President’s Message

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Roberto Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

Professional Climate Survey

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan gave a speech at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa on November 2 in which she touched on many topics of interest to CASCA, including some preliminary thoughts on The Fundamental Science review (a.k.a. the Naylor Report), the launch of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee and the recent appointment of Dr. Mona Nemer as the Government’s Chief Science Advisor. As will be described below, CASCA is communicating directly with the government on all these subjects. Another important topic highlighted in her speech was the need for greater representation in the sciences. In her speech, Minister Duncan noted the following:

This issue has a deep personal significance to me as someone who spent the bulk of her career as a woman in science.

During my science career, I was told the reason I was getting paid in the bottom 10th percentile was because I was a woman.

I was asked by a fellow faculty member during a staff meeting when I planned on getting pregnant.

I was asked to choose how I wanted to be treated: as a woman or as a scientist.

My travels across Canada have made it very clear to me that addressing the inequities in the research community must remain a top priority for all of us.

Minister Duncan concludes:

We must work together to right the gender, equity and diversity scales in the sciences. And when we do, science will be that much stronger for it.

I say ‘amen’ to that. In fact, I think we as a society do too. And when it comes to issues of greater inclusiveness and fairness in representation, CASCA as a professional society can have real agency in effecting changes in our own professional climate. We have taken some important steps already (e.g. by forming the Equity and Inclusivity Committee, led by Brenda Matthews), but it would be incredibly helpful to have a clearer understanding of the scope of the problem. For that reason the Equity & Inclusivity Committee put together a climate survey (available in both French and English. All CASCA members should already have received news about the survey via the society’s email exploder, but allow me to reiterate how hugely important this survey is to the health of our profession in Canada. If you don’t believe me, believe the Minister of Science. If you haven’t already completed the survey, please, please, find the time to do it.

Coalition Activities

Since the last time I wrote to you, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has continued its dialogue with the federal government, focusing on the priorities set out in the Long Range Plan. On November 28, the co-chairs1 of the Coalition and two invited guests visited Ottawa with this purpose in mind. We had two specific goal for this trip. The first was to provide updates on some key priorities which we have been invited to comment further on during our last visit (progress on the Thirty Meter Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array). The second was to advocate for greater support of the Canadian Space Agency. We met with Dr. Nipun Vats (Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development) and Michael Rosenblatt (Director, Federal Science and Technology Policy, Science Policy Branch, Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development). We also met with Katharine Wright at the Office of the Chief Science Advisor, and with Kate Young (M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science).

To help us articulate our goals more clearly, on this trip we were joined by Prof. Sarah Gallagher (Western University) and by Deborah Lokhorst (a PhD student at the University of Toronto). Sarah recently co-authored an important white paper on space astronomy funding (together with Jeremy Heyl and Ilaria Caiazzo, both at UBC), and she was able to place Canada’s investments in Space Astronomy into a broad international (and historical) context. Deborah was tasked with explaining why federal support is needed now for priority missions identified in the Long Range Plan (such as WFIRST), in order to secure a bright future for younger generations of Canadian astrophysicists, such as herself, that will be carrying the torch once people like me have ridden off into the sunset. While this visit to Ottawa focused largely on Space Astronomy and support for the Canadian Space Agency, we did not fail to communicate how the plan represents a coherent vision for Canadian astrophysics (agreed upon by the whole community), how astrophysics (the country’s premiere science, in terms of international impact) benefits all Canadians, and how the LRP aligns with the government’s priorities.

On behalf of the CASCA Board of Directors, allow me to conclude this message by wishing you all the best for a happy holiday season, and for a productive and prosperous 2018.

1 The coalition co-chairs are Prof. Don Brooks (UBC), representing ACURA (the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy), Guy Nelson (CEO of Empire Industries), and me (representing CASCA, i.e. you).

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