Naming Our Science and Research Prizes for Women: Time for Fair Play

Rebecca Melville
September 12, 2018

This article is part of our Fast Policy Facts online series 

By Paul Dufour

In Canada, there is a positive resurgence in celebrating the growing participation of women in science, engineering and math. Rightly so… they are more than half of our population and are an increasing part of our labour force in all areas of the economy and society. Of course, there is still a long way to go, especially in some areas like managerial level business positions or senior levels in academe and the sciences.

The history of women in science and engineering archival project headed up by Monique Frize and Ruby Heap with the University of Ottawa and Library and Archives Canada has done a great deal to profile women’s contributions to Canada’s rich research legacy, and of course, we have a female science minister (only the second) and chief science advisor (the first ever)  at the federal level.

Nonetheless, the recognition and representation of women in science could stand more role models. Recently, a celebration was held in Montreal to honour the 100-year-old Dr. Brenda Milner for her lifetime work in neuropsychology and research. It was a well-attended affair with several testimonials.  Among her many awards, Milner was a runner-up for the most prestigious Canadian prize for science, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal in 2009. Prior to that no female had ever come close (and since then, only one female actually received the top prize – two years ago). It hasn’t helped that Canada Research Excellence Chairs (CERC) have a dismal recordon this front, not to mention the saga of Canada Research Chairs (CRC) where female-held Tier 1 chairs remain stuck at 17% and Tier 2 chairs increasing somewhat; now at 37%.

Why are virtually all of our major science-research awards still named after men (not that they too aren’t deserving). Banting, Vanier, Herzberg, Polanyi, Killam, Manning, Berlinguet, Smith, Brockhouse, Brassard, to name a few, all celebrate excellence and creativity in some form. But let’s be fairer. What’s wrong with some of our awards named after research stars like Abbot, Milner, Franklin, Shoichet, Kaspi, Rossant, MacGill, and Bondar?

Let’s practice a bit more of what we preach and set the gender equality tone for role models.


Fast Policy Facts is a guest opinion column by Ottawa-based policy wonk Paul Dufour (Fellow, ISSP, UOttawa). 

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of RE$EARCH MONEY.


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