With youth voices, the future of Canadian science is brighter

Research
Institute for Science Society and Policy

By Youth Council

2020-2023, Canada's Chief Science Advisor

Group photo of Canada's Chief Science Advisor's 2020-2023Youth Council.
Group picture of the 2020-2023 Canada Chief Science Advisor's Youth Council.
With their departure, the Canada’s Chief Science Advisor’s inaugural Youth Council shares a vision for science.

Farah Qaiser, Audrey Laventure, Max King, Madison Rilling, Chelsie Johnson, Natasha Jakac-Sinclair, Landon Getz, Andréa Cartile, Justine Ammendolia and Marie-Eve Boulanger

All authors are members of the Canada’s Chief Science Advisor’s inaugural Youth Council.

An introduction by Youth Council Mentor and ISSP Senior Fellow, Paul Dufour

In August 2019, I was invited by the Chief Science Advisor`s office asking if I could assist in selecting a unique cohort of bright, passionate and motivated next generation scholars to serve as Dr Nemer`s inaugural Youth Council. Because of my background in teaching science policy to undergrads for the ISSP, and being involved in several other youth policy groups, including the Science and Policy Exchange in Montreal, and Students on Ice, I was also asked to assist as one of the mentors to the group.

Needless to say, I was honoured to accept the challenge and the Office of the Chief Science Advisor ended up selecting 20 candidates out of over 1100 applications. The team chosen– diverse, interdisciplinary, at different levels of study and experience, and regionally representative – had basic knowledge of what science advice and science policy is about (some had been working with youth science policy and other advocacy groups), but they were clearly interested in making a difference and expressing a vision of what science and knowledge policy should look like for their generation and the next. 

Their mandate was to provide the Chief Science Advisor with accurate and balanced views on science and science policy questions from the perspective of youth, and to identify and inform the Chief Science Advisor on key issues and challenges facing the Canadian science community.

As it happens, candidates were publicly announced in early 2020 just before the global pandemic hit. Hence, their work and advice was to be virtual for almost two years. Many Zoom meetings took place and, despite the many challenges they were all facing at schools, home, work, etc...  the Youth Council provided highly effective advice and suggestions on key issues that the Chief Science Advisor requested.

Right at the start, the Youth Council was engaged with the impact of COVID-19 on students. They hosted two virtual discussions as a part of the 2020 Science Literacy Week and had a panel accepted for the CSPC 2020 conference and participated in following annual CSPC events. They worked with other youth groups and also helped shape an agenda on key issues and future pathways in science. A major project was the development of their Vision for science report based on considerable input from the members themselves along with engagement groups that they met within Ottawa and elsewhere.  All along, Dr. Nemer and her team worked to ensure ongoing linkages within public policy networks and avenues for the Youth Council.

The blog from the Youth Council is a summary of their creative product. It is a plan of action that not only should be read, but should also be advanced by, with and for the science and knowledge ecosystem in this country.  Another youth cohort will follow shortly and hopefully, the momentum behind the original experiment can advance a better and more inclusive science and knowledge policy for this country's future generations.

 

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On 10th March 2020, we — a pan-Canadian multidisciplinary group of 20 youth — were selected by Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, to serve on her inaugural Youth Council (CSA-YC). Our mandate was broad: we were asked to identify key challenges facing the science community, and to weigh in on issues from the perspective of youth.

One week after our council was announced, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shut-down of society, changing all of our lives as we knew it. In the past three years, we’ve witnessed how scientists and researchers across the country have constantly punched above their weight. Whether it was scientists developing vaccine delivery systems, or researchers debunking misinformation in real-time, we have all benefited from science and research, from coast to coast to coast.

Now, as we end our three-year term, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the future of science in Canada.

When we think of the future of science, we think of the youth. Whether it is advancing research as a trainee , or advocating for change as a post-doctoral fellow, it is this next generation of scientists and researchers who are working hard to make a better tomorrow possible. They are doing this, in spite of navigating persistent inequities, struggling to make ends meet amid crushing debt, and overcoming significant roadblocks to employment.

If we want to develop a strong next generation of change-makers, then we must invest and provide opportunities to foster the potential of youth and early career scientists. In our report released last Fall, we, as a youth council, urged that science in our country be more open, inclusive, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and reflective. This is an important and urgent matter for all of us, not just youth, and it is our collective future that we are seeking to improve and shape.

Our report provided a series of calls to action. Here are what we believe to be a few steps in the right direction.

When it comes to fostering the next generation of scientists and researchers, let’s begin by multiplying on-ramps to science to allow for different people to engage with science, and to do so at different times in their lives. Just as a river is fed by multiple streams and watersheds, the scientific workforce should be made up of people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences — akin to a braided river workforce. This ranges from recognizing the crucial role that elementary and high school teachers play in education, to drastically rethinking how we approach graduate level and post-doctoral scholarships, and more broadly, funding for science and research.

In creating opportunities, we must ensure that science in Canada is open for everyone to explore. Even today, women in science are still under-represented at almost every level, especially in decision-making roles. Black and Indigenous communities, as well as people of colour, face a ‘hostile glass obstacle course’, and LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of social exclusion in science.

There are several efforts underway to promote a change in culture, but we can think bigger. Let’s look beyond basic metrics, such as research output, and expand our definition of ‘excellence’. For example, what if we valued teaching and community engagement more when it comes to award applications, hiring and promotion? We must also go beyond surface-level representation, and ensure that historically excluded communities have agency (with appropriate support) within institutions to guide these necessary changes, and ensure everyone can truly thrive in science.

Our report also explored the role of science in broader society. For example, we know that research isn't complete until it has been shared, yet too much of science is hard to access, locked behind paywalls, or difficult to understand due to technical terms. Even scientists are less likely to cite studies with jargon-heavy titles, demonstrating how important it is to connect our work more effectively. Just as we are taught to think critically and carry out fieldwork, our research training must also include how to share our findings with the broader society, from interested bystanders to policy-makers. We must also continue to foster two-way public engagement in science and bring science out to the streets, through celebrations like the International Day of Girls and Women in Science.

These actions are part of an ambitious vision penned by our council of young scientists and researchers. We are sharing our vision with not only Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, but also elected officials, decision-makers, and people, like you, across the country.

All of this is only possible because Dr. Mona Nemer created a structure to involve the next generation in science advice, and to do so meaningfully. We challenge decision-makers to do the same — to create seats at decision-making tables and draw upon youth expertise and experience.

Today, we, members of Chief Science Advisor’s outgoing inaugural Youth Council, are hopeful for what the future holds for science in Canada. A second cohort of the Youth Council will be shortly announced, but we need not wait for change — the future of science lies collectively in all of our hands. A brighter future is possible, but only if we are all willing to genuinely listen and work together across our silofor the sake of the next generation of scientists and researchers.