New $31M initiative will train researchers for interdisciplinary jobs outside of academia

Sebastian Leck
April 12, 2022

The federal government has allocated $31.1 million over six years to a new Health Research Training Platform (HRTP) initiative made up of 13 different programs that will offer interdisciplinary training for researchers at universities and hospitals across the country.

Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett made the funding announcement on March 31. The government said the programs are meant to increase Canada’s research capacity in several disease areas and help trainees and early career researchers develop their career skills.

Funding is being provided through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada in partnership with the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation, Egale Canada and Mitacs. Each of the 13 programs is receiving around $400,000 a year for six years.

CIHR refers to these programs as “platforms,” which it defines as “interdisciplinary, inter-jurisdictional, and intersectoral training environments." Enhancing training and career support was identified as a priority for increasing health research capacity in the 10-year CIHR strategic plan published last spring.

The new training platforms will address gaps that affect Canadian health research, according to Norm Rosenblum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes. “Health research is increasingly complicated, complex, interdisciplinary and global,” he said. “Training in a boutique style is very much the past.”

He said people need to be trained in a way that reflects the larger context while maintaining apprentice and close supervisory relationships. There are also the issues of changing career paths for health researchers and the lack of expertise in some critical areas such as data science and Indigenous health research, he added.

“The idea that most graduates of graduate programs end up in academia is complete folly, because they don't. They end up in the private sector, they end up in government sectors. We need to overtly recognize that in their training and prepare them for that sort of placement," he said.

Although the principal investigators for the programs are located in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the programs will be multi-jurisdictional in scope, according to Rosenblum.

The platforms will start as pilots 

Rosenblum is acting in a “convenor role” for three platforms that are receiving funding through his institute: Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and Training Program 2.0 at the University of Alberta; the Training Platform in Diabetes, Obesity and Cardiometabolic Health at Université Laval; and Training Researchers In the Next Generation in Gastroenterology and Liver at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

He said these programs will likely include training related to translational research.

"If you're a researcher that's in discovery but you have a dream about translation, you have to understand what the end game can look like, and who regulates the end game and how it's financed, and what can win and what can lose, and why," said Rosenblum, who is also a professor of pediatrics, physiology, and laboratory medicine and pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

"That is not part of traditional science teaching at all. But some of these programs have that curriculum in them, because they're very conscious of this issue," he added.

CIHR began funding strategic training initiatives in 2001 through a program called STIHR, or the Strategic Training Initiative in Health Research. Those experiences helped to inform the development of these latest training platforms.

“We decided to pull in the learnings from the STIHR programs as well as these ongoing strategic analyses, and develop the HRTPs,” Rosenblum said.

CIHR said it is treating the program as a pilot and will evaluate the results to develop future programs to build research capacity. Each program will have included evaluative mechanisms to measure both short- and long-term results, according to Rosenblum.

“We will be watching that pretty carefully,” he said.

Nominated Principal Investigator Institution Platform Title CIHR Funding External Partner Funding External Partners
Nicole Letourneau University of Calgary Alliance against Violence and Adversity (AVA): Health and Social Services Research Training Platform for System and Population Transformations in Girls’ and Women’s Health $1,899,617 $499,861 BC Women's Health Foundation
Amy Metcalfe University of Calgary GROWW (Guiding interdisciplinary Research On cis- and trans-gendered Women’s and girls health and Wellbeing) $2,400,000 $0
Rebecca Pillai Riddell York University DIVERT Mental Health: The Digital, Inclusive, Virtual, and Equitable Research Training in Mental Health Platform $2,387,582 $0
Susan Samuel University of Calgary Empowering Next-generation Researchers in perinatal and Child Health (ENRICH) $2,400,000 $0
Dominique Piquette Sunnybrook Research Institute The Life-Threatening Illness National Group (LifTING) Research Training Platform: Spanning Boundaries Between Research and Care $2,399,711 $0
Robert (Todd) Alexander University of Alberta Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and Training Program 2.0 $2,399,987 $0
Nicola Jones Hospital for Sick Children Training Researchers In the Next generation in Gastroenterology and Liver (TRIANGLE) $2,399,999 $0
Andre Tchernof Université Laval Training platform in diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic health $2,400,000 $0
Alex Mihailidis University of Toronto Early Professionals, Inspired Careers in AgeTech (EPIC-AT): Innovators of Tomorrow Health Research Training Platform in AgeTech $2,399,754 $0
Laura Rosella University of Toronto Artificial Intelligence for Public Health (AI4PH) Training Platform $2,394,218 $0
Daniel Grace University of Toronto Interdisciplinary LGBTQ/2S HEALTH Hub: Healing through Education and Awareness in stigma reduction and Lifecourse Training in Health $1,787,018 $600,000 PHAC, Egale Canada
Anick Berard CHU Sainte-Justine The CAnadian Mother-ChIld COLlaborative Training Platform – The CAMCCO-L Training Platform $2,400,000 $0
Eric Smith University of Calgary Health Research Training to Address Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Decline: the Vascular Training (VAST) Platform $2,380,292 $0
$30,048,178 $1,099,861

Total funding overall: $31,148,039


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