Frequently Asked Questions

Launch of the third competition – October 12, 2016, University of Calgary

1. What is the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program?

Launched in 2008 by the Government of Canada, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada's growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. This prestigious program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities.

Following the first program competition, the first cohort of 18 Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced in May 2010. Nine additional chairs were appointed under a second competition that concluded in 2015, bringing the total number of CERCs to 27 at 17 different institutions nationwide.

2. What is the goal of the program?

The main goal of the CERC program is to attract the world’s best researchers to build a critical mass of expertise in research areas of strategic importance to Canada. This expertise will allow Canada to be at the leading edge of scientific and technological breakthroughs expected to generate social and economic benefits for Canadians. The program has helped Canadian universities compete in the global market for research talent.

3. How are the Chairs awarded?

There is a rigorous, two-phased selection process that focuses on upholding the highest standards of research excellence. In Phase 1, universities compete for the opportunity to establish CERCs in proposed research areas. In Phase 2, shortlisted universities recruit and nominate world-class researchers to fill allocated chair positions. Proposals undergo a rigorous, multilevel review process that includes scientific evaluation by individual external experts and by a review panel, and strategic evaluation by a blue-ribbon, independent selection board. The program’s governing steering committee makes final funding decisions.

4. What is a Chair?

Traditionally, a “chair” is a senior professorship granted to an academic (or “chairholder”), whether scientist or scholar, who has attained pre-eminence in his or her field.

5. How is the program administered?

The Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat, housed at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), administers the CERC program on behalf of all three federal research funding agencies—the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and SSHRC. The program is governed by a steering committee made up of the presidents of NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC, the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Health Canada, and the president of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (as an observer). The president of SSHRC chairs the steering committee.

 6. What tangible results have there been from the first two competitions of the program?

Canada Excellence Research chairholders are driving innovation and spurring economic growth. They have made groundbreaking discoveries, achieved technological breakthroughs and established important international research facilities. They are forging strong research and business partnerships, creating jobs and have created hubs of excellence within Canadian universities. For example:

  • The team led by Matthew Farrer, CERC in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at The University of British Columbia, has identified a genetic mutation that causes late-onset Parkinson’s disease. Farrer established the Centre for Applied Neurogenetics, an international consortium of clