By Katherine Gombay
Rémi Quirion, former Scientific Director of the Douglas Hospital Research Centre and Quebec’s newly appointed Chief Scientist, faced a few tough questions when he spoke to about 60 researchers at McGill last week. As well as being responsible for promoting Quebec’s scientific research, Quirion serves as the president of the board of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec (FRQ). And it was in this latter role that he faced the music with questions that ranged in subject from funding for basic research to queries about limits to the number of years post-doctoral students can be funded.
But the majority of Quirion’s time talking to researchers was spent in describing his vision of how to promote Quebec’s scientific research. In this work, Quirion has strong support from Sam Hamad, the Liberal Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade. “One of the first things Minister Hamad said to me was, ‘I used to be an engineer. You don’t have to convince me of the value of scientific research. We have excellent researchers in Quebec but we’re small.’”
Quirion noted in his talk that while federal funding for researchers in B.C. and Ontario has increased significantly over the last decade, the percentage of research funds coming to Quebec researchers over this same period has remained more or less stable.
Julie Payette onboard
In order to deal with these limitations, one of Quirion’s first steps was to appoint former astronaut and McGill engineering graduate Julie Payette as Quebec’s scientific ambassador to Washington. The goal is to increase the visibility and access to grant money for Quebec researchers in the U.S. Indeed, one of the researchers in the room noted that there was a vicious circle affecting Canadian researchers who found it more difficult to publish in some American journals because their names weren’t as well known since they couldn’t apply for funding from some U.S. agencies. And that they were less likely to succeed in getting grants simply because they hadn’t published as much.
At present, the three branches of the FRQ together have a total budget of approximately $200 million. Quirion plans to use some of this money to encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration, bringing together researchers who are funded by different sectors of the FRQ. He offered various ideas for future collaborative work by Quebec researchers in areas such as sustainable development, personalized medicine and research into transportation and architecture for an aging population.
Young researchers needed
In January 2012, Quirion will be launching a new program called Étudiant Chercheur Étoile geared at encouraging young researchers. Each month, each of the sectors of the FRQ will chose a winning student paper and award a prize of $1,000 to its author. There will also be an annual colloquium that brings together all of the students who have written winning papers.