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About the Discovery Grants Program

Following two major and positive reviews of the Discovery Grants Program, NSERC implemented a number of changes in 2009 and 2010 to further improve the delivery of the program. Since then, NSERC has been monitoring the results and trends to assess the current performance of the peer review process, and the impact of the changes. These changes have made it possible for high-performing researchers to quickly increase their grant levels based on superior scientific merit. The following questions and answers may provide further clarity:

What is the size of the Discovery Grants budgetary envelope?

The Discovery Grants budget has increased over time.

Figure 1. Expenditures in the Discovery Grants Program Elements, 1998-99 to 2012-13*
Figure 1. Expenditures in the Discovery Grants Program Elements, 1998-99 to 2011-12
*Projected Expenditures for 2012-13

How many researchers hold a Discovery Grant?

Figure 2. Number of Grants Funded through Individual and Team Discovery Grants (including those in Subatomic Physics) and Subatomic Physics Projects, 1998‑99 to 2012‑13*
Figure 2. Number of Researchers Funded through Individual and Team Discovery Grants (including those in Subatomic Physics), 1998-99 to 2011-12
*Projected Numbers of Grants for 2012-13

The number of funded researchers increased rapidly in the early 2000s as universities hired many new professors. NSERC now funds close to 10,000 researchers, reflecting continued support to a broad base of quality research capacity.

Why does NSERC place equal emphasis on the selection criteria related to training highly qualified personnel (HQP), relative to the other two criteria—Excellence of Researcher, and Merit of Proposal?

Training HQP is an important element in NSERC’s assessment of the merit of an application. Universities and professors always highlight the students they train as their main contribution to research and innovation.

In a knowledge-based society, funders must consider two key elements when assessing the overall value of investment in university research: 1) the research results,whether these are disseminated openly to other researchers or transferred to users as appropriate; and 2) the development of the people involved. NSERC understands that these trainees will make important contributions to research and innovation as they go on to careers in academia or the public or private sectors. While investments in research may be a long-term proposition from the perspective of an economic return on the results, an investment in people provides immediate benefits.

Does the process allow high-performing researchers to increase their funding levels quickly?

One of the strengths of the review process is that it enables any applicant, regardless of career stage, to receive funding commensurate to the scientific excellence they demonstrate in their application and based on their recent (past six years) performance.

Is the current peer review system meeting its goals of rewarding recent performance?

Prior to 2009, the previous grant amount awarded to a researcher had  a lot of influence in the outcome of the review for a new grant, as was noted by the International Review. This meant that researchers with superior performance would generally see improved funding levels slowly over two, three or more funding cycles.  
With the new review process, superior achievement can be rewarded more quickly from one cycle to the next, as the review focusses on the contribution to research and training in the last six years without consideration being given to funding history.

Figure 3. Change in Grant Level, 2008 Competition
Figure 3. Change in Grant Level, 2008 Competition

Figure 4. Change in Grant Level, 2009 Competition
Figure 4. Change in Grant Level, 2009 Competition

Has NSERC made changes to the process since implementing it in 2009?

NSERC has closely monitored the results of implementing these new processes. Small adjustments have already been made every year since then, and NSERC will continue to refine the system.
NSERC always welcomes feedback from stakeholders. If you have a comment you would like to share with us, please provide us with your comment.

When the two-step peer review process was announced in 2009, NSERC committed to a five-year review of the new peer review process. What is the status of this review?

Planning for the five-year review is now underway. There will be opportunity for the research community to provide comments and feedback as part of the review process, individually or as part of an interested group or scientific association. The process for submitting your feedback will be finalized and communicated by early 2013.
In the meantime, if you would like to provide immediate feedback, or would like to raise an issue you believe should be considered as part of the review process, provide us with your comment.