Response letter to the Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers

March 4, 2021

On January 25, 2021, the Association of Canadian Early Career Health Researchers (ACECRH) shared an open letter with CIHR to express their views on CIHR’s Health Research Training Platform (HRTP) pilot funding opportunity. In follow-up, CIHR has provided feedback on recommendations shared in the letter.

Dear ACECHR members,

Thank you for sharing your views on CIHR’s Health Research Training Platform (HRTP) pilot funding opportunity. CIHR recognizes the important role that early career researchers (ECRs) play in the health research ecosystem, as well as the specific challenges you are facing as a community – including the compounding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We welcomed receiving your suggestions on how best to achieve our common goal of supporting capacity development, through the receipt of your open letter and the call held with ACECHR leads. We appreciated hearing that you see a lot of value in a programmatic training approach for PhD candidates and Post-Doctoral Fellows, but that you are unclear on some of the program’s elements for ECRs. In follow-up, we would like to take this opportunity to provide feedback on the HRTP-specific recommendations you shared with CIHR.

Recommendation 1: In the future, consult with ECRs more broadly in Canada to ensure that funding initiatives targeting ECRs are in line with their needs.

Agreed. CIHR is committed to maintaining ongoing engagement with our broad range of stakeholders and partners, including ECRs. CIHR’s new strategic plan includes a commitment to enhance training and career support through the development of a policy framework and accompanied action plans. As a first step, in 2022, CIHR will be consulting the research community on remaining gaps and opportunities in training and support across all career stages, transitions and paths. We will be engaging ACECHR and other ECRs in these discussions, and we welcome a continued dialogue to ensure ECR-focused initiatives align with priority needs.

Recommendation 2: Clarify the role of ECRs in the HRTP funding call.

Thank you for bringing this question to our attention. This funding opportunity was designed to provide ECRs with flexibility to select the role that best suits their individual career stage and career development goals, while ensuring their meaningful engagement – for the benefit of ECRs as well as the funded platforms. HRTP applications require ECRs within three roles: 1) as a lead applicant; 2) as a mentor; and 3) as a platform advisor.

In order to be eligible for funding:

  • Each application must identify at least three lead applicants, at least one of whom must be an ECR. This means that ECRs can apply as a Nominated Principal Applicant (NPA) or a Principal Applicant (PA).
  • Each application must identify at least eight mentors, at least two of which must be ECRs. Of note, ECR mentors can be listed in the NPA, PA or co-applicant role.
  • Each application must identify a Platform Advisory Committee to guide and monitor the progress of the platform, and ECR representation must be included in this advisory capacity.

Finally, ECRs may also participate as mentees and benefit from the capacity development, including experiential learning opportunities provided by the platform.

Recommendation 3: Clarify that these training platforms should be run by integrated teams that include ECRs, historically underrepresented groups, and non-U15 members in a meaningful way, to avoid the perpetuation of scientific empires and the lack of diversity ingrained into them.

This is correct. This funding opportunity was intentionally designed to promote diversity within training platforms by including individuals from different career stages, jurisdictions, and sectors, as well as groups that are historically underrepresented in research. While each platform requires a Nominated Principal Investigator, the expectations to have diverse teams and employ diverse and inclusive training and mentoring approaches are integrated throughout the funding opportunity’s objectives, eligibility criteria and evaluation criteria. In fact, the requirement for an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Champion is intended to ensure that platforms apply practices and principles that promote diversity and foster an inclusive culture. Further details can be found in the “Eligibility to Apply” section of the funding opportunity.

Beyond TGMS, changes and improvement are being implemented to the CCV in the short-term. For example, we recently (August 2019) updated the CCV environment to the latest software versions and upgraded the hosting of the CCV servers.  This will immediately address system performance issues and improve application reliability and stability. In addition, we are currently working on two enhancements to the existing CCV application. These include: 1) implementation of a more intuitive interface with simplified navigation, fewer clicks, better instructional prompts, and the ability to clone previous CCV submissions; and 2) ensuring compliance with Web Accessibility Standards and compatibility with screen readers, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Recommendation 3a: One way to do this could be to equalize success for ECR NPAs, as is done with Project grants.

The HRTP is a team training grant, with ECRs required in lead roles. Given all applications will include at least one ECR as a NPA and/or PA, CIHR does not see equalization as a feasible option for this funding opportunity. However, we remain committed to equalizing success rates for ECR NPAs within our Project Grant competitions.

Recommendation 4: All ECRs, including applicants, identified as team members should be eligible to access funds for teaching release.

Agreed. CIHR is committed to ensuring equity within our funding programs, and we thank ACECHR for bringing to our attention their concern regarding the different financial benefits available to ECRs in the roles of applicant vs mentee.

The funding opportunity is being updated to reflect that up 60% of grant funds can be used to provide compensation for trainee stipends and ECR salaries of individuals in the mentee role, or to provide funds for teaching or clinical release for ECRs in any applicant role.

Recommendation 4a: All ECRs, who are members of training platform teams, should have the same role and benefits regardless of whether their name was on the original application.

Agreed in principle. Successful platforms can continue to add new members after funds have been granted. The benefits available should be the same across all members in the same role (i.e., platform lead, mentor, advisor or mentee). However, the specific role to be undertaken by any new members, including ECRs, would be determined in discussion with the platform team.

Recommendation 5: The salary support for the dedicated platform manager should be specified to support the entire platform and not only the NPA.

Agreed. The dedicated platform manager is an administrative role designed to alleviate the administrative burden for the entire platform.

Recommendation 6: Clarify the post-award assessment of both individual training platforms and the HRTP pilot project itself.

As outlined in the Conditions of Funding, the NPA will be required to submit an annual report, a mid-term report in year 4, and a final report after year 6. These reports will be used to assess individual training platforms as well as the HRTP pilot project itself. We also welcome continued input from and dialogue with the research community regarding opportunities to enhance our capacity development offerings.

Thank you again for sharing your perspectives on this pilot program. We look forward to continuing to engage and collaborate with ACECHR to strengthen opportunities and supports for ECRs.

Sincerely,

Adrian Mota
Associate Vice-President, Research Programs

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