In 1957 the Canadian Biochemical Society (CBS) was first conceived. After merging with the Canadian Society of Cellular and Molecular Biology in 1995 and the Genetics Society of Canada in 2010, it renamed itself the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) in 2011. While the society’s name and make-up have changed over the years, its basic premise has been to support science.
And while science is making leaps and bounds on its way to combatting major diseases, it’s sometimes hard to believe, given the state of funding for fundamental research in Canada, after a crippling decrease in financial support over the past decade and a general lack of understanding of the system’s needs.
Fortunately, CSMB and other organisations have been working on ways to ensure that scientists can do what they do best, make amazing discoveries. CSMB is a relatively small organisation with a finite budget and members who realise that to have the biggest impact they need to broadcast the exciting possibilities and their importance both to government and to the general population. They believe that with advocacy and education, the necessary funding and support will follow. Dr Philip Hieter, President of CSMB, spoke with us at Research Outreach about the society and his excitement about its future.
Hi Philip! Could you tell us what your role involves as the President of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB)?
A key immediate issue is promoting a re-investment by government into the scientific funding envelope that is necessary to support science research and teaching in Canada at an internationally competitive level. Adequate support of fundamental discovery research is critical to the realisation of long term societal benefits in health, agriculture, climate, and industry. We’ll also address standards and practices that ensure success at all stages of scientific career development. The CSMB also strongly believes that a robust, research-based university system, which supports cutting edge technology and approaches, is a critical context for training the next generation of innovators, and for teaching science more broadly.
Can you tell us more about the CSMB’s heritage and background?
There is a beauty in discovery itself. I think society is gratified by trying to understand nature, understanding the world around us
How do you advocate the progression of molecular bioscience? What is the value of basic science to society? Why does it need to be supported by governments?
Under a previous administration, the long-term recurring money available for reaearch grants to basic scientists declined significantly. This has caused a devastating shortfall in the operating budgets that fuel the day-to-day operations of individual research laboratories. It dramatically crippled our pipeline for discovery and training at the early stages in the broad continuum of research from basic to applied, that ultimately leads to direct applications. If a government pulls funding from early training and fundamental research, it pays the price five, ten, twenty years down the road.
That’s why we’re so excited about the recommendations made in the Trudeau government’s “Fundamental Review of Science,” (April 2017), also known as the Naylor report. It recommends a large reinvestment in research operating grants (back to 2007 levels), better coordination across the federal funding agencies, and financial support of open competitions for early and middle career scientists. Using our ‘inclusive’ advocacy, education programmes, website and social media, we plan on broadcasting this information to our members, the broader scientific community, advocacy organisations (lobbyists), and people at every level in our community, including decision-makers in government.
There is beauty in discovery itself. I think society is gratified by trying to understand nature, understanding the world around us. But there are practical benefits that are quite large and more than justify the investment by governments. This truth and awareness should help drive long-term funding and support.
What are the main research interests and key areas of focus current at the CSMB?
Our last two presidents, Christian Baron (University of Montreal) and Kristin Baetz (University of Ottawa) helped revitalise the CSMB. Christian upgraded our website, our social media presence and rallied the Board to achieve defined goals in advocacy and training. Kristin staged our 150th Anniversary of Science meeting in Ottawa to encourage interaction with MPs and instituted a dual-track speaker programme with lots of engaging crossover. Kristin also worked tirelessly in advocacy efforts through direct interaction with government officals in Ottawa.
We will keep the momentum going and continue to share the big picture of what we do and how important it is to the world. If we can’t support our scientists and be internationally competitive, how will we develop our next generation of scientists and solve the problems we face? We simply can’t afford to allow them to fail.
A win for one scientist is a win for the entire scientific community and the world
CSMB offer numerous awards to both researchers and students, including the New Investigator Award, the 2016 Video Challenge and the Graduate Student PDF Poster Competition. What are the benefits of having these award schemes in place?
These awards also increase our visibility and credibility which may help us to influence the approval of ideas and policies to support science, for example, as in the recommended in the Naylor Report. This historic document addresses the state of science in Canada and where it needs to go – a rigorous accounting, and a clear roadmap for the future. The CSMB and Canadian scientific community is also encouraged by the installation of the Canadian Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, and the Chief Science Advisor, Mona Nemer.
The society runs various petitions seeking public support. What impact do these petitions have and what topics are you currently petitioning for or against?
In my own laboratory, CIHR grants made possible our basic studies of genes and pathways in yeast as a model system for understanding the corresponding human genes that are mutated and cause the progression of human cancer. Even though we do basic studies on chromosome biology in yeast, there’s a strong relevance of what we discover in yeast to an understanding of cancer biology. My research has been funded by federal health research agencies over the past 30 years, and we have close interactions with both basic and clinician scientists.
CSMB petitions have advocated for a balance between fundamental and applied research to ensure a healthy sustainable research ecosystem vital to fundamental discoveries and innovation. These advocacy efforts will continue to be a top priority for the society in the years to come.
Finally, where do you see molecular biosciences going over the next ten years or so? Are there any areas that you are particularly excited about?
- If you would like to find out more information and the work of the CSMB, please visit their website at www.csmb-scbm.ca/index.aspx..