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Interview / Sarah Laframboise

Interview / Sarah Laframboise

Sarah Laframboise is the executive director of Evidence for Democracy (E4D), a grassroots organization advocating for evidence-based policy decisions. She was the first executive director of the Support Our Science organization. Laframboise is completing a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Ottawa.

Tell us why you are pressing for better federal funding for early career researchers?

As a first-generation student, I have self-funded 11 years of education. I worked over 15 jobs over the years. I took on $100,000 in student debt. I cannot help but ask whether this should be the price to get a PhD.

When I became involved in student government, I heard comparable stories from my peers. I began fighting for increased graduate student stipends within my faculty. Through this work, I found many like-minded individuals who supported this cause. We became the Support Our Science movement.

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars’ salaries have remained unchanged for over 20 years. This has proceeded due to elevated levels of nuance surrounding pay for these researchers, since they rely on multiple types of funding. Because sources of funding often cross faculty/university boundaries, provincial and federal governments, as well as industry and non-governmental organizations, direct federal scholarships and fellowships have become the “standard” for salaries.

Two things must happen in unison to enable systemic change. While there must be an increase in the number and value of direct scholarships and fellowships, indirect funding from grants provided through the Tri-Councils must also increase. This will empower provinces, universities, faculties and departments to also act.

Last year, you organized a nationwide walkout of researchers and supporters. What lessons did you learn?

Organizing a nationwide walkout with minimal resources was incredibly difficult. But I am so proud of the Support Our Science community that rallied behind this. What fuelled the success of the walkout was truly the power of grassroots mobilization.

I cannot help but reflect on how valuable graduate student and postdoc voices were in this movement. Their stories and vulnerability allowed this movement to resonate deeply with the public and policy-makers.

The walkout showcased the unity and solidarity within the scientific community. It proved that when scientists come together with a shared purpose, their collective voice becomes a force for change. This lesson has inspired me to continue to push for scientists to take a larger role in advocacy.

What does it mean to you to be a scientist?

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to understand the world around me. This insatiable curiosity has driven me to investigate the mysteries that shape our very existence, from the microscopic intricacies of cells to the vast complexities of ecosystems.

Being a scientist means being a part of something bigger than myself. As a fundamental researcher, it is easy to overlook the applications that your research can have on society. However, it is amazing to know that today’s research could be the foundation for tomorrow’s breakthroughs, innovations or solutions.

It also involves leveraging scientific insights to address societal challenges, inform policy decisions, and contribute to the overall advancement of our nation. In fact, it is this outlook that eventually drew me to science policy. I realized I loved science so broadly that I wanted to defend science as a system.

How do you think about the role of science and evidence in the public policy-making process?

Science and evidence play a fundamental role in the public policy-making process. At Evidence for Democracy, we believe we all benefit when governments make policy decisions informed by the best available evidence.

Science provides critical insights into the complexities of our world, offering a lens through which policy-makers can navigate the challenges we face. It serves a dual purpose: firstly, as an essential tool for crafting well-informed policies, and secondly, as a check against those in power.

Transparency of evidence also plays a vital role here. When people cannot understand how or why a government decision was made, they are more likely to disconnect, and less likely to participate in civic engagement.

What initiatives are you currently working on?

At E4D, we will continue to lead original research, issue-based campaigns, and training to place evidence at the heart of public policy. E4D recently launched an Advocacy Toolkit for scientists to learn how to take part in advocacy and policy-making. This spring, we will run the second year of our successful Science to Policy Accelerator program for early career researchers. We are also continuing our Eyes of Evidence projects by creating a transparency toolkit that will empower policy-makers to show evidence in policies delivered to the public. I hope to continue empowering more champions of science in all levels of government, policy-making and academia.

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