Canada needs to democratize access to state-of-the-art technologies and expertise
Canadian Network of Scientific Platforms (CNSP)
Since 2000, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), provincial counterparts, and industry partners have invested over $20B in research infrastructure. These investments have been important for the recruitment and retention of world-class researchers and ensured that Canada has some of the most advanced technologies in the world. Several gaps must be filled to realize the full value of these investments. Expert scientists are essential for researchers to employ the most advanced aspects of technologies and stay at the frontier. Support for national networks with a broad knowledge of the infrastructure and expertise across the country and dedicated personnel to connect researchers with the technologies and expertise they require is drastically needed. Coordination across institutions, provinces, and the country is essential to reduce unnecessary duplication, ensure democratic access to advanced technologies and expertise, sustainability and long-term investment plans.
The Canadian Network of Scientific Platforms (CNSP, https://cnsp-rcps.ca/) founded in 2016 is a non-profit group composed of professionals who harness the capability of research infrastructure and expertise to foster world-leading research and train the next generation of scientists and represents 194 centralized scientific platforms that support ~$1B in research infrastructure investments.
Scientific Platform Definition:
1) Group and house specialized infrastructure/services in specific technology areas.
2) Have dedicated research laboratory space and dedicated expert staff termed platform scientists. 3) Are open-access platforms typically accessible by researchers from the institution, region, across the country and their international collaborators.
4) Access is typically on a first-come, first-served basis providing equal access to underrepresented groups, researchers from all areas (e.g. urban, rural, remote), all career stages and all laboratory sizes.
1) Advocacy: Raise awareness and promote the utility of scientific platform infrastructure to achieve maximum return on investment and ensure long-term sustainability. Champion the contribution of essential expert platform scientists and their role in making technologies accessible. Engagement and partnership building with stakeholders to resolve roadblocks to scientific platform success.
2) Education: Provide opportunities for technology-based training including courses, workshops and internships. Building technology-based user groups to exchange experience and expertise.
3) Professional Development: Provide opportunities for platform scientists to build skills in leadership, administration, management, share best practices, job shadow and mentorship opportunities.
4) Networking: Strengthen connectivity within the scientific platform community to advance research and improve services to all researchers. Create opportunities to network and exchange ideas through national meetings, virtual community conversations with global partners, showcase best practices, successes and challenges and develop roadmaps for future strategic developments.
Challenges and Solutions:
1) Recruitment/retention of expert platform scientists. New scientific technologies develop rapidly, and technology areas are vast so no single research laboratory can maintain world-class expertise in all areas. Canadian platform scientists have tremendous expertise in complex, cutting-edge technologies/services that are required for excellent science. They train the next generation of scientists through thousands of one-on
one training opportunities for graduate students/postdoctoral fellows. Challenge: The majority of platform scientists do not have competitive salaries, are paid on soft money with little job security, have no clear career path for advancement, and few professional development opportunities. Solution: Stable funding for expert platform scientists must be an integral part of the funding model from the beginning. CFI Institutional
Operation Funding (IOF) provide partial support so institutions must step in and provide stable hard money support for essential platforms scientists. To recruit and retain platform scientists, institutions must have well-defined HR positions and clear career paths, professional development funding and internship opportunities.
2) Knowledge/awareness of available infrastructure/expertise. CFI hosts a research facility navigator that lists scientific platforms. Challenge: This resource does not capture expertise or details of specific infrastructure/services. Solution: A national searchable database with detailed descriptions/keywords for platform scientists, infrastructure details and dedicated scientists to make effective connections between researchers and technologies. Financial support for networks like the CNSP and Canada BioImaging (https://www.canadabioimaging.org/) is needed to realize this solution. Mobility funding for researchers to travel to platforms and access technologies/expertise to accelerate science.
3) Lack of dedicated time for unique infrastructure. Challenge: Canadian scientific platforms are understaffed, with 77% of platform scientists supporting three or more instruments (some >10) (https://cnsp rcps.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/PositionPaper_201609_En.pdf) making it impossible to provide appropriate support and maintain high level expertise across all technologies. Time limitations lead to limited support, delays in training and idle instruments. If only one platform scientist is available, unique million dollar instruments sit idle if the scientist is away for professional or personal reasons. Solution: Long-term funding for dedicated platform scientists at a level closer to one per instrument must be secured. Experts dedicated to a single technology will gain expertise in sample preparation, data acquisition and data analysis and become world experts and ensure rigorous, reproducible, cutting-edge science.
4) Lack of strategic funding and long-term sustainability plans. Challenge: Coordinated Canada wide efforts are lacking, leading to technological redundancy and gaps. Solution: A national strategy is urgently needed to ensure technologies are broadly available and openly accessible without redundancies or technology gaps. The CNSP can work with the CFI/corporations/government/academic institutions to develop strategic plans for infrastructure investments, sustainability, and equipment renewal.
Scientific platforms are a solution for all of the challenges identified by the CFI call for community feedback for the 2023 strategic plan (https://cnsp-rcps.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/2022-07-15-CFI-2022-Community Consultation-CNSP-Submission-FINAL.pdf).
Government’s response to Standing Committee on Science and Research recommendations recognized that considerable investments in major research facilities continue to be made by the federal government, yet there is little coordination in terms of the strategic management or funding for these facilities over their full lifecycle. The Government is exploring ways to provide greater predictability and coherence in federal funding to maximize the benefits of these facilities and enable longer-term planning. Targeted investments will ensure access to infrastructure
and expertise is democratized and will impact underrepresented groups, including hundreds of platform scientists who are essential to accelerate world-class science in Canada. CNSP can play an instrumental role in bringing new strategies and proven global solutions from our close international partners (Microscopy Australia, EuroBioImaging, BioImaging North America) to the table to enable impactful solutions.