Message from the scientific director

December 18th, 2017

Since my last message this summer, the FRQNT has led several activities. In particular, we dedicated much time and energy to the development of our 2018–2022 strategic plan. Following extensive consultations with members of our community, FRQNT staff and different organizations, the plan is taking shape based on the renewed definition of our vision: diversified and inclusive research to drive socioeconomic progress. Indeed, this vision is in line with the broader outlook of the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) to make Québec an internationally recognized centre for research excellence.

Since joining the FRQNT nearly six years ago, I have realized that, over the years, the number of eligible grant applications submitted by women has not risen, despite the changes to our programs, including extended parental leave and the eligibility of childcare costs when taking part in international congresses or conducting field work. In all this time and despite comparable success rates between men and women applicants, less than 19% of applications are submitted by women. This means that women continue to be underrepresented within our postsecondary institutions in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Yet a 2017 McKinsey report indicated that the advancement of gender equality in Canada could potentially boost GDP by 6%, or $150B, by 2026. The vision that the FRQNT has set out takes on its full meaning through these figures.

I therefore launched a series of measures to remedy the situation. First, the FRQ and Ministère de l'Économie, de la Science et de l'Innovation joined forces with UNESCO to implement the SAGA project in Québec to provide a snapshot of the situation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through the lens of local policies, strategies, measures and initiatives that aim to support gender equality. I invite those who wish to obtain more information to contact the SAGA project coordinating team.

Then, in November, under the auspices of the FRQ and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and in collaboration with Portia Ltd, I co-organized the Gender Summit, an international conference held in Montréal. We had the opportunity to learn more about the best practices in equity and inclusion that have been adopted around the world and discuss our endorsement of the Athena SWAN Charter, which was established in the UK in 2005 and is now in effect in a number of countries, including Ireland and Australia. I was also invited by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to contribute to the development of an even more inclusive program entitled SEA-Change to foster the integration of women and underrepresented groups in science that is promoted in Canada by NSERC and Universities Canada (see the article published in the September 2017 edition of Nature entitled UK gender equality scheme spreads around the world).

Finally, when I arrived in January 2012, the FRQNT had never entered into an international agreement. We have now signed accords around the world (China, Cuba, France, Wallonia, Flanders, Bavaria, Mexico, Scandinavia, etc.) and are proud to have joined two ERA-NET initiatives: CHIST-ERA and BiodivERsA. Among our global collaborations is the recent joint initiative of the FRQNT, the Institut nordique du Québec and the Scandinavia agency NordForsk. For the very first time since the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, participants took part in a session in which students from Québec and Scandinavia were asked to present their northern research projects in under five minutes. I would like to congratulate Gwyneth MacMillan of the Department of Biological Sciences at Université de Montréal, who earned the audience's choice distinction.

In closing, I wish you very happy holidays filled with happiness and friendship. I hope you take the time to slow down and prepare for January and the year ahead. Happy New Year!

Maryse Lassonde