CRC push opens doors to diverse applicants

Western has opened the Canada Research Chair (CRC) application process in a special call for candidates who demonstrate research excellence and who meet equity, diversity and inclusion criteria.

The federal CRC program funds the work of approximately 2,000 of the country’s most innovative, world-changing researchers, including 43 at Western.

This newest search is aimed specifically at recruiting researchers who are members of groups currently under-represented among Western CRCs: women, Indigenous persons and persons with a disability.

“Initiatives that support equity, diversity and inclusion in CRCs are a logical extension of other equity work we have been doing,” said Karen Campbell, Vice-Provost (Academic Planning, Policy and Faculty), noting Western, like other Canadian postsecondary institutions, completed an action plan outlining how it would meet federal equity targets as part of the granting process.

“To tackle the most complex problems the world is facing, we need diverse lenses. Historically, those diverse perspectives haven’t been well-represented; this is an important way to gain new insights and new solutions.”

Candidates for the program, like all CRCs, will meet the highest qualifications and standards of peer-reviewed work in all instances. Campbell said, “Our commitment to excellence and our commitment to equity go hand in hand. These are joint and mutually supportive goals.”

In this round of applications, the university is looking for as many as 10 new CRCs in disciplines related to the mandates of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). This number includes both Tier 1 and Tier 2 CRCs.

The positions are open to applicants who self-identify as a woman, Indigenous person or persons with a disability. Individuals may self-identify as a member in more than one of the designated groups. Applicants may currently work at or be external to Western.

“Western is home to more than 40 CRCs whose expertise represents the full gamut of academic disciplines across our campus,” said Andy Hrymak, Provost & Vice-President (Academic). “This equity, diversity and inclusion initiative aims to further increase the diversity of our research by providing more opportunity to under-represented groups, including exceptional researchers already at Western. It’s an opportunity not only to recruit new talent to our campus, but also recognize the outstanding research talent we already have.

“I urge all faculty to encourage their colleagues whose scholarship meets the high standards of the CRC program and the special criteria of this initiative to apply.”

When hired by Western, Science professor Amanda Moehring, CRC in Functional Genomics, had three competing offers – two in the United States, one in Canada.

“I thought a lot about what made Canada and Western excellent places to come and raise a family and grow my career,” she said. “I found Western to be supportive. There’s a fantastic group of researchers here. For me, as a woman, there were a lot of active and positive groups to support women in science. I like Western’s culture and collegiality, and that work-life balance is not just acceptable but encouraged.”

She supports the new hiring initiative and all it hopes to accomplish among her CRC ranks.

“One huge advantage of a targeted hire to increase diversity is it enhances research. There are studies showing groups that are more diverse are more innovative, more productive, more collaborative,” she said.

“It also does a greater service to students to have diverse people in these positions. My path was heavily influenced by people who mentored me; this helps show students the range of options available to them.”

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Frank Beier, CRC in Musculoskeletal Research, agreed.

“It’s just the right thing to do. It’s 2019. It’s clear that certain groups are under-represented among CRCs – and not because of scientific or excellence reasons but maybe because they’re less likely to speak up or self-promote. There are studies showing even when hiring committees are well-intentioned to seek out diversity voluntarily, they have unconscious biases that favour majority candidates and not under-represented groups.”

He continued, “This is not a second-class CRC; these are excellent candidates and they are worthy. They go through the same rigorous peer-review selection process and that’s why they are there.”

Several other Canadian universities have put out similar calls for CRCs in diversity groups. Campbell believes Western’s standard of excellence and its global standing in signature research areas will be a draw in continuing to attract the best of the best CRCs.

“There are many extraordinary researchers available, and I see us attracting a highly qualified pool of internal and external applicants,” Campbell said.

The initiative to seek out members of designated groups follows the provisions of a special program under Section 14 of the Ontario Human Rights Code which allow organizations to initiate temporary measures to assist people who have been subjected to disadvantage or hardship, and to remove those burdens or disadvantages.

The call for applications opened last week.

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