It seems the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC; one of Canada’s ‘big three’ science national funding agencies) has a new funding program, CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) and two local (Vancouver, Canada) institutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) are beneficiaries to the tune of $3.3M.
Before getting the happy news, here’s a little information about this new NSERC program (from the CREATE page),
The Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program supports the training of teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad through the development of innovative training programs that:
- encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, and address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities; and
- facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.
These innovative programs must include the acquisition and development of important professional skills among students and postdoctoral fellows that complement their qualifications and technical skills.
In addition, these programs should encourage the following as appropriate:
- student mobility, nationally or internationally, between individual universities and between universities and other sectors;
- interdisciplinary research within the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), or at the interface between the NSE and health, or the social sciences and humanities. However, the main focus of the training must still lie within the NSE;
- increased collaboration between industry and academia; and
- for the industrial stream, an additional objective is to support improved job-readiness within the industrial sector by exposing participants to the specific challenges of this sector and training people with the skills identified by industry.
I wonder what they mean by “professional skills?” They use the phrase again in the Description,
The CREATE Program is designed to improve the mentoring and training environment for the Canadian researchers of tomorrow by improving areas such as professional skills, communication and collaboration, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.
This program is intended for graduate students and has two streams, Industrial and International Collaboration. At this point, they have two international collaboration partners, one each in Germany and in Brazil.
There’s a subsection on the CREATE page titled Merit of the proposed training program (in my world that’s ‘criteria for assessment’),
Applicable to all applications:
- the extent to which the program is associated with a research area of high priority to Canada and will provide a higher quality of training;
- how the research area proposed relates to the current scientific or technical developments in the field, with references to the current literature;
- the extent to which the research training program will facilitate the transition of the trainees to the Canadian workforce and will promote interaction of the trainees with non-academic sectors, such as private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, government departments, etc., as appropriate;
- the description of the potential employers and a qualitative assessment of the job prospects for trainees;
- the extent to which the program will provide opportunities for the trainees to develop professional skills;
- the extent to which the program uses novel and interesting approaches to graduate student training in an integrated manner to provide an enriched experience for all participants;
- the research training program’s focus and clarity of objectives, both short- and long-term; and
- the added value that trainees will receive through their participation.
Clearly, this program is about training tomorrow’s workers and I expect CREATE is welcome in many corners. We (in Canada and elsewhere internationally) have a plethora of PhDs and nowhere for them to go. I have, of course, two provisos. First, I hope this program is not a precursor to a wholesale change in funding to a indulge a form of short-term thinking. Not every single course of study has to lead to a clearly defined job as defined by industry. Sometimes, industry doesn’t know what it needs until there’s a shortage. Second, I hope the administrators for this program support it. You (the government) can formulate all sorts of great policies but it’s the civil service that will implement your policies and if they don’t support them, you (the government) are likely to experience failure.
Here’s the CREATE funding announcement in a May 19, 2014 news item on Azonano,
Researchers studying nanomaterials and isotopes at the University of British Columbia received a $3.3 million boost in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
Two UBC teams, led respectively by Chemistry Prof. Mark MacLachlan and Physics Prof. Reiner Kruecken, received $1.65 million each from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants. The funding extends over a six-year period. The investment will help MacLachlan and Kruecken mentor and train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
A May 16, 2014 UBC news release, which originated the news item, provides more information including some background for the two project leaders,
Mark MacLachlan, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry
NanoMAT: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology
Nanomaterials have dimensions about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. Though invisible to our eyes, these materials are already used for diagnosing and treating diseases, environmental remediation, developing solar cells and batteries, as well as other applications. Nanomaterials form a multi-billion dollar industry that is expanding rapidly. To address the growing need for highly qualified trainees in Canada, UBC researchers have spearheaded the NanoMat program. Through a unique interdisciplinary training program, science and engineering students will undertake innovative research projects, receive hands-on training, and undertake internships at companies in Canada and across the world.
Reiner Kruecken, Professor, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy
ISOSIM, ISOtopes for Science and Medicine
The ISOSIM program is designed to provide students with enriched training experiences in the production and preparation of nuclear isotopes for innovative applications that range from medical research and environmental science to investigations of the foundations of the universe. This will prepare students for positions in a number of Canadian industrial sectors including medical diagnostics and treatment, pharmaceutical sciences, development of next-generation electronic devices, environmental sciences, and isotope production. This project builds on the existing cooperation between UBC and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear phsyics, [sic] on isotopes science.
Not mentioned in the UBC news release is that ISOSIM is a program that is jointly run with TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Here’s how TRIUMF views their CREATE grant, from a May 16, 2014 TRIUMF news release,
The ISOSIM program will train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at UBC and TRIUMF from fields associated with isotope sciences in an individually tailored, interdisciplinary curriculum that will build on and complement the education in their specialty field. Unique in Canada, this program offers a combination of interdisciplinary isotope-related training ranging from pure to applied sciences, industrial internships, and mobility with German research institutions with unique large-scale equipment and scientific infrastructures.
It seems this particular grant was awarded as part of the international collaboration stream. (I wonder if TRIUMF or TRIUMF-friendly individuals had a role in developing that particular aspect of the CREATE program. Following on that thought, is there a large Canadian science organization with ties to Brazil?)
Getting back to TRIUMF’s current CREATE grant, the news release emphasizes an industrial focus,
“ISOSIM represents a timely and nationally important training initiative and is built on a world-class collaborative research environment,” says Dr. Reiner Kruecken, TRIUMF’s Science Division Head and Professor at UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Kruecken is leading the ISOSIM initiative and is joined by over twenty collaborators from UBC, TRIUMF, and several research institutes in Germany.
ISOSIM is poised to create the next generation of leaders for isotope-related industries and markets, including commercial, public health, environmental, and governmental sectors, as well as academia. The combination of research institutions like UBC, TRIUMF, and the BC Cancer Agency with Canadian companies like Nordion Inc., and Advanced Cyclotron Solutions Inc., have transformed Vancouver into a hub for isotope-related research and industries, emerging as “Isotope Valley”.
The inspiration for the ISOSIM program came from an interdisciplinary TRIUMF-led team who, in response to the isotope crisis, demonstrated non-reactor methods for producing the critical medical isotope Tc-99m. This required a coordinated approach of physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers.
Similar interdisciplinary efforts are needed for expanding the use and application of isotopes in key areas. While their medical use is widely known, isotopes enjoy growing importance in many fields. Isotopes are used as tracers to examine the trace flow of nutrients and pollutants in the environment. Isotopes are also used to characterize newly designed materials and the behaviour of nanostructured materials that play a key role in modern electronics devices. The production and investigation of very short-lived radioactive isotopes, also known as rare-isotopes, is a central approach in nuclear physics research to understand the nuclear force and how the chemical elements heavier than iron were formed in stars and stellar explosions.
I really wish they (marketing/communications and/or business people) would stop trying to reference ‘silicon valley’ as per this news release’s ‘isotope valley’. Why not ‘isotope galaxy’? It fits better with the isotope and star theme.
Getting back to the “professional skills” mentioned in the CREATE grant description, I don’t see any mention of etiquette, good manners, listening skills, or the quality of humility, all of which are handy in the workplace and having had my share of experience dealing with fresh out-of-graduate-school employees, I’d say they’re sorely needed.
Regardless, I wish both MacLachlan and Krueken the best as they and their students pioneer what I believe is a new NSERC program.