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The Black Hole

A response from the health minister on the lack of opportunity for early-career scientists


In a concerted effort to practice what I preach, I write often to the Office of the Prime Minister to highlight issues facing early-career scientists in Canada. To their credit, I always receive a response. Below is a transcript of the most recent letter I received from the Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq. Please see ‘Bring home the scientific troops’ to review previous transcripts.

Dear Dr. Thon:

The office of the Prime Minister has forwarded to me a copy of your correspondence of February 7, 2012, concerning opportunities for young scientists in Canada.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recognizes the role that new and early career investigators play in creating a sustainable foundation for Canadian health research. In its second strategic plan entitled Health Research Roadmap: Creating innovative research for better health and health care, the CIHR stated its intention to build capacity to attract and retain the best researchers by working with partners at all levels, including teaching hospitals, other federal funding agencies and federal departments. This will involve, among other things, ensuring that sufficient operational support is provided by rectifying the inconsistencies in postdoctoral funding and reviewing the level and form of financial assistance provided.

As part of the CIHR’s commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability of its contribution to the Canadian health research enterprise, the CIHR has also initiated a process to design a new open suite of programs and peer review system. The new design responds to concerns such as yours from the health community that we need to be providing more support for new and early career investigators.

In the new open suite of programs, the CIHR is considering specific support to new and early career investigators with excellent training and early career productivity to ensure that these researchers have an opportunity to build promising programs of research and knowledge translation. In a new scheme that focuses on projects, the CIHR is considering giving priority in the first stage of review to the quality of the idea with limited information about the track record of the applicant. This would remove some of the biases or barriers (real or perceived) for new and early career investigators.

The CIHR’s direct training programs are not changing as part of this process and will continue to be a part of the CIHR’s strategy to support a sustainable pipeline of talented new health researchers into the health research enterprise.

It should also be noted that the CIHR’s Strategy for Patient Oriented Research also has a focus on developing the talent pool for clinical research in Canada. You can follow the development of this important strategy on their website at

With regard to your concern about the low levels of successful applications in the CIHR’s Open Operating Grants Program, it should be noted that in February 2008, the CIHR pledged to create and maintain a stable Open Operating Grant Program. This included a commitment to fund at least 400 new grants per competition (800 per year). This commitment will be maintained with the new program structure.

The CIHR currently funds some 14,000 researchers and trainees. In designing the new funding program, the CIHR’s intent is to continue supporting a similar number of investigators and trainees. Furthermore, the CIHR is committed to ensuring that approximately 70 percent of the grants and awards budget continues to be allocated to support investigator-initiated research.

I appreciate having had this opportunity to respond to your concerns.


Leona Aglukkaq

c.c. Office of the Prime Minister

I will be responding to Ms. Aglukkaq’s letter in my following post – and I encourage you to do the same. You can contact the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq at:

House of Commons
458 Confederation Building
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Tel: (613) 992-2848
Fax: (613) 996-9764
Email: [email protected]

Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the Founder and CEO of STRM.BIO. Before STRM.BIO Dr. Thon Founded Platelet BioGenesis where he served as CEO and Chief Scientific Officer. Before Platelet BioGenesis Dr. Thon was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.
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