Science, technology, and innovation are critical drivers of economic growth and national well-being. In the context of health research, their impact extends to matters of human health, quality of life, and life expectancy in our country. On a global stage, progress in health research translates into marketable discoveries for which Canada is well situated to become a global leader. While Canadian universities continue to graduate some of the best and brightest in the world, most doctoral students are encouraged to pursue post-doctoral research experiences at world-renowned scientific institutes abroad (as they should be) to develop transformative research projects that build upon Canadian expertise, allow them to establish contacts with leaders in their field, and propel them to the forefront of discovery. But innovation demands that novel ideas be pursued, and the science and technology enterprise in Canada is not well structured to attract and retain Canadian scientists abroad, who (based on my own experiences at Harvard) are often willing to take a salary cut for the chance to return home.
The underlying problem in this sector is a lack of faculty positions at top-tier Canadian universities and research institutes resulting from a lack of government support. The result has been that for even the most qualified and published amongst us, the prospects of remaining at the foreign institute we left to are better than returning to the country that invested millions to make us leaders in our field. Thus, American universities such as Harvard become excellent pools of talent that tap Canadian resources to support an industry abroad in which Canada competes directly. Indeed, American institutes such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for which I work, collect more than 25% of their operating revenue from scientific discoveries (the difference is made in patient fees); a statistic that reflects the value of health research. It is in these areas that developed countries such as Canada and the United States stand to be the most competitive, as low-tech manufacturing jobs inevitably become outsourced to countries in which production is more cost-effective.
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.