Feds announce funding for 11 research chairs

By Katy Anderson

University of Calgary students are one step closer to feeling the benefits of research due to a recent funding announcement.

The government of Canada announced $109.5 million for 126 new Canada research chairs throughout the country Mon., Sep. 10. The U of C will be the recipient of funding for 11 of chairs, including both new and renewals. Currently there are 70 CRC at the university.

A chair is a senior professorship granted to a scientist or scholar who is recognized as a leader in their field, and is expected to advance the frontiers of knowledge within their field, according to a Canadian Foundation for Innovation document. Monday’s announcement included $10.5 million from the CFI to provide infrastructure for select researchers.

“We are moving from a model of education that was a transmission of knowledge; a big expert telling students what they needed to know and now we’re moving to a model that says learning is all about learning how to learn,” said CRC Social sciences and humanities research council president Chad Gaffield. “They’re going to learn not just yesterdays information, but they’re going to learn how to construct and contribute to that for the rest of their lives.”

Gaffield explained post-secondary education is moving away from simply being told information and then asked to regurgitate it on exams, to a more active form of learning.

“They’re now being seen as students that are attempting to find information, analyze it for themselves, write about it and construct their own knowledge, and that’s what universities are all about,” he said. “What we’re arguing now is that the undergraduate degree, the baccalaureate, is becoming a research degree. If we have Canada Research Chairs [and] we have an increased research environment on our campuses, that means students at the graduate and undergraduate level are just going to have a much better education.”

Currently social sciences and humanities make up just 20 per cent of CRCs explained Gaffeild. However, he believes the percentage is growing based on the increased importance of the human dimension, noting across Canadian campuses social sciences and humanities students make up approximately 55 per cent of all students.

U of C president Harvey Weingarten stated that CRC are people that in the absence of the program would probably not be in Calgary or at the university.

“When you looked at the original motivation for the program I suspect there was a sense that we were losing too many people and that was one of the motivations,” said Weingarten. “We are now recruiting people to Canada–in some cases non-Canadians, in some cases Canadians who have gone to the States, who I don’t think would be here without the Canada research chair program.”

Member of Parliament Diane Ablonczy stated that because of the funding CRC will be able to improve the quality of life for Canadians in a number of areas.

“It’s not just health, it’s environmental innovation. We want to make sure that we have clean air, land and water to pass on to our kids,” said Ablonczy. “Even research in the way that we interact with each other, to address some of the social concerns that a multi-faceted fast growing society has.”

Developmental neurobiology CRC Sarah McFarlane received a renewal grant of $500,000 over five years. McFarlane explained her lab runs on an operating budget $150-170,000 per year. She also noted the grant will allow her to have both undergraduate and graduate students in her lab, whom she will be able to mentor.

“Mentors are what get people interested in their areas, not just science but anything they do,” said McFarlane. “If you have someone that is interested in you, that is willing to put the time in and train you, I think it goes a long way in terms of keeping people in areas of research.”

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