Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Watch Higgs weep during announcement at CERN

The UK telegraph has this lovely video, showing the announcement of the Higgs Boson particle at CERN in Switzerland early today.

Despite the many attempts of UVIC phsyics grad students, I don't fully understand it. But it is always  moving to see such great leaps in scientific understanding, and the enthusiasm of those involved in world class research.

Congrats to everyone involved! And remember today when you think of the importance of research.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

SFU graduate students win designated seat on BOG

University Boards have a lot of clout -- they approve university budgets, major capital projects, and review the president.

Simon Fraser University's Board of Governors voted in their June meeting to allocate the two student seats on the Board of Governors to ensure undergraduates and graduates each have one seat.

The Peak (SFU student paper) has reported on the issue--and the mixed reactions to the change-- here.

BC makes opens data and makes it easier to have your say

The BC Government has launched a new web portal to make it easier to find and participate in public consultation processes.

Govern Together BC provides updates on policy changes, and has a searchable data base to discover any current public consultations. The site also provides a link for those interested in applying for government appointed seats on public bodies.

The list of current consultations includes panels reviewing the carbon tax, fisheries regulations, and transparency in the justice system.

The site also pointed me to Data BC, which provides public access to BC government data.
The site is very useable... for instance, in abut 1 minute, I was able to download the following information about unemployment rates by type of post secondary education attained.

Unemployment Rate of Graduates from Public Post-secondary Institutions by Credential Type
BC Public Post-secondary System, Survey Year 2006 to 2010

Published November 2011

Unemployment Rate (%) Survey Year      
Credential Type 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Bachelor Degree Graduates 3.9% 2.8% 3.6% 5.9% 6.6%
Apprenticeship Graduates n/a n/a n/a n/a 9.6%
Diploma, Associate degree, & Certificate 6.3% 6.1% 6.4% 9.5% 10.9%
high school or less (8 to 29 yrs) 7.6% 6.5% 7.7% 13.4% 14.0%

Graduate students with research interests in areas affected by public policy could find this a practical tool.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The long reach of Budget 2012, and it's impact on Canadian research

Is there an aspect of Canadian research that is not impacted by the 2012 federal budget?
As implementation of the 2012 Federal budget begins, researchers across the country are raising the alarm about resulting cuts to a variety of research programs in Canada. Marine research, climate research, archaeology, archives, and the fund for purchasing scientific equipment are all subject to cuts. 

Over the past few weeks I have attempted to collect information on cuts to research programs resulting from the 2012 federal budget. What follows is what I have found – please add to the list, if you know of more.

37 northern research facilities have been cut
due to cuts to the federal science research funding agency, NSERC. This article discusses cuts to arctic research, notably Kluane research station.
[In case you, like me, are unaware of the ice cores, here is a description from the article:
The collection of ice-cores was drilled from ice caps and ice fields throughout the Canadian Arctic. It comprises more than 1,000 metres of ice cylinders documenting thousands of years of climate history. Most of the cores contain ice dating back to the end of the last glaciation, about 12,000 years ago, but some may contain ice up to 80,000 years old. The longest of the cores, extracted from the Agassiz ice cap on Ellesmere Island, is longer than 330 metres.

Cores are important sources of data on past climate change, because they can contain dust, gas bubbles and chemical isotopes that give clues as to atmospheric and temperature conditions when the ice was laid down. The resolution of the information is often sharper than that in other proxies, such as ocean sediments.]

I have heard from faculty that the ice cores are valued world wide, and cost a hefty amount to collect and set up storage -- money that will be wasted if they are indeed lost to budget cuts.

I’ve also heard from people in the sciences that the NSERC fund Canadian scientists in universities use to purchase their equipment will end in one year -- meaning that right across the country, all labs will have to make due with whatever they have now and can obtain in the next twelve months.One casualty of this cut is the Neutron Beam Centre at the Chalk River Nuclear Plant and another is Canadian meteor research.

Bamfield's world renowned marine research centre (near Tofino) is also facing drastic cuts. The Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA) blog has attempted to catalogue cuts that will impact marine research, but says they are “surely incomplete”.

