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U of T students, researchers intensify #SupportTheReport efforts

Members of the Jonathan Abbatt and Scott Mabury labs with their signed U of T postcards to #SupportTheReport. The labs answered the @ShoichetLab postcard-signing challenge (photo by Angelika Duffy/The Shoichet Lab)

Students begin exam time postcard-signing events

Seven thousand and counting.

That’s the number of #SupportTheReport postcards handed out and signed to date by students, faculty and staff across the University of Toronto community to send to federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.

The postcards are helping amplify efforts across Canada to encourage the federal government to act on the 35 recommendations made by Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, including a $1.3-billion boost in federal research funding over four years.

There’s still time to participate: Contact gicr@utoronto.ca if you would like cards sent to you by Thursday, Dec. 14. They require no postage and should be dropped into the nearest Canada Post box before the holidays.

In the final push for the U of T postcard campaign before the holiday break, the University of Toronto Students’ Union is kicking into high gear student involvement in the campaign by stocking the postcards at their UTSU’s Got You exam de-stressor tables.

From now until Dec. 19, students can drop by the tables for a healthy snack, fun activities, and to sign a postcard, said UTSU president Mathias Memmel. For a full list of locations and times,  see below.

“The response to [the #SupportTheReport postcards] has been positive overall from students,” he said. “There is a shared understanding that fundamental research is fundamentally good.”

The UTSU represents 50,000 full-time undergraduate and professional faculty students at U of T’s downtown Toronto and Mississauga campuses and is part of a coalition of student unions across the country advocating for the report, driven in large part by #Students4TheReport movement led by a team of young dedicated researchers at McGill University.

Students see the benefit in supporting basic research that can have a positive impact on the lives of all Canadians, Memmel said, while also noting a decline in federal funding over the years means the cost of research is increasingly being “borne by students themselves rather than by the state.”

At University of Scarborough, students of Professor Frank Wania (second from left) get ready to send their postcards (photo by Angelika Duffy/The Shoichet Lab)

"I think it’s been critical for the [#SupportTheReport] campaign to include and indeed be led by students in particular given they represent the next generation of science in Canada,” said U of T Professor Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.

“It is their career opportunities, scientific potential and ability to benefit society that are at risk,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt that they are infectiously passionate and reflect the very best of our society's diversity either. The government’s core values are based around realizing the potential of our powerful youth – their message resonates.”

Since the blue ribbon panel led by U of T President Emeritus David Naylor released its report last spring, Woodgett has been one of the most active and influential members in the national #SupportTheReport and #Students4TheReport community on social media.

He was among dozens of U of T students and faculty, as well as other researchers from coast to coast, who shared the postcard campaign online, which kicked off with a lab signing challenge issued by University Professor and Ontario's Chief Scientist Molly Shoichet on Nov. 16.

“The postcard campaign is a great idea and makes it easy, in a busy world – exam time – for anyone to participate,” said Woodgett, who is distributing them via the institute’s trainee centre.

Among the first to answer Shoichet’s signing challenge were young researchers at the labs of U of T’s Peter Roy, Charlie Boone, Radhakrishnan Mahadevan, Alison McGuigan and Michael Sefton.

On social media, efforts by U of T students and faculty have gone national and even international, buoyed by the viral sharing of the postcards and videos featuring U of T’s Lewis Kay, winner of the 2017 Canada Gairdner International Award, and Nobel Laureate John Polanyi extolling the importance of supporting curiosity-driven research.

Check out the U of T social media #SupportTheReport feed:

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Duncan, the science minister, told researchers, academics, funders and policymakers at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa last month that “I agree with the majority of the recommendations and I’m taking action to implement many of them.”

One of those changes, announced by Duncan, involves revamping the Canada Research Chairs program to increase diversity, equity and inclusiveness, as well as the creation of a Canada Research Coordinating Committee to improve collaboration among the three federal granting councils and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

However, the government has yet to commit to implementing all of the report’s 35 recommendations, including a $1.3-billion boost in federal research funding over four years.

Jackman Humanities Institute researchers gather to sign the #SupportTheReport postcards (photo by Helen Lasthiotakis/VPRI)

Although hopeful the federal government will act on the report’s recommendations in its upcoming budget in 2018, Memmel said: “I’m not confident that we’ll see the full [funding] increase within four years. That’s why I would encourage students, faculty and alumni to continue to engage with the #SupportTheReport and #Students4TheReport campaign.”

Woodgett said the visit this week by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to research labs at the University of Ottawa “is a very positive sign.”

Read U of T's submission to the federal government on why it should act on all 35 Naylor report recommendations

“He doesn’t have an easy job at this time of year when everyone is vying for his attention,” he said. “But the Naylor recommendations are very carefully justified, offer a considered plan over several years, and really should be a slam dunk for a government that values science and evidence-based decision-making. Fingers crossed for the federal budget in 2018.”

For more ways to get involved to #SupportTheReport, visit the U of T advocacy campaign toolkit. The site is a one-stop shop for background on the report, activities happening at U of T and handy ways to share your thoughts with the larger community or amplify the reach of grassroots activities.


UTSU’s postcard-signing events

Thursday, Dec. 7, until 2:30 p.m., Robarts Library

Saturday, Dec.  9, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Gerstein Library

Saturday, Dec. 9, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., Exam Centre

Monday, Dec. 11, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Exam Centre

Monday, Dec. 11, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Gerstein Library

Tuesday, Dec. 12, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Exam Centre

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Exam Centre

Thursday, Dec. 14, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Exam Centre

Thursday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., Kelly Library

Friday, Dec. 15, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Exam Centre

Saturday, Dec. 16, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Exam Centre

Monday, Dec. 18, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Exam Centre

Tuesday, Dec. 19, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Exam Centre