Guidelines on the assessment of contributions to research, training and mentoring

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About these guidelines

During the merit review process, applications submitted to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's (NSERC's) funding opportunities may be assessed based on elements that include 1) contributions to research and/or 2) contributions to training and mentoring. The following guidelines describe the assessment of these elements. Details on the specific requirements for each funding opportunity are provided in the relevant program literature.

NSERC supports research excellence in Canada. Therefore, a wide range of contributions to research, training and mentoring are considered and valued as part of the merit review process, with a focus on the quality and impact of these contributions. Furthermore, NSERC recognizes that the entire research ecosystem is strengthened by equitable, diverse and inclusive access and participation. One of the objectives of the Tri-agency Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan is equitable and inclusive access to granting agency funding opportunities for all eligible members of the research community. This includes recognizing EDI-related considerations as integral criteria used to assess research excellence. The intended outcomes of the Tri-agency EDI Action Plan and recommendations from the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) inform these guidelines.

For all funding opportunities, the onus is on the applicant(s) to provide convincing evidence of the quality and impact of their contributions to research and/or to training and mentoring. If these contributions are achieved through collaboration—e.g., with other members of the research community, members of local communities (including Indigenous communities), research participants or partnering organizations—individual contributions should be described.

Contributions to research

Contributions to research, in particular their quality and impact, are used in the assessment of the excellence of the applicant(s) and/or of their capacity to conduct the proposed research activities. It is the responsibility of the applicant(s) to select the most effective form of contribution and dissemination, including selecting the appropriate language of dissemination, to maximize impact.

Engineering and applied sciences research may differ significantly from natural sciences research because it is more focused on the direct application of knowledge for practical purposes, including for economic, environmental or social impact. The forms of contributions to research and the indicators of quality and impact recognize the diversity of natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research.

Forms of contributions to research

NSERC values all forms of contributions to NSE research, including but not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Advances to equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the research ecosystem
  • Co-creation or transfer of products, technology, processes, services or advice useful to specific organizations (in the private, public or non-profit sectors), communities or society
  • Communication of research results and knowledge translation to specialist or non-specialist audiences, including the public (e.g., magazine/newspaper articles, media interviews, blog posts, social media publications or public lectures)
  • Community service that leverages expertise, such as membership on scientific or advisory committees, or journal editorships
  • Contributions to policies, guidelines, regulations, laws, standards and/or practice
  • Creation, curation, sharing or reuse of datasets
  • Creation, direction, facilitation and/or strengthening of partnerships or collaborations in the Canadian or international research community, or with other communities, including through research networks, large collaborative projects or community-engaged research/citizen science
  • Creation of companies or organizations that promote research or the use of research results
  • Development of tools, including software, for use by researchers or by others in the public or private domain
  • Intellectual property: including patents, copyrights, trademarks or trade secrets
  • Publications: including articles, communications, pre-prints, monographs, memoirs or special papers, review articles, conference/symposia/workshop proceedings, posters and abstracts, government publications, and reports documenting industrial contributions or contributions to engineering practice
  • Support for traditional knowledge or Indigenous ways of knowing, including cultural practices, in the NSE context

Contributions to organizations (from the private, public or non-profit sectors), communities or society may, at times, take the form of confidential technical and internal reports to protect information that is proprietary, confidential or about an identifiable individual. In such cases, the applicant should highlight the importance of these contributions.

NSERC's Guidelines for the preparation and review of applications in interdisciplinary research describe other factors and examples of indicators that are applicable to interdisciplinary research contributions.

Assessment of quality and impact of contributions to research

The following indicators should be considered when assessing the quality and impact of contributions to research. Note that the appropriate indicators may differ between fields and disciplines, reflecting the nature of research in each area.

Quality indicators include, but are not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

Impact indicators include, but are not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Acceptance and use of research results by stakeholders, including members of the research community, relevant partners, specific communities or others who may benefit from the research
  • Advances to reconciliation and the decolonization of research
  • Advances to state-of-the-art research or technology readiness level
  • Contributions to economic development or to environmental or social innovations at the local, regional, national or international level(s)
  • Increases to equitable and inclusive participation in the research ecosystem
  • Increased public understanding of, use of and/or interest in certain aspects of the NSE
  • Influence on current policy, guidelines, regulations, laws, standards and/or practice
  • Influence on the direction of thought and/or activity in the community or targeted partner

The quality and impact of contributions to research should be assessed directly, where possible. Surrogate measures of quality and impact, such as the prestige of a publication venue or citation-based metrics (e.g., journal impact factor or h-index) must not be used as they introduce bias in the merit review process.