Parks Canada cuts are described as “draconian” by the Canadian Archaeological Association because of their on archaeological research. Archaeologist and blogger Tim Rast has catalogued cuts to archaeology here. In many cases, regional labs will see their artefacts transferred to central storage in Ottawa.

The sciences are not the only researchers feeling the pinch in this budget.
You may have heard archivists speaking out about cuts to an archival program that ensures support to small community archives, and development of online access to archives. UVIC’s archivist, Lara Wilson, joined an “Ottawa trek” of archivists modeled on Canada’s historic “On to Ottawa Trek”. The campaign, and the reasons our archives are important to more than historians, are featured in this CBC radio story. One estimate says the cuts could close 800 of Canada's smaller archives.

CAUT has harshly criticised cuts to research in the recent federal budget, noting cuts to funds that make it possible for professors to take research time. CAUT raises concerns about government interference in research areas, funding “bricks and mortar” while cutting the programs that fund the use for these facilities. They also state they were told to “shut up” by the policy advisor to Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, when they met to raise their concerns.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Start up visa program linked to research and innovation

Policy Monitor is reporting that changes to federal immigration policy are being considered. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has announced they are consulting with industry about a proposal to increase immigration targeting at business innovation and research.

This language echoes the priorities in the 2012 federal budget, and previous changes to immigration aimed at graduate students.

Hopefully Canada isn't losing innovators with the decision to have some applicants on wait lists start their immigration application over again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quebec women's centres strike in support of students

Hundreds of thousands of students have been demonstrating against the reduction of funding for university education in Quebec.

Today, Quebec women's centres went on strike in support of the students, stating:

En effet, un système d’éducation accessible est au cœur de la construction d’une société plus démocratique et plus juste. La lutte qui est en cours concerne tout le monde et tout particulièrement les femmes parce qu’elles avaient largement bénéficié de la démocratisation de l'accessibilité aux études : accès à de meilleurs emplois et à de meilleurs salaires, augmentation de la participation aux débats publics, amélioration de l’autonomie économique et de leur émancipation.

[my rough translation:

Effectively, accessible education is at the heart of the effort to build a just and democratic society. The struggle that is happening now concerns everyone, especially women, because women have largely benefited from making education accessible through access to better jobs and salaries, increased participation in public demate, economic autonomy and emancipation.]

Linking cuts to university education to cuts to health, women, and first nations, they issued a statement via video as well (in French). It states, among other things, they have followed 11 weeks of protest and deplore the use of pepper spray on peaceful student demonstrators, calling it disproportionate and gratuitous:

Monday, April 23, 2012

UVIC leaves Access Copyright, along with 35 other AUCC members

The Ring reports UVIC will not renew it's Access Copyright membership in 2012.

AUCC had negotiated a deal that would cost universities 26$ per full time student per year, replacing an old 10 cents per page cost for course packs. (UVic says it paid $3.38/student per year at the 10 cents per page rate). No doubt this would have ended up a fee transferred to students. (UVic decided to leave Access Copyright in December--at which time the price for Access was going to be $45/full time student).

Today, Michael Geist writes in the Tyee that several schools are breaking ranks with AUCC on how to deal with accessing copyrighted material in academia. Geist points out there is a trend toward creative commons licensing in academic journals, and many universities already pay for online journal access, making the course-pack style redundant.

Teaching classes? More details on UVIC copyright policies and changes are here.

Analyzing the Quebec student demonstrations

A group of self-described progressive economists have called out CBC's Rex Murphy on some simplistic "stop complaining' analysis and considering how funding for universities has changed.

I couldn't agree more. I have been frustrated at the media analysis of the Quebec student protests, which seem to ask only how Quebec tuition compares to tuition in other provinces, but don't look at the dramatic changes to the Quebec education system being proposed by the Charest government.

I think it is important to consider more than this-- in particular the percentage of the cost of education covered by tuition, and how it has changed over time. Quebec is looking to shift the funding burden for universities from the province to the students, a mistake made in BC while I was studying for my BA.

When I started at UVIC in 1988, student tuition covered 12% of the cost of the university budget. in 2011, UVIC's annual review reported student tuition covers 21% of the universities budget. [pdf].

