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The Black Hole

Thoughts on the "Science to Business" Program

BY BETH | JAN 31 2010

While looking at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) funding opportunities ((despite the fact that I’m out of academia, I don’t seem to have entirely escaped the world of grants, as the organization that I work for is interested in getting more involved in research)) the other day, I came across this interesting opportunity:

Science to Business:
CIHR‘s Science to Business (S2B) program is designed to encourage individuals with PhDs in a health related field to pursue an MBA. It is anticipated that successful applicants to the program will go on to apply their management and scientific expertise by pursuing careers in fields that support commercialization and innovation in Canada such as management, regulatory affairs, finance, research, technology transfer, and public policy. The goal of this program is to develop a cadre of professionals knowledgeable in health research and management, and to foster an entrepreneurial culture within and around the research community.

This endeavor by CIHR is part of their (what seems to me to be growing) interest in knowledge translation:

Knowledge Translation is a dynamic and iterative process that includes the synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically-sound application of knowledge to improve the health of Canadians, provide more effective health services and products and strengthen the healthcare system. Commercialization and innovation refer to the component of knowledge translation that is focused on bringing new products, tools, or services to a state of use in the private, not-for-profit, or public sectors. It can extend beyond bringing IP to the marketplace for profit (e.g. cost savings in the health system, humanitarian licensing). CIHR is committed to facilitating the commercialization of health research in Canada in support of its overall mandate to excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system.

I’ve long been interested in the concept of evidence-based practice ((ever since I first heard the phrase in my undergrad as this “new and innovative” way of doing medicine and thought “What the heck were they basing their practice on before?”)) and bringing what we find in the research world to actual use in the real world.  Now that I work in the health care, my interest in this area has only increased.  Coming from academics to health care gives me a unique perspective on ways in which we can improve the translation of new knowledge to make more “more effective health services and products a strengthened Canadian health care system” ((My thoughts on this will be the subject of a future blog posting)). So I was encouraged to see CIHR’s interest in this area.  It has not escaped me, however, that, especially given the current government’s history of shifting research funding to business, this could all be directed towards finding ways for pharmaceutical companies to make money rather than the more broad definition of commercialization ((not that I think commercialization of drugs is all bad.  After all, what good is a scientific discovery of a life-saving drug or device if we can’t get it out in sufficient quantities to actual people? I would just be worried if the translation of knowledge to improve our public health care system (and the work of other nonprofits) were forsaken at the expense of only private interests)).

So I started to think that this might be an opportunity I should take advantage of.  Given my current position, I could see a lot of benefits of undertaking an MBA – specifically, furthering my understanding of things like leadership, finances, and analyzing business processes, along with my scientific expertise, could go a long way to contributing to improvements in the health care system. While purusing the F.O.D. ((Funding Opportunity Details)), one point really jumped out at me:

Due to the specialized nature of the PhD/MBA credential and conditions in the Canadian labour market in many S2B relevant fields, some past S2B awardees reported challenges obtaining relevant career opportunities immediately upon graduation. Explain why you expect to be successful in meeting this challenge. This could be based on past work experience, job market research, demonstrated initiative in addressing a similar challenge, past or anticipated pursuit of bridging opportunities (co-op, internships), contact with potential employers, familiarity with a specific niche opportunities etc.

Which raises the question: if CIHR sees knowledge translation and commercialization as important enough to fund this type of program, why are there few jobs for people who complete it?  It reminds me of the push by the government to increase the numbers of spots in PhD programs despite the fact that no one seems entirely sure what all these PhDs should be doing once they are done ((though we do know that there are a variety of things you can do with a PhD that don’t have the job title of “professor”)).  I guess, in a way, this is a bit of a “translation” issue too – but instead of “how do we translate this knowledge to application?” it’s “how do we translate these skills to jobs?”  You can read my thoughts on translating the skills developed by doing a PhD into a nonacademic job here.  As for my thoughts on translating the skills developed by doing a combination of PhD + MBA, I think I’ll need time to ruminate on that.  Perhaps a topic for a future blog posting.

Interestingly, when I’ve told people of this nascent desire to do an MBA, I get one of two responses.  From my friends who aren’t in school, I get “that’s a great idea!”  From my friends who are still students I get, “ARE YOU INSANE?”  Which I think says more about the stress level of being a grad student than it does about whether or not I should pursue this.

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  1. Lindsay / February 1, 2010 at 08:29

    Hi – Great post! I have been thinking about your posts (and Dave’s posts) over the past few months and find that I have a tendency to try to contextualize them in wider problems of society, politics, and policy. Janet Atkinson Grosjean, a researcher at UBC’s Centre for Applied Ethics, quite nicely brings the issue of science translation up to the societal level and tracks it over time. For a summary, listen to the podcast on CBC Radio Ideas: How to think about science. Listen to the last third of Episode 20 ( She also has a book. A preview is available on google books.
    Public science; private interests: cultures and commerce in Canada’s networks of centres of excellence. 2006, University of Toronto Press.

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