CANSSI’s goal is to ensure that the entire Canadian statistical sciences community is involved with our operation and direction. Our scientific programs have been developed in response to the specific needs of this community.
Identifying a Need
Sometime around the turn of the century, it was recognized that the existing mathematical sciences institutes (MSIs) supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)—that is, the Centre de recherches mathématiques (CRM), the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Fields), and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS)—did not address the range of needs of the Canadian statistical sciences community and that an institute dedicated to serving the statistical sciences was strongly needed.
The Statistical Society of Canada (SSC) turned this realization into action.
Setting a Plan in Motion
Volunteer members from the SSC came together to work on the Development Committee. Interim reports were widely circulated and input from the community was gathered. The final report was approved at the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the SSC. Subsequently, the Board of Directors invested $50,000 for the start-up of CANSSI.
Through this process, the SSC established CANSSI’s fundamental grassroots nature. They ensured a collective government, where the entire statistical sciences community would be involved with its operation and direction.
Supporting an Institute
In 2012, NSERC formalized the need for support for statistical sciences within the NSERC institute program. This was in the Long Range Plan for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Research in Canada report, which laid out the case for government funding of a national statistics institute.
After SSC established CANSSI in 2012, NSERC added CANSSI to the list of institutes eligible to apply to the Collaborative and Thematic Resources Support in Mathematics and Statistics (CTRMS) program. Led by inaugural Scientific Director Mary Thompson, CANSSI’s proposal won an award that began in 2014.
Nancy Reid began her tenure as the second Director in June 2015. She oversaw the formalization and implementation of CANSSI programs and operations from its start.
Establishing Our Headquarters
Initially, CANSSI’s NSERC grant was routed through the financial offices of CRM, Fields, and PIMS. The plan was for CANSSI to become operationally independent by the end of the CTRMS award in 2019. The establishment of CANSSI headquarters at Simon Fraser University (SFU) made CANSSI functionally independent of the MSIs. Don Estep joined SFU as the third Director in 2019 as CANSSI prepared to compete for a larger NSERC grant by expanding its programs and range of activities. In 2021 and 2022, NSERC awarded CANSSI a Discovery Institutes Support grant supporting CANSSI to 2027.
Building a Framework
CANSSI scientific programs have developed in response to the specific needs of the Canadian statistical sciences community. Participants in the 2020 Strategic Retreat and writing teams of researchers across Canada formulated the Flagship programs and contributed core material for this proposal.
These programs are strongly complementary to the programs offered by the MSIs. While the support provided by the MSIs to statistical sciences is valued, those forms of support do not address the critical needs of research and training in statistical sciences. This is especially true for collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches that require sustained effort.
Developing Our Programs
CANSSI’s Flagship programs address challenges shared by all interdisciplinary research enterprises.
These challenges arise because:
- Successful interdisciplinary research requires sustained interactions
- Research themes must develop from the ground up
- Goals and metrics for disciplinary funding programs often conflict with interdisciplinary activities
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
CANSSI is able to tackle interdisciplinary challenges by building on examples from the statistical sciences community. For our Flagship programs, we gathered inspiration from many sources:
- The Collaborative Research Teams program evolved from the former National Program in Complex Data Structures and shares features with the PIMS Collaborative Research Groups program.
- The CANSSI Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship program was inspired by the PDF program of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI).
- The Research for Social Good program was inspired by NSERC COVID-19 opportunities, Data Science for Social Good, and the Big Data Hub.
Creating Something New
The resulting Flagship Programs are entirely unique, set apart in their focus, conception, scope, and execution. Distinguishing qualities include:
Collaboration – Supporting sustained, collaborative discovery involving statistical sciences research.
Application – Address challenging problems arising in science and engineering through interdisciplinary approaches.
Diversity & Inclusion – Contributing to the creation of a diverse and inclusive statistical sciences community.
Community – Building communities between statistical scientists and researchers in other disciplines, and strengthening the community in Canadian statistical sciences.
Capacity – Building the Canadian capacity for interdisciplinary research involving leadership in statistical sciences, through experiential training of students and postdoctoral fellows.
Communication – Communicating the use, importance and challenges of statistical sciences research to other disciplines and Canadian society.
Over the past decade, our programs have had an impressive record of involvement at institutions across Canada. We serve researchers, students and postdoctoral fellows in all Canadian universities, with a strong commitment to progress through collaboration.