UPDATE: 23 May 2007

The Policy Research Initiative advises that it no longer offers the Canadian Policy Research Awards described in this article, nor does have information on its Web site about these awards. This page is offered for historical interest only.

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Sick of sitting at the bench, having all the important funding and policy decisions made by politicians who don't understand science? Sick of a Member of Parliament or senator who's always saying crazy things about genetic engineering because they just saw Mission Impossible 2? Think you could do a better job translating science into policy, if only you had the chance? Then the are for you.

Last year, The Policy Research Initiative (an arm of the federal government) gave out their first prizes for people in the Canadian community who have made significant contributions to policy development. These three prizes went to well-known names in Canadian policy, including Thomas Kierans, the CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the late Suzanne Peters, founding member of the Canadian Policy Research Networks. This week, the initiative expanded those awards to graduate students by creating their Graduate Prizes. These prizes, introduced in conjunction with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, are the first chance lowly science grad students have to interact and have their say with federal policy bigwigs. ( Which federal policy bigwigs is as of yet unannounced.)

Any graduate student or postdoc who believes their research has relevance to public policy in Canada can apply. The awards will be given out based both on the quality of the research and the ability of the author to convey potential policy implications, so it will help if the student has had the research previously peer reviewed and published.

The 10 winners of the Graduate Prizes will be flown, all expenses paid, to Ottawa for a 6-day seminar to interact and exchange ideas with policy-makers. This seminar will largely take the form of discussions with policy-makers from government, academia, and the private sector. Then they'll stay on for an extra 2 days to watch the movers and shakers in action at the National Policy Research Conference, an annual conference bringing in experts from around Canada. Although 6 days in Ottawa is nowhere near the amount of exposure U.S. graduate students interested in policy get through programs such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Next Wave) Science and Technology Policy Fellowships, it's the first such project of its kind in Canada and a running start. "We have talked about a yearlong fellowship program," says Chris Durham of the Policy Research Secretariat, "but this is our inaugural year. We wanted to get the program off the ground. We'll be revisiting [the idea], but it's going to depend on the response from our partners."

"This is a first step," Kelly Van Koughnet, a policy analyst at the CIHR, tells Next Wave. "It's really about [scientists and policy-makers] recognizing the existence of the other group of people, recognizing those populations are there, and that you can talk to them--that the language barriers aren't insurmountable," she says. "Also, from the perspective of policy-makers, this is a recruitment opportunity: They're looking for people who are experienced in the type of policy research that they are interested in, and who are interested in pursuing application of that research."

Graduate students who wish to apply for the prizes can find additional information and applications at The Policy Research Initiative. Application deadline is 15 September.