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Guidelines Governing Membership of Selection Committees1

The following criteria and guidelines govern the appointment of members of NSERC selection committees.

Composition

Expertise

In order for selection committees to perform their tasks efficiently and equitably, the composition of each committee should represent diversified expertise in the areas of research it covers. As a whole, the committee should possess good judgment and have a broad knowledge of the areas, including new and emerging ones that are often at the frontier between disciplines, and have an ability to assess the potential contribution of the proposals against the objectives of the funding opportunity.

Committees must be able to assess applications in Canada’s two official languages.

Diversity

Diverse committees result in higher-quality peer review.

“Diversity increases our power of sight by providing multiple points of view. Diversity lets participants challenge each other to produce the best course of action. Diversity increases our ability to successfully navigate cultural differences that can often create roadblocks to progress.”

– Goal 03 Build a diversified and competitive research base, NSERC 2020 Strategic Plan

To enhance the diversity of NSERC’s selection committees:

  • Membership must include women and men.
  • Membership should include individuals from academic institutions of varying size.
  • Membership should include individuals at different stages of their careers.
  • The different regions of Canada must be adequately represented.
  • Membership should be drawn from Canadian universities and colleges, foreign institutions, and industry and/or government laboratories.
  • Engineers and natural scientists are to participate in broad-based multi-disciplinary committees.

Members need not be NSERC grantees. Scholarship and fellowship selection committees can include postdoctoral fellows. Recently retired individuals who remain active in research are also potential members.

Members from outside the Canadian academic sector provide valuable contributions, help bring fresh ideas to the process, and strengthen the review depth, particularly in areas where the Canadian expertise is concentrated in only a few institutions. These members bring a perspective from their experience with other peer review systems and research communities.

The participation of members from the private and public sectors in the review process enhances awareness and appreciation of the value of applied research and the potential for application of basic concepts to knowledge and technology transfer or, where appropriate, commercialization. Members from these sectors can offer an understanding of the potential exploitation of research results in commercial operations.

Although each committee should be inclusive of the community within its purview, individual members are not considered to be representing their institution, company, government department, gender, academic discipline, etc.

Membership Dynamics

To maintain stability in membership, while providing a mechanism for membership renewal, NSERC has established a rotation pattern of a committee’s core membership based on three-year terms. These terms represent an appropriate balance between allowing members the time needed to become familiar with policies and procedures, on the one hand, and preventing peer-review fatigue, on the other. They also address the benefits of renewing the membership so that new perspectives are continually incorporated into the review process.

The committee Chairs are appointed by NSERC and are generally drawn from the continuing members of the committee.

Roles and Responsibilities

Selection committee and panel members are appointed by the Director of the relevant funding opportunity, based on the recommendations of program staff. Directors make decisions concerning the size of a committee and any deviations from these guidelines. Directors also make decisions about terminating membership, should the need arise.

In developing recommendations, program staff, in consultation with others, may:

  • review any nominations NSERC has received, including those submitted through Form 250, or from any postsecondary institution, professional and learned societies, and the committees or panels themselves;
  • consult the selection committees and panels (including the Chair and NSERC staff) on their perceived expertise needs for the short and medium term; and
  • consult advisors, including the Group Chair, Chair of the appropriate standing committees, and others (including NSERC staff), to seek references on the suitability of those being considered for membership.

Selection committee composition

It is essential that committees plan for their expertise requirements for at least the next three years, noting particular pressures, or changes in direction of research. It is important to recommend the appointment of new members to cover new or priority areas, and one-for-one replacement is not always appropriate.

The following guidelines should be taken into account in approving a slate of members for a selection committee:

  • Individuals appointed to a committee should be well-regarded by the research community, possess good judgment, and be able to work well with others in a group setting.
  • Committees should have the expertise required to complete, at the highest level of quality, the review process for the applications that they will be assigned.
  • Each committee must be able to review applications in Canada’s two official languages. Committees should have as many bilingual members as needed to ensure appropriate review of the number of French applications received. A minimum of 20% of members should be Francophone.2 In order to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development, members from those communities will be included on selection committees, when appropriate.
  • NSERC believes that selection committees benefit from women’s participation and perspective and will strive for equity in this area. NSERC has currently set a committee composition target inspired by This link will take you to another Web site The Report by the Government of Canada's Advisory Council for Promoting Women on Boards (2014). Committees should have a minimum of 20% women, starting in 2016, with the objective of reaching 30% by 2020.
  • Individuals are normally appointed to a committee for three years, with approximately one third of the core membership being replaced each year.
  • Individuals who have previously served on a selection committee may be re-appointed to that same committee if necessary and appropriate. However, four years should elapse from the end of their first appointment before re-appointment.
  • Continuous representation by individuals from a given institution, and particularly from the same department, should be avoided.3
  • The simultaneous membership of two persons from the same institution, and particularly from the same department, should be avoided.3
  • Individuals whose duties include fundraising for research and coordination of research contracts or the selection of Scholarship applications submitted to NSERC cannot be considered for membership on a selection committee that would put them in the position of a real or perceived conflict of interest. This includes Research Grants Officers, Directors of Research Offices and Vice-Presidents (Research) for grants selection committees, and Scholarships Liaison Officers and Deans of Graduate Studies for scholarships and fellowships committees. Such individuals may be considered for appointment to NSERC standing committees.
  • Canadian members should be drawn from the various regions of the country.
  • Committees should have members from institutions of varying size.
  • Committees should have at least 10% of members from institutions outside of academia. The ratio of academic, private and public sector members varies from committee to committee and reflects the nature and culture of disciplines covered by each committee. Some committees will require a larger representation from outside the academic sector than others.
  • Committees should have at least 10% of members from institutions outside Canada. Such members are considered international members. Expatriate Canadians working and living abroad on a permanent basis can be valuable participants in the NSERC peer review system, and are also considered international members.
  • Broad-based multidisciplinary committees should have a minimum of 25% of members representing engineering disciplines and a minimum of 25% of members representing natural sciences disciplines.
  • Individuals who are currently responding to formal allegations of breaches of the This link will take you to another Web site Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research cannot be considered for membership.

Deviations from these guidelines

Deviations from to these guidelines can be made to ensure the committee’s requirements are met. Deviations must be justified and used selectively, and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Deviations must be approved by the Director of the funding opportunity, documented and kept on the committee file.

Next policy review date: June 2019

1Committees include evaluation groups and panels.
2A Francophone is defined as either someone whose first language is French or who works in a French environment.
3However, this may be unavoidable if there is a concentration of excellent researchers in a few large departments or if other guidelines and the committee's requirements for expertise cannot otherwise be satisfied. Exceptions can also be made in unusual circumstances (e.g., when a member moves to another institution or if areas of research are rearranged between committees). Flexibility is needed for larger committees.