For our first event, we were so excited to have Tej Heer from Evidence for Democracy run a workshop on Science Advocacy. Tej is a Senior Research Associate at E4D and provided an excellent background on what science advocacy is, what the goals are and who our audience is. We we fortunate to co-host this event with the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology Graduate Student Association (BMIGSA) and the oHeart Trainee Committee.
We began by discussing the basic of decision making and policy implementation in the government. In this process evidence is used to inform decision makers which in turn is used to develop specific policies. We dove into each of these components to understand what comprises each step.
Evidence in this case, can take a variety of forms. This often includes input from a variety of different groups (public, professionals, etc), data from government reports, and more. This can sometimes include contradicting information since the data comes from a variety of disciplines. Getting this evidence to decision makers is sometimes the hardest part. In a study by E4D, MP's cited that they were most likely to get their information/evidence from the House of Commons library, external sources and constituents.
When it comes to how the decisions are then made by these players, this often involves a combination of values, (ideological concerns, party lines), knowledge, and rules. These all converge on the players decision and ultimately impacts how this develops into a policy.
So where does Advocacy come in?
Advocacy is necessary in order to build public and political power. It can be used to get evidence in the hands of decision makes and can be used to advocate for an outcome. YOU have more power than you think impact decision making. As graduate student in particular, we can advocate for a variety of topics that concern us, such as funding, research priorities, child care, housing and more!
The Fact on Science Funding for Students
As you are probably aware, graduate students typically get paid a minimum stipend as determined by their university. Additionally, students can apply to scholarships from the TriCouncils, consisting of NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada), CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research) or SHERC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council). These scholarships can allow for students to make a stipend directly funding through the Tri-Councils.
Following the Naylor Report in 2017, the Canadian government committed to re-investing in scientific research. However, it seems that this investment has not trickled down to graduate student awards.
Essentially we learned about two main problems pertaining to graduate student funding:
Low minimum stipend VALUE - Currently, the value of CGS for MSc Students is $17,500, and $35,000 for PhD Students. This hasn't changed since 2004. Taking into account inflation alone, these award should be at least $23,500 and $47,000 respectively. Life is expensive! The cost of living has been increasing steadily with no increase in stipends.
Low level of SUCCESS for Tri-Council award - Despite increased enrollment into graduate studies, there has been no significant increase in the number of awards given out my the Tri-Councils.
So how can we change this?
As an organization, we have the ability to implement change by advocating for these issues. Our target audience for these campaigns generally would be MP's or to target the finance committee or complete Budget Submissions to be included in the federal budget.
Following this, Tej walked us through an Advocacy Campaign Worksheet that helped us to develop our strategies for future campaigns. Stay tuned to learn more about what we are going to do with this!
Our key takeaway from this event was that, yes! It is alot of work to take on an advocacy campaign. BUT if you have the right people in your corner, they can be very successful! We have seen examples of this come from E4D themselves, as well as TSPN and SPE!