PhD Candidate in Biochemistry, specializing in Human and Molecular Genetics, University of Ottawa
My team at the Ottawa Science Policy Network (OSPN) and I had the opportunity to join this year's Bromley Memorial Lecture as student participants. This is a joint event featuring trainees and professors interested in science policy at the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) and George Washington University (GWu). After hosting this event virtually the last 2 years due to the pandemic, this was our first event back in-person at uOttawa.
It was incredibly inspiring to compare science policy efforts in both the Canadian and American contexts through presentations delivered by Dr. Nicholas S. Vonortas, Professor from GWU, and Dr. Alexandra Mallett, Assistant Professor at Carleton University. As students, the complexities of the larger science policy efforts are crucial to understanding how we can contribute to solving the many grand challenges that plague the next generation. At OSPN, these lessons will help us shape our goals and values as a group.
This year’s Keynote Lecturer, Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, gave a heart-warming testimony to the importance and relevance of science advice during times of crisis. As we have seen in the last few years, science is at the forefront of public attention and this increased the demand for science-informed advice and policies.
She also addressed the importance of Canada-U.S. Partnerships during these times, and that the very basis of this relationship relies on effective science policy. Excitingly, the Bormley lecture allowed us to connect with next generation students from the U.S. to meet and discuss relevant experience in these fields. We learned about each other's projects and fields of study. All of which, while very different, were inspiring in their own ways!
At the end of her speech, Dr. Nemer spoke directly to the “young voices” in the audience. She comments on how vital the next generation is to leading us through the exciting new “Imagination Age”. Her call is for students to get involved at all levels of influence, starting locally with your institution, community and cities. And we were excited to have her mention OSPN as a way to get involved in science policy at UOttawa.
Ruth Cooper from GWU, and myself, had the opportunities to provide student responses to Dr. Nemer’s remarks. While Ruth was able to provide an American student perspective on the importance of incorporating diverse voices in science advice during a crisis, I was able to build off of Dr. Nemer’s call for the next generation to become involved in science policy.
In my response, I discussed OSPN’s recent work on our National Graduate Student Finance survey. We received over 1300 responses from graduate students across Canada in order to better understand how students are getting by financially. This is incredibly relevant to discussing how the next generation of scientists will be retained and contribute to innovation in Canada.
I was able to share some preliminary results and our findings have been striking. We found that almost 45% of our survey respondents don’t have enough to get by and struggle financially every single month. On top of this, 87% reported stress and anxiety about their finances.
This is not the way to build a successful foundation of research infrastructure in Canada. Research exists off of the backs of graduate students… They are the ones getting their hands dirty, while balancing training, taking classes, TA-ships, and academic responsibilities.
Additionally, More than half of our survey respondents are living with no savings at all. While their peers are starting careers, and building wealth, grad students are just struggling to get by. A study from Stats Canada in 2015 showed that nearly 65% of Master’s and PhD graduates were leaving with student debt, averaged at just under 18,000 $, and this is consistent with the preliminary results from our survey.
Lots of people love science, but the system of science doesn’t love and support them back. We’ve created a system that excludes women, BIPOC, LGBTQ2+, and those with disabilities. Graduates can’t afford to wait for the promised stability of an academic career.
The goal of my discussion was to start a conversation. Open communication and discussion of these issues will only unveil inequalities and help empower policy makers to implement effective change.
Overall, my experience at the Bromley Lecture was incredibly fruitful. It was very exciting to get to meet Dr. Nemer and our colleagues from GWU. I was fortunate to have dinner with them and it was fantastic to learn more from all of them and this has significantly impacted my journey into science policy. I look forward to next year's event!