décanat à la pédagogie et au développement professionnel continu
 Faculté de médecine
 Université Laval
 Chercheure, Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec
 Axe Santé des populations et pratiques optimales en santé
 Chercheure, Institut universitaire de première ligne en santé et services sociaux
 CIUSSS de la Capitale Nationale

Michael Wilson, Assistant Professor
 Canada Research Chair in Comparative Genomics
 Department of Molecular Genetics,
 University of Toronto
 Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology Program
 SickKids Research Institute

Sarah Woolley, Assistant Professor
 Department of Biology
 McGill University

Daniel Zenklusen, Professeur adjoint
 Département de biochimie et médecine moléculaire
 Université de Montréal