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McGill Reporter
February 19, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 11
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Research

Re-imagining the human sciences in Canada: SSHRC's transformation

More than half of Canadian university researchers and graduate students work in the social sciences and humanities — the human sciences, for short. But the numbers don't translate into an equivalent share of research funds. The trend is certainly positive: the budget of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has nearly doubled over the last five years to almost $200 million in 2003–04. But with per capita funding for research and training in the human sciences only a quarter of that in the health and natural sciences, there is still a long way to go.

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, the SSHRC is embarking on a process of change it calls "From Granting Council to Knowledge Council," aimed at renewing the human sciences in Canada and responding to increased demand for knowledge produced by human sciences researchers. The SSHRC is determined to better highlight its past accomplishments and its readiness to respond to new expectations and opportunities.

The SSHRC says that in order to transform itself, it must address this key question: "How can the humanities and social sciences ensure that technology and global change truly serve the common good, and that our social organizations give us the means to pursue both prosperity and quality of life?"

The heart of the change process is a cross-country consultation at the university level, which at McGill is being carried out by John Galaty, associate dean (Research and Graduate Studies) in the Faculty of Arts, and the recently appointed SSHRC representative on campus.

Galaty is hoping to reach all concerned faculty, staff, graduate students and even alumni and other friends of McGill. A SSHRC Transformation website has been created at www.mcgill.ca/researchoffice/sshrc-consultation, where background documents and methods of providing feedback can be found. The website will feature an electronic questionnaire, which will ask for opinions about the operation of existing SSHRC programs and ideas regarding new structures and approaches.

Contribution to the consultation can be done directly through the questionnaire, through departments and faculties or through participation in a series of meetings now underway and culminating in an open meeting scheduled for the end of March, to which the president of the SSHRC, Dr. Marc Renaud, has been invited. The University must submit its consultation report to the SSHRC by May 1.

The SSHRC is not proposing to alter its core values, which include the requirement of research excellence based on international standards and peer review; access to SSHRC funding through a competitive process; inclusiveness and openness in defining the SSHRC's mandate and fields of relevance; innovative continuity, aimed at renewing Canada's research capacity; and accountability, through sound management of public funds.

But beyond the core values, the discussion will be wide ranging, touching on the size, content and delivery of existing programs, and looking at all suggestions for new and innovative programs. Here's just a sample of specific questions being asked: Should the SSHRC provide larger grants to fewer people or smaller grants to more people? Should special support be given to young scholars just beginning their careers? Should the SSHRC create Confederations of Learning? Formal Institutes? Web-facilitated Communities of Practice? Exchange/Mobility Programs?

Galaty says he hopes members of the McGill community will comment freely and propose ideas that might draw on experiences in other countries.

"This is an exciting opportunity to make a real difference in the way the human sciences are supported in Canada," he said. "I know people are busy, but we hope that the options we have developed will make it easier to participate."

To find out more about the SSHRC Transformation, consult the temporary pages set up on the research pages of McGill's website: www.mcgill.ca/researchoffice/sshrc-consultation.

McGill's happy postdocs

The British journal The Scientist surveyed universities from the U.S., Canada and Europe to find which ones were best for postdocs. Outside of America, University of Alberta was tops in the list, University of Liverpool was second, and McGill was the next best Canadian university, ranked seventh. The 3,529 respondents rated their schools on access to journals and publications, quality research tools, career preparation and a collegial workplace. For more info, see www.the-scientist.com.

Graduate studies Dean Martha Crago is delighted. "It reflects the wonderful group of postdocs, postdoc supervisors and staff serving postdocs at McGill." McGill's postdocs published over 10,000 papers in the last decade, and make from $27,000 to over $55,000 annually.

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