Sunday, May 03, 2009

Is Canada Losing The Lab-Rat Race?

This is a news article examining how well Canada sells a career in science. Unfortunately, the report doesn't think that Canada has done well in encouraging students to go into this field. This includes institutions and scientists themselves who have been selling themselves short in promoting and advertising their accomplishments.

Last year, Dr. Miller's research team made an important discovery about what happens to matter at extremely high temperatures. “The closest way I can describe it to is we stuck our hand into the sun, grabbed a chunk and took a look at it.”

The popular German newsweekly Der Spiegel wrote about it; in the U.S., Wired magazine featured his research. In Canada, his work passed without a murmur.

“We don't celebrate Canadian accomplishments,” he says. “If Canadian science was portrayed in a more winning way, you would see a lot more people get the fever.”
U.S. institutions lobby on behalf of their researchers in a way that Canadian universities often do not, suggests Alan Bernstein, former president of Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the granting agency that funds medical research at Canadian universities and now the executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in New York.

Success breeds success, he says. “As a nation, we expect our hockey teams to win because they always have. If you are good as a nation at something, there are role models for young people coming through.”

Scientists themselves accept some of the blame. Samuel Weiss, who won a prestigious Gairdner Award last year for his discovery that the adult brain can produce new cells, says Canadian scientists have to get better at thumping their chests.

“As scientists, we are way too reticent to tell the story and engage the community the way scientists engage the community in other countries. … We'll point to government, but I don't know if we have made the case about how important science is.”

This is really rather puzzling. With the presence of the Parameter Institute and all the well-known physicists in residence, one would think that science, and physics in particular, would have gained significant "fame" and popularity among the public. Add to that the fact that various Canadian institutions have managed to attract well-known physicists, even with joint appointments (see Carl Weiman and Tony Leggett), it is difficult to think that such publicity does not inspire more interest in the field.


No comments: