Today's a big day in Canadian science -

Today’s a big day in Canadian science


Today on campuses across Canada, university officials and Conservative politicians will be announcing the first winners of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs competition. Sometimes referred to by academics as the “uber-chairs,” the CERCs seek to add an extra layer of, well, elitism (and believe me, I mean that in a good way) on top of the hundreds of federally-funded Canada Research Chairs who’ve already transformed Canadian research.

The goal of the CERCs is to give 20 chairholders and their research teams up to $10 million each for seven-year research programs. That’s a lot of money and, I suspect even more important, a solid long-term commitment to do good science without having to spend half your time doing grant applications for next year. The program is explicitly designed to draw international along with domestic talent, although one of the interest twists is that for the preliminary, short-list round, universities submitted research projects without saying who they had in mind to do the work. (I bet that in most cases, they knew precisely who they had in mind, but I’d be curious to hear if there were exceptions. “Pick us! We want to do photonics! Quick, do you know anyone who does photonics?“)

The selection board for this project is a Who’s Who — Rob Prichard, Margaret MacMillan, a former RIM principal, the president of a big Asian university — and the review panel designed to actually sift the short list is even more international in composition. Close observers of the whole thing will notice that, between the selection board and the review panel, a fast one has already been pulled, so that while the first is heavy with social sciences and humanities experience, the second has only engineers, physicists, chemists and molecular biologists. There will be other reasons to quibble about the results (the news release I’ve seen says Tony Clement will announce only 19 winners in Toronto this morning; I wonder what happened to the 20th? I suspect I’ll keep wondering). But since I doubt you’ll be hearing anywhere else today about the very existence of this program, I thought I’d at least note for you that it’s happening and that, to me, it’s good news.

I’ll update after the winners are announced.

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