NSERC promotes the accessibility of findings, including research publications and data, to the widest possible audience at the earliest opportunity, as required by the Tri-agency Open Access Policy on Publications. NSERC also promotes sound research data management and stewardship practices, as described in the Tri-agency Research Data Management Policy.

Contributions to training and mentoring

Contributions to training and mentoring, in particular their quality and impact, are used to assess the ability of the applicant(s) to support the proposed training and mentoring activities. For some funding opportunities, these contributions are also used in the assessment of excellence.

NSERC places a strong emphasis on ensuring high-quality training and mentoring for all personnel involved in research to support and inspire individuals to think critically and create and apply knowledge for the benefit of Canada. These highly qualified personnel (HQP) include college and university (undergraduate and graduate) students, postdoctoral researchers, technicians, artisans, tradespeople and research assistants and associates. HQP may be from a post-secondary institution or from other groups involved in the research, such as community groups or private, public or non-profit sector partner organizations.

NSERC encourages the development of HQP careers within and outside of academia and values the wide range of skills and knowledge that are applicable in academic and non-academic careers, including: research methods, discipline-specific knowledge, time and project management, knowledge mobilization and dissemination, data management and analysis, research ethics and integrity, EDI practices, training, mentoring, communication, entrepreneurship, leadership and collaboration.

NSERC expects all training and mentoring opportunities, environments, processes and relationships to consider equity, diversity and inclusion.

Forms of contributions to training and mentoring

NSERC values contributions to training and mentoring involving all HQP. These contributions can take many forms, including, but not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Development and delivery of training workshops outside of research or course requirements
  • Establishment of safe, equitable and inclusive research environments, practices and norms
  • Formal or informal mentoring of HQP, colleagues, collaborators, relevant partners, other professionals or community members
  • Outreach to and engagement with students, youth or members of the general public, including through in-person or online targeted activities or capacity building
  • Supervision of HQP in the research process
  • Training in traditional knowledge or Indigenous ways of knowing including cultural practices in the NSE context

Assessment of quality and impact of contributions to training and mentoring

The following are indicators that may be considered when assessing the quality and impact of training and mentoring contributions.

Quality indicators include, but are not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Advice, counsel and support related to learning and career guidance, including networking, developing proposals and applications, effective collaborations and navigating interpersonal conflicts
  • Consideration of EDI in all aspects of training and mentoring
  • Delivery of appropriate training, consistent with the research field, the stage of training and the ability of the trainee
  • Exposure and awareness for trainees about diverse research (including interdisciplinary research) environments and Canadian and international communities, through conferences, collaborations, partnerships and exchange opportunities
  • Exposure for trainees to non-academic work environments through collaborations, partnerships or work-integrated learning with private, public or non-profit sector organizations and communities
  • Imparting of research and/or professional skills and knowledge, including the opportunity to participate in contributions to research

Impact indicators include, but are not limited to the following (listed alphabetically):

  • Contributions of HQP to the NSE, including strengthened capacity in the research ecosystem
  • Development of HQP in their studies or careers, within or beyond academia and/or NSE
  • Increases to EDI in the research ecosystem, including enhanced engagement and retention of underrepresented groups in the NSE
  • Stimulation of the Canadian public's interest in NSE, including encouraging the next generation of students to consider careers in NSE

Interruptions in research, training and mentoring

NSERC recognizes that it is common for situations to arise where research, training or mentoring activities are impacted or interrupted, leading to delays or a reduction in contributions. These situations may affect the applicant(s) and/or the HQP.

Interruptions may include parental leave; medical leave, for reasons relating to chronic illness, mental illness, or disability associated with reduced research activity; leave for family-related illness or responsibilities; bereavement; leave for extraordinary administrative duties; or leave relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The applicable program literature should be consulted to determine how specific funding opportunities consider interruptions in research, training and mentoring activities, including with respect to time-limited eligibility criteria. Where relevant, the impacts of the interruption(s) should be clearly described, including the duration of the circumstances affecting research and/or training and mentoring activities and, if applicable, the percentage of reduction in time devoted to regular research, training and mentoring activities during the specified time period.

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