Research questions and methodologies have become more complex in recent decades. As a result, successful health science research relies more and more on collaboration among experts across disciplines, institutions, or countries, all working together in research teams. While team science yields many benefits for scientific discovery, it is not without risk for individual team members. Concerns about appropriate recognition for personal contributions and — by extension — career advancement can discourage strong researchers from collaborating in team science projects. The problem lies in how to fairly evaluate the research records of applicants (for advancement, promotion, tenure, or funding) who have devoted much of their activities to team science. This can particularly affect specialists (e.g., biostatisticians, communicators, bioethicists) whose work is often critical to the success of projects led by others. Overall, academic institutions, funding agencies, and research award programs in Canada have been slow to adapt assessment/evaluation processes to recognize the contributions of individual investigators to team science.
The factors that hamper the fair evaluation of individual work performed in a team are numerous. They can exist in institutional structures, in the structure of review committees, and within the actual assessment/evaluation process itself as set forth by universities and funders. This report therefore examines these factors through three lenses: culture and behaviour, review committees, and assessment/evaluation. Promising practices and recommendations are also presented through these lenses.
This assessment was initially proposed by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance, which also served as one of the sponsors. The other sponsors include Alberta Innovates ― Health Solutions, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Fonds de recherche du Québec ― Santé, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.
The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) convened an expert panel (the Panel) to examine how institutions in Canada’s research system evaluate and recognize the contributions of individuals for work done within research teams, and to identify promising practices to improve such evaluation and recognition.
Specifically, CAHS tasked the Panel to prepare a report that would provide:
- an inventory of best academic recognition practices that recognize the role of an individual in a team of investigators either in Canada or in other countries;
- recommendations that can assist academic promotion, tenure, and merit committees to develop their own guidelines to evaluate the role of individuals within a larger research team;
- discussion of the role of promotion and tenure processes in serving the goals of fostering the health of Canadians and health system innovation; and
- discussion about possible means that national research award selection committees might use in determining recognition of individuals and teams of individuals for consideration.
Team science is vital to Canada’s research efforts, as many advances and innovations in all types of science now require a team-based approach. This is also true for health research, which is increasingly complex and multidisciplinary. Overall, Canada has been very successful in team-based research. It is clear, however, that properly recognizing individual contributions to teams requires academic and research institutions and funders to rethink how these contributions are assessed. Organizations must explicitly recognize contributions both to team science and to individual investigator-driven research. Both are valuable forms of scholarship for faculty members in Canada, and both are required to advance health science research.
The final report outlines 12 recommendations to facilitate the appropriate recognition of individual contributions to teams and help promote the full participation of Canada in global team science.
The Expert Panel on Academic Recognition of Team Science in Canada
The Panel comprised 10 experts from Canada and the United States with backgrounds in health research, collaborative research, university administration, and funding agency operations.
- Peter MacKinnon, O.C., Chair, President Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan; Inaugural Prime Ministers of Canada Fellow, Public Policy Forum (2012–2014) (Canmore, AB)
- Stephen Bornstein, Professor of Community Health and Humanities and Professor of Political Science, Memorial University; Director, Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research (St. John’s, NL)
- Sarah Bowen, Former Associate Professor School of Public Health, University of Alberta; Adjunct Professor, School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)
- Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, Vice President, Strategic Alliances, Global Academic Relations, Elsevier; Senior Adjunct Lecturer, School of Professional Studies, Northwestern University (Chicago, IL)
- Sara Israels, Vice Dean, Academic Affairs, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences; Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB)
- Joanne Keselman, Interim Vice President (Administration) and former Provost and Vice President (Academic), University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB)
- Roderick R. McInnes, CM, O.Ont, MD, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, Director, Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital, McGill University (Montréal, QC)
- Carol L. Richards, O.C., FCAHS, Professor, Department of Rehabilitation and Holder of the Université Laval Research Chair in Cerebral Palsy, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval (Québec, QC)
- Lorne Tyrrell, O.C., AOE, FCAHS, FRSC, Director, Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology; Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and former Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB)
- Peter Walker, FCAHS, Professor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and former Dean of Medicine, University of Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)