Funding The Scientists Of Tomorrow

Liis, Elena and Amélie, Canada
Future in research

Cancer researchers are nothing if not dedicated to their cause.

A majority of the Cancer Research Society’s funding to Canadian researchers takes the shape of Operating grants, which provide established cancer researchers with a two-year grant to continue their groundbreaking research. We also offer many other funding opportunities such as our UpCycle grants, our strategic projects, and many others.

However, our funding opportunity that stands out the most is our Scholarship for the Next Generation of Scientists (SNGS). As the only grant of its kind in Canada, the SNGS award offers Postdoctoral fellows (people who have obtained their Ph.D.) the opportunity to continue their work in their current lab while setting up their research labs.

What many fail to realize is that obtaining a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is a process that can take anywhere from 10 to 16 years in total. It starts with an undergraduate degree, followed by a master’s degree in which they begin to discover a more in-depth approach to the knowledge learned in undergrad. The whole process then culminates in a doctorate’s degree, where once a doctoral candidate successfully presents their thesis, they obtain their Ph.D. and become a postdoctoral fellow.

The going often gets tough for Young Investigators when it comes to branching out from their role in an established lab to pursue their research project as Principal Investigator. It is a crucial moment in every researcher’s life when they don’t yet have the funds to apply for Operating Grants, but they need support to establish themselves, and that’s just what the SNGS award does.

Liis Uusküla-Reimand, Ph.D., 2020 SNGS recipient

“The SNGS award is the only transitional grant in Canada. 

It is so important because it’s challenging for Young Investigators to take a step towards establishing their own labs and securing initial funding. In other countries, systems are in place that provide transitional grants to cover a few years of maintaining a position in an established lab while setting up the groundwork for an independent lab. The competition for funding is tough, and Young Investigators are often competing with well-established labs with more data to back their research when you’re applying for funding. Grants like the SNGS are crucial to help Young Investigators advance their own research programs and become more independent scientists.

Without transitional funding like the SNGS grant, it’s really hard to move forward.

Amélie Fradet-Turcotte, Ph.D., 2014 SNGS recipient

“When you’re a postdoc in an established lab, you’re at the forefront of science and have access to the best of the best when it comes to technology, materials, and other highly trained and competent individuals to assist you. But when you’re in it, you don’t think about those things, and when the time comes to open your own lab, you find yourself dealing with a minimal budget that you need to invest in materials and employees. Instead of working with lots of highly qualified people, you’re often working with students who are just learning the basics.

Another way of thinking of it is that It’s like working with someone who barely knows how to fry an egg when you’re making a three-tier wedding cake.

The SNGS award is a really great way to hire a more experienced assistant who can provide much-needed support and training for the new students and employees that come next.”

Most cancer researchers pursue their field of study thanks to a passion for basic biology and the desire to understand how things work and the cause of effect things like genetics have on our bodies. They have a genuine desire to make the world a better place by helping answer questions and providing knowledge that builds our societies’ knowledge base.

Much like their predecessors, today’s scientists help unearth the things that can create meaningful change in the near and not-so-near future.

Elena Kuzmin, Ph.D., 2020 SNGS recipient

“It’s important to leave a footprint in this life and to do something that matters. As researchers, I believe that the work we do will inevitably help address and heal diseases now and in the decades to come. What people forget is that research and our knowledge are incremental. Everything we know now was built on the foundation of previous research. There is a critical mass of knowledge that eventually works together and leads to faster advances in science and technology. 

Every Ph.D. is 5 to 7 years. That’s one project and one question, so imagine how long it takes to have learned everything we know today.”

Since its inception in 1945, the Society has funded thousands of researchers and contributed to numerous oncology research departments, projects, and educational opportunities.

Rosemonde Mandeville-Sayeh was one of the first women to receive funding from the Society in 1982, shortly after her appointment as a professor in Immunology at the Institut Armand-Frappier at the University of Quebec. The grant helped her publish 10 scientific papers and develop a diagnostic tool to detect early lymph node metastasis in breast cancer patients. Thanks to that initial funding, Rosemonde has published over 185 articles throughout her career and supervised 80 post-secondary thesis projects. Rosemonde Mandeville-Sayeh was one of the first women to receive funding from the Society in 1982, shortly after her appointment as a professor in Immunology at the Institut Armand-Frappier at the University of Quebec. The grant helped her publish 10 scientific papers and develop a diagnostic tool to detect early lymph node metastasis in breast cancer patients. Thanks to that initial funding, Rosemonde has published over 185 articles throughout her career and supervised 80 post-secondary thesis projects.

Investing in research isn’t just about the now; it’s about the future and what it holds.

For the Cancer Research Society and our long-time partner BMO, it’s imperative to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities. This rings especially true for the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) industries, all historically male-dominated fields.

Elena Kuzmin, Ph.D.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction.

There is currently an active effort to enable women to succeed and present them with opportunities that will encourage them to pursue meaningful research. When we look at postdocs, there’s about a 50-50 split between men and women. It’s afterwards that we’re still seeing a lack of women in senior positions, so it’s important to ask why?

For many years, there were no role models and opportunities for women to see other women in positions of power. There’s this strange fear for many women that you might all be doing it for nothing since you don’t see that representation around you at a higher level.”

For women, both young and old, seeing that representation can inspire them to pursue their studies or a career in cancer research. Empowering women and giving them more visibility can have a huge impact when combined with providing transitional funding like the SNGS grant.

Liis Uusküla-Reimand, Ph.D.

“Half of the world are women, so why don’t we make sure to help that population reach their full potential? Women bring different perspectives and strengths, and so many important scientific discoveries were made by women even though they weren’t always recognized for their contributions.

It’s essential to include the pioneers that have come before us in the broader conversation surrounding science and cancer research, and also to realize that we are the pioneers of today.

Research matters because it provides us with the building blocks that make all of the technological and medical advances of today possible. Just as our founder Betty Caplan did in 1945, the Society believes that the future to outsmarting cancer lies with research led by the next generation of scientists like Amélie, Liis, and Elena.

If you also believe that the key to a healthy, happy future for all lies in research, please consider donating today.

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