In 2009, after a round of 30% per year tuition increases, UVIC conducted a study on the impact on students (pdf) that is worth a read. UVIC worked hard to increase grants to students and address these problems. The 2011 review cited above also shows this increase in grants and support.

Anyone can compare the funding situation of universities in BC because university audits are public and published on the Ministry of Advanced Education website here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Canadian Medical Association weighs in on CIHR and other research cuts

The devil is in the details, and a great summary of concerns about research funding has been provided in today's Canadian Medical Association journal.

I have quoted from the article below any sections directly related to resaerch funding not reported in my previous post on the budget, but I htink the entire article is worth a read for those interested in details of how budget policies relate to health and health research.

CIHR cuts are a shift in funds to "targetted research"
 And in several cases, a departmental or agency cut is offset by an injection of new funds for a targeted purpose, so the effect is often a wash. For example, while the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) budget will be reduced $15 million in 2012/13 as a result of the spending review exercise, the granting council received $15 million per year to support its Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research ( and 

Cuts to NSERC, SSHRC, are also a shift of funds to increased support for "industry-academic research partnership initiatives"

As with CIHR, the spending review exercise resulted in a $15 million cut to the budget of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) in 2012/13, and an additional $15 million in the following fiscal year. The budget of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) was cut $7 million for 2012/13 and another $7 million the following year. But the 2012/13 cuts are offset by the provision of $37 million annually ($15 million to CIHR, $15 million to NSERC and $7 million to SSHRC) in “support of industry-academic research partnership initiatives.” The staggered cuts could result in a serious hit to granting councils base budgets in 2013/14 but Treasury Board and Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during budget background briefings, indicated that the expectations are that the bolstered funding for industry-academic partnerships will be repeated in next year’s federal budget, so that council budgets will continue to remain at roughly $1 billion apiece for CIHR and NSERC, and about $651 million for SSHRC. “The net effect is that overall council funding will be unchanged,” one Finance official stressed. That’s based, though on the presumption of an increase for 2013/14. About 25% of the medical and natural sciences budgets, and 45% of the social sciences budget, represents monies administered by the councils on behalf of the government for special initiatives, such as one to cover the indirect costs of research.

and if that sank your spirits, you may be cheered to know there is new funding for depression research:

$5.2 million will be provided to support the creation of a Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It will connect “over 80 of Canada’s brightest depression researchers from across the country. Particular focus will be on suicide prevention and identifying and treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Funding provided in the budget will serve as a catalyst for private and public sector investment.”

Devils in the details on the controversial change of NRC to a more industry-related body.

The National Research Council will continue to be restructured as a toolbox for industry, receiving an additional $67 million this year to support its “refocusing on business-led, industry-relevant research.” The council will also see its Industrial Research Assistance Program contributions budget, which provides extramural grants to businesses to develop products, double to $220 million per year. The combined increases will hike the National Research Council’s overall budget to $700.5 million in 2012/13.
and finally: 
 $12 million per year will be set aside to make the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence program “permanent.” In the original competition to create such networks, the four winners included the Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery-CQDM (Nuns’ Island, Quebec), which aimed to “accelerate the drug discovery process and to develop safer and more effective drugs.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Federal Budget & Grad students

Updated: links to responses to budget for research/graduate study added below

The budget was touted for many cuts (and the demise of the penny!), but there are some additional resources for research, when business related, plus small increases for graduate students.

You can see the (more) detailed budget plan section on "Supporting Entrepreneurs, Innovators and World-Class Research"
Or visit the budget main page here, which includes briefs, press releases, the full budget plan, and even a video of the Minister looking really serious (kids in the hall fans may think he is about to crush your head).

The following is the quick version of the funding increases related to university research:

"Support for Research, Education and Training
The Government is committed to providing additional resources to support advanced research at universities and other leading research institutions. Economic Action Plan 2012 proposes:
  • $37 million annually starting in 2012–13 to the granting councils to enhance their support for industry-academic research partnerships.
  • $60 million for Genome Canada to launch a new applied research competition in the area of human health, and to sustain the Science and Technology Centres until 2014–15.
  • $6.5 million over three years for a research project at McMaster University to evaluate team-based approaches to health care delivery.
  • $17 million over two years to further advance the development of alternatives to existing isotope production technologies.
  • $10 million over two years to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to link Canadians to global research networks.
  • $500 million over five years, starting in 2014–15, to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support advanced research infrastructure.
  • $40 million over two years to support CANARIE’s operation of Canada’s ultra-high speed research network.
  • $23 million over two years to Natural Resources Canada to enhance satellite data reception capacity."

    [How did McMaster do it? (shakes fist)! Develops theory.]

    There are also some items of particular grad student interest:

    "Economic Action Plan 2012 proposes $14 million over two years to double the Industrial Research and Development Internship program.
    The Industrial Research and Development Internship program currently helps 1,000 graduate students undertake hands-on research in innovative Canadian firms each year. This initiative provides host firms with access to cutting-edge research and skills, while providing students with valuable applied research experience in a private sector setting. To double the resources of the Industrial Research and Development Internship program, Economic Action Plan 2012 proposes $14 million over two years. This new funding will be administered by Mitacs, an advanced research organization with a proven track record of helping businesses solve problems through access to graduate students."


    "This new approach will promote business innovation through improved support for high-growth companies, research collaborations, procurement opportunities, applied research and risk financing. This will provide a solid foundation on which Canada’s globally competitive businesses can build by making the investments in innovation required to create high-value jobs and long-term economic growth. In particular, the Government will:... Support private and public research collaboration through internships for graduate students and funding for business-led research and development.  ..."

 I hope all that extra money means these internships will be paid.

UPDATE: Responses to budget:

CIHR provided some excellent summaries of how reasearch money is shifting (my summary here)

CBC Power Politics longer interview on innovation and the budget (video)

Liberal finance critic, MP Scott Bryson, described the research funding as a "shell game" on CBC's As it happens March 29, 2012. He said funds that once went to innovation in the private sector was being shifted to the public sector, which was being cut, thus leaving the private sector worse served in terms of supporting research. NDP critic also on, doesn't speak to the research funding. Check out the CBC As It Happens budget interviews (before there is 11% less of it).

NDP tried to get a jump start calling for the  National Research Council to be saved the day before the budget was launched.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC)  applauded the research funding  and the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies also called the budget a positive development (PDF) but the press release "noted the details are still sketchy".

Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of University Teachers said the budget "compromises research, hinders prosperity", saying tying research to commercial goals will hinder, not help, innovation.

And from the student groups: CASA says thumbs down [pdf], saying it shifts money from granting councils to industry related research, and the CFS love it. Just kidding, they don't like it either.

UBC likes it. So does UVIC, but we have less to say, and refer back to the AUCC statement.

Mixed reaction from the business community according to the Financial Post

A few days pre-budget, the Globe and Mail had some more in depth coverage on how r&d  funding for industry works now, and proposed changes with the budget.

Also of interest:

CCPA alternative federal budget

Monday, January 9, 2012

The value of university communities -- from an old GSS chair

Past GSS Executive Member, Basil Alexander wrote this interesting piece ont he value of university communities. Pleased to see involvement with groups like the GSS is part of his positive memories of UVIC!

His thoughts on building communities withing universities are of interest to me -- in part because my own studies are in community development, but also because of his call to "leave the silos" that build up in academia, and this is something I hear echoed by graduate students when they are feeling isolated and struggling with their program.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SFU students and CFS settle out of court

SFU Students Society no longer a member of the Canadian Federation of Students.

After a long dispute (since 2008), the SFSS and CFS have settled out of court.

This is the text of the statement that was agreed upon Dec 23rd and publicly released today.

"The Canadian Federation of Students and Simon Fraser Student Society Reach Out of Court Resolution.

The Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Federation of Students - Services, Canadian Federation of Students - British Columbia Component (collectively, the "CFS Entities") and the Simon Fraser Student Society

("SFSS") have come to an amicable, out of court resolution of their dispute regarding the SFSS voting membership in the CFS Entities.

As part of this resolution it is agreed that the membership has ended.

The agreement was motivated by a desire on the part of all parties to resolve all outstanding issues. The parties have agreed to this common statement and have agreed to make no further public statements regarding this matter."