Analysis: Canada aims to reverse senior current

May 17, 2002

Worldwide, there is a worrying shortage of scientists but Canada has made huge strides in tackling the problem. The THES reports

There are widespread assumptions that Canada is better suited to junior researchers, while the US attracts successful senior players.

Canadians have traditionally jumped up to the next level in their profession by moving to the US. Canadian Nobel prize-winners have more often than not worked at a US university. In 1997, almost a third of professors who were changing jobs moved to the US.

But new programmes, such as the Canada Research Chairs, which provide C$200,000 (£87,000) and C$100,000 grants for senior and junior researchers respectively, have tried to reverse the current. In 2000, the federal government provided C$900million to support 2,000 chairs in universities by 2005. Of the 532 chairs so far hired, most have been offered to Canadians as an incentive not to leave the country, while 60 helped lure professors, mostly American, from abroad. Thirty-six of those were returning Canadian nationals.

But Canada is mainly concerned with training the next generation of researchers. Half the new chairs are targeted at researchers with "the potential to lead in their fields".

There are, however, pitfalls. American John Connolly, a professor in cognitive and clinical neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has to cobble together funding from six different organisations. He said Canada tended to spread its funding too thinly among the young and those who are not making a clear enough contribution. "There's a tendency for agencies here to be a little too inclusive," he said.

Canada is making it easier to establish independent research careers, which is part of the reason why it is attractive for junior researchers from both countries.

On the other hand, given the multimillion-dollar endowments of many American universities, the US might continue to claim the senior division for some time.

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