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In my opinion

Recognizing the importance of platform scientists

Raising awareness of these lesser-known members of the academic community and their pivotal role in scientific innovation.


Scientific platforms, also known as core facilities, can be found at most universities and research institutions across Canada. They are staffed with specialized technology experts (i.e. platform scientists), and house state-of-the-art-infrastructure and/or provide customized services. Scientific platforms offer a more collaborative way to conduct research, are inherently multidisciplinary and operate with an economy of scale through shared costs. They accelerate high quality reproducible research through streamlined experimental processes, they have dedicated staff to focus on innovation, training the next generation of researchers and quality management.   Research communities greatly benefit from the expertise of platform scientists, and now is the time to recognize their growing importance in the form of structured career paths, professional development opportunities and recognition of their research contributions.

Founded in 2016, the Canadian Network of Scientific Platforms (CNSP) currently represents 30 institutions, 234 facilities from nine provinces and two pan-Canadian networks with a diverse membership spanning the fields of engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and health sciences. Platform scientists working at these hubs in the research ecosystem collaborate with:

1) Principal investigators to provide custom services and/or expert advice on the ideal technology and applications suited to address their research questions;

2) Instrument manufacturers to ensure the infrastructure is performing at its best and staying up-to-date with the latest innovation;

3) Reagent companies to test, optimize and provide feedback on products;

4) Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (highly qualified personnel (HQP)) and research professionals by providing training in services and/or infrastructure use and support for experimental design and data analysis; and

5) Institutional leadership to apply for funding and then test, validate and inform on procurement of the best services and infrastructure required to meet the research community needs.

Challenges for platform scientists

Clearly, platform scientists wear many hats, performing diverse tasks including experimental design, management, training and education, knowledge transfer, method development and innovation, quality management, advocacy and outreach, technology innovation and act as a focal point in an interdisciplinary environment. Platform scientists often emerge from research laboratories where they have demonstrated aptitude for advancing technology and thrived when training/educating HQP, while providing support for multiple projects.

Despite their critical contributions to advancing scientific knowledge, they are typically employed in positions that have job descriptions and career path opportunities that are not aligned with their highly specialized skill sets and diverse responsibilities (e.g. technician, research associate). Universities and institutions have few, if any, professional development opportunities targeted to these research professionals. Furthermore, platform scientists are not typically included as authors on publications despite significant intellectual contributions; are often excluded from the development and writing of funding proposals; and are typically not eligible to be co-applicants on research grants. Unlike HQP, platform scientists have few options for mobility funding to attend courses, conferences or visit other laboratories/platforms to learn and exchange experience. And yet, platform scientists and scientific platforms are integral to the presumption of all “operating” funding mechanisms including the Tri-Council funding and to ensure that world-leading research infrastructure is available to research teams in a “turnkey” fashion while service/user fees only cover a fraction of the actual operating costs due to limited grant budgets.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) provides funding towards operations and maintenance of new infrastructure valued at about 12 per cent of the total project costs. This funding is often used to pay the salary of platform scientists, but they have responsibility for many instruments and support a large user base often as the sole staff member. Research grants from principal investigators and recharge fees for services and instrument training and usage typically make up the balance of the salary. As a result, the annual salary of a platform scientist often comes from multiple sources with variable budgets offering little job security.

Recognizing platform scientists

To help address some of these challenges, the Global BioImaging international community came together and recently published a recommendation titled “Charting a course for success: International recommendations for Imaging Scientist Careers in core facilities.” While specifically written for imaging scientists working in platforms, the recommendations are applicable to platform scientists from any field of research. Relying on case studies from around the world where advocacy and the development of clear career paths have been successfully implemented and had immense positive impact on research outcomes, the report offers guidelines for how to recruit and retain top talent, suggestions for sustainable funding mechanisms and outlines what is needed for training and professional development for imaging scientists themselves so they can excel in their work. The Global BioImaging international recommendation provides universities and research institutions with a road map and guide to develop and implement career paths for platform scientists.

The recent announcement by the CFI of a new funding stream for scientific platforms (Core Facilities) as part of the upcoming 2025 Innovation Fund competition is another welcome development. Eligible costs that can be covered with the funding include:

1) platform management and coordination

2) operations and maintenance of specialised equipment

3) interaction of researchers from a variety of disciplines

4) outreach to and work with the private sector and

5) training of HQP for research in industry, academic and government labs.

This targeted funding and clear acknowledgement of the importance of scientific platforms is a first step along an important pathway of recognition of the essential role research professionals such as platform scientists play in the Canada research ecosystem.

It is time for universities and research institutions to build on this initial progress and develop clear career paths, mechanisms for professional development and mobility funding, invest with stable institutionally funded positions and recognize the essential role platform scientists play in multidisciplinary collaborative research, training the next generation, and innovation and acceleration of scientific discovery to keep Canada at the forefront.

Claire M. Brown, PhD, president & co-founder

Vidhu Sharma, PhD, vice-president

Guillaume Lesage, PhD, treasurer & co-Founder

Brooke Ring, MSc, secretary

Marie-Eve Paquet, PhD, eastern Canada representative

Dominic Therrien, PhD, central Canada representative

Jeffrey LeDue, MSc, western Canada representative

Laurence Lejeune, MSc, former vice-president & co-founder

Derek Oliver, PhD, former secretary

Diane Miller, MSc, PMP former western Canada representative

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