UBC nominates 10 candidates for Canada 150 Research Chairs

Ten UBC-nominated candidates will be considered for the Canada 150 Research Chairs program that aims at “[enhancing] Canada’s reputation as a global centre for science, research and innovation excellence.” However, none of them are from UBC due to the program’s recruitment focus on “internationally based researchers.”

With a $117.6 million investment, between 15 and 35 scholars are expected to be hired and maintained for seven years — a number that will depend on the distribution of scholarships. While candidates are eligible for either $350,000 or $1 million per year, the latter value is expected to be awarded only to those researchers “of exceptional calibre.”

The value can also be determined by the amount of resources required for the particular research area.

“The difference there is the fact that, for example, scholars in history don’t spend anything close to $1 million a year in research funding so they would fall into the $350,000 stream,” said Associate VP Research Dr. Helen Burt. “Whereas other researchers in, for example chemistry, physics, health or genomics, typically fall into the $1 million per year category.”

UBC’s candidates, predominantly from the United States and Europe, were nominated out of over 1,000 applicants. Their names have not yet been released.

This decision was made through a two-step process, in which applications were first directed to the deans of the respective research areas. The deans then proposed their candidates and their scholarship streams to an adjudication committee chaired by UBC President Santa Ono.

According to Burt, this committee also includes her, Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri, an individual from UBC-Okanagan and an external person with background as a VP Research.

In order to maximize the program's success rate, emphasis is placed on the candidates’ research and academic merit, their potential contribution to Canadian research, the quality of institutional support, as well as equity and inclusion. 

Burt noted that she saw a wide range of research interests during the selection process. 

“They literally cover everything from ecology, sociology, media studies, history, politics and all the way to science and medicine, genomics, dental research, drug research,” she said. “There are Indigenous scholars who are interested in Indigenous languages and natural resource. Quite a few of them have also been cross-faculty — for example, science and policy.”

There is also an even split between the allocation of scholarship streams, where five candidates are in $350,000 stream and the other five in the $1 million stream. This puts UBC’s nominations just under its $7 million cap.

The university is required to submit the candidates’ registration form by August 18 and their full application forms — which individually include a six-page proposal, a letter of support, budget and administrative forms — by September 15. 

The final result will be announced before December 31, 2017.

“Typically, if you take the size of UBC and do a calculation on our per capita share, we usually get 10 per cent of national funding, somewhere between 10 per cent and 15 per cent if we’re doing extraordinarily well,” said Burt. “We think that we will receive hopefully three chairs — any more than that would be fantastic.”

However, the program is not universally embraced. 

An opinion letter to the Montreal Gazette has called the initiative “misguided” for its recruitment of only foreign researchers and Canadian expatriates and its exclusion of nationally trained scholars. At the same time, the selection process’s duration — which took just under three weeks — and exclusion of faculty were also causes of concerns. 

When asked about these sentiments — in particular the first one — Burt responded by only re-iterating her designated role in the process.

“This was always intended by the federal government to be a program focused on bringing international talent to Canada. That was always the goal and the different federal programs have different goals in mind,” she said. “My job is frankly to find the best candidates to any particular program established the federal government.”