Supporting the future of health research

27 March 2017

Dr. Les Grad, MSFHR’s manager, research programs (design & development), reflects on the 2017 Future of Research Symposium, what he learned and how MSFHR is working to support early-career health researchers in BC.

Supporting the future of health research


You know the script. Get a PhD. Find a nice post-doctoral position. Get a faculty position and start your own research group. Get tenure. Spend the rest of your career solving life’s great mysteries. Sound nice, right? That script has worked for the academic system for the last 100 years. Just follow the script.

Not anymore. In recent years, the script has changed. Financial pressures have translated into fewer faculty positions at academic institutions and greater competition for funding. As a result, today’s early-career researchers at the graduate and post-doctoral levels are struggling to advance their research and academic careers.

Future of Research – Vancouver 2017 Symposium

These challenges were the motivation behind the Future of Research Vancouver 2017, a symposium organized by a group of early-career scientists advocating for effective change in science policy. The event was a chance for researchers, faculty, research funders and the private sector to meet and discuss the challenges facing the future of research here in Vancouver.

I attended for two reasons. One, it’s my job. As the principal architect for many of MSFHR’s new funding programs, I need to stay informed of the trends in research funding and health research in general. Two, I used to be an early-career researcher so I have a vested interest in supporting local research. The event was an opportunity for me to listen to today’s challenges and, having experienced both sides of the funding coin, contribute to possible solutions.

During the day, attendees chose one of four breakout sessions. Each session focused on a specific research challenge with the aim of facing it head-on and contributing to positive change. Naturally, I gravitated towards How can the funding of science research in Canada be structured to balance and promote basic research, knowledge translation, and training the next generation of scientists? ‘.

Focusing on peer review

As a representative from a funding organization that endeavours to listen to and engage with the research community, it was fantastic to hear researchers and administrators talk openly and directly about research funding. Although many issues were identified: health research funding levels, metrics of research success and application processes to name a few; the topic that came to the forefront was peer review.

During the discussion four key concerns were identified in relation to how peer review affects early-career researchers:

  • Evaluation criteria that do not take into consideration career stage of applicants.
  • Finding reviewers with appropriate expertise who can adequately comment on the content of applications.
  • Transparency in the review process.
  • Appropriate mechanisms for applicants to respond to reviewers or appeal decisions.

These insights helped initiate a dialogue around possible solutions, such as strategic tiering of funding opportunities to give early-career researchers equitable chances of funding success, and increased use of external readers that provide added scientific expertise. This discussion was timely as MSFHR recently commissioned an environmental scan of peer review practices from a variety of funding organizations to identify best practices and ensure we continue to support BC’s brightest researchers, serve the needs of the BC research community and build our province’s capacity for world-class health research.

At the conclusion of the symposium, the organizers restated that as much as the event was about identifying challenges facing early-career researchers, it was also about finding solutions. As a result, the outputs of the day’s sessions are being compiled and submitted for publication with the intention of helping decision-makers make positive change to current policy and practice. I couldn’t be happier to be part of the day and look forward to seeing the results in the future.

MSFHR was a proud sponsor of the Future of Research Vancouver 2017 Symposium held February 20, 2017 at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.

Les Grad, PhD
Manager, Research Programs (Design & Development), MSFHR

Les Grad has been with MSFHR since July 2015 and is chiefly responsible for the design and development of funding program models at the Foundation. He continues to play a key role in the development of MSFHR’s expanded suite of programs unveiled in 2016. Previously, Les was manager of scientific programs at PrioNet Canada, a Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) for prion and neurodegenerative disease awareness and research. In addition, he brings over 10 years of experience in biomedical research and management, in both academic and corporate environments.

Les is a previous recipient of an MSFHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award.