In early May 2023, 43 Canada-based science delegates ascended Parliament Hill in Ottawa to participate in the Science Meets Parliament (SMP) program, an annual endeavor championed by the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) and Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer. Fueled by virtual training sessions on science policy, government structure, policy making, and science communication, delegates had one-on-one meetings with several Senators and Members of Parliament, engaged in meaningful conversations about their work and the broader integration of research and science into policy, and gained profound insight into the need for and benefit of scientific research within the parliament. Despite coming from a wide variety of scientific disciplines and institutions, delegates in the SMP program shared common goals of understanding how their research could be integrated into Canadian policy and facilitating meaningful relationships with parliamentarians and their staff.
Through the advocacy efforts of Dr. Mona Nemer, this year was the first to expand SMP’s inclusion criteria from Tier II Canada Research Chairs and Indigenous Principal Investigators to a younger generation of scientists: Banting Postdoctoral Fellows. The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program is a federal initiative designed to attract and retain early career researchers who have demonstrated early aptitude, interest, and leadership potential to support a long-term research career in Canada, thereby developing them into “research leaders of tomorrow”. As the inaugural Banting cohort of this year’s SMP program, we firmly believe that the integration of Banting Fellows into programs like SMP at this early stage of our careers is vital for fostering the next generation of science policy experts across a wide range of scientific disciplines.
Building a Community Network
A principal benefit of having Banting Fellows participate in the SMP program is the ability to meet one another face-to-face. Based on the experiences of prior Banting Fellows and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Fellows typically complete their fellowship removed from one another, with limited opportunities for cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional engagement with partnered research institutions and host laboratories. This allowed the SMP program to hold a unique place within the scientific sphere of training as one of the only opportunities for recent Banting Fellows to meet one another in a professional and extended setting. The multiple weeks of virtual training meetings, alongside two full days of in-person lectures and events, created a welcoming setting to meet and share our experiences as Banting Fellowship holders. These in-person connections allow for meaningful opportunities to build effective networks that are imperative to professional development at our early career stages. In addition, meeting other like-minded scientists with a shared goal of using science to address science-policy contexts and improve the lives of Canadians gave us a vital sense of community and pride, and reminded us why we work hard each and every day on our research goals.
Training and Development across Disciplines
As Banting Fellows, many of us are currently transitioning to independent research settings across universities, hospitals, government, industry, community, and non-profit organizations. For this reason, networking with senior SMP delegates (including both Tier II Canada Research Chairs and Indigenous Principal Investigators), former SMP delegates, SMP organizers, and CSPC members created a national network of professional support and a natural environment for professional development. The SMP program created a tangible sense of cohesion and fellowship within the cohort, with many senior SMP delegates candidly sharing their experiences as postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty, and many SMP organizers offering advice on the specific skills that have helped them build a successful career within the science-policy sector. In this manner, the SMP program helped foster a sense of professional identity of what it means to be a researcher within the broader Canadian context. For many of us, this was the first time that we had been provided with such in-depth insights across scientific domains and was by far one of the most positive SMP program outcomes. This broad intersection of science with academic, healthcare, policy, industrial, and non-profit sectors will undoubtedly allow our Banting SMP cohort to broaden our horizons as we begin to develop our own independent programs of research. Learning about these distinct ties as we build our research vision will have a disproportionately positive effect on our ability to integrate our research with policy.
Benefits for the Next Generation of Canadian Scholars
Building a strong and lasting network of early career scientists who will be the next wave of Canadian science leaders has clear advantages in the current science-political discourse. For example, our current Banting SMP cohort had individual meetings with Members of Parliament and discussed a wide range of topics, including artificial intelligence, pandemic preparedness, sustainable development, scientific security, public science education, open science practices, and much more. Another particularly salient example falls within the House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research (SRSR), which has been discussing the substantial funding disparities experienced by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows across fellowship programs within Canada in order to explore potential solutions to this pressing issue. As Banting Fellows, we have clearly benefited from the endorsement of these funding programs, but we also have unique insight into the strengths and potential weaknesses of these programs as we move through this critical career stage. Uniting Banting Fellows through networking and mobilization opportunities like SMP provides us with both an avenue and a platform to discuss how funding initiatives might be modified and supplemented to support early career researchers. Despite working across contexts, locales, and disciplines, our shared collective experiences will be relevant to ongoing conversations in this area, particularly with regards to improving training and professional development for the next generation of young and emerging talent.
As the inaugural Banting cohort of this year’s SMP program, we collectively believe that the continued inclusion of Banting Fellows in the program will have lasting benefits for future cohorts across personal and professional spheres. Being included in this developmental opportunity so early in our careers has afforded us the privilege of not only understanding the relevance of our research within policy making, but also helping us be conscious of how we can authentically engage in knowledge translation within our respective fields. The 2023 Report of the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System indicates that we sit at an important crossroads in Canadian science, and as such, Canada’s scientific future depends on the strength of its trainees. Including Banting Fellows as equal stakeholders in programs like SMP represents a pivotal step in the right direction to ensure that science and policy are more effectively linked and can lead to innovation and benefits for all Canadians.
Acknowledgements and Contributions
Dr. Toombs is credited with the first draft of this article, with all other authors contributing equally to further reviews and revisions. This work was partially supported by the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program: Dr. Funk, Dr. Michaels, and Dr. Toombs were supported through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); Dr. Funston and Dr. Pereira were supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC); and Dr. Moritz was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The 2023 Science Meets Parliament Program, championed by the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), is supported by The Royal Military College of Canada, The Stem Cell Network, and the University of British Columbia.