Diversity enables prosperity

Question:How do we make best use of our science and research strengths?
on 08/07/2016

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A serious issue currently facing the scientific community in Canada is the ongoing funding crisis. We are continually called upon to do more with less, but with health science research funding at an all-time low, support withdraws from research deemed “less essential:” typically basic research with no clinical application or immediate translational value. This is problematic for the prosperity of our society, as by definition we cannot plan for unexpected discoveries, and innovation itself is not a commodity that can be readily cultivated. There are no rules to producing innovation save one: diversity enables prosperity. Frequently this is discussed in terms of the value of curiosity-driven research, where the history of innovation highlights a central role for serendipity in generating truly novel discoveries, as well as other examples of how we have capitalized on the unexpected. But with the ever increasing pace of scientific progress, I foresee an even more critical utility for diversity in the scientific community in relation to our human resources. The role of an academic researcher has always included multiple duties: to be a teacher, to be a mentor, and to be a scientist. A man had to wear multiple hats, not always best fitting, in order to succeed in science. The modern health science academic (still almost exclusively men, to the community’s detriment) has even more hats to wear: a manager, a science advocate, a marketer, a financier, a writer, an entrepreneur, and even a pundit. All these duties fall to the same individual, selected primarily on the impact factor of his publication record. These growing needs for the community scream for diversification, but with limited resources, the path to professorship has grown narrower than ever. The question remains then, of how we can best utilize the resources we have available to advance scientific progress. We need to enact mechanisms that will enable diversification of the scientific community. This principle is perhaps best exemplified by the benefits enabled by strengthening the role of women in science, but extends as well to less obvious examples of diversity, including the value of cultivating a diversity of talents within the scientific community. In Canada, our society inherently values diversity and as a result, our diverse talent pool leaves us poised to become world leaders in science innovation, should we choose to capitalize on our existing strengths:

A diverse scientific community will enable opportunity.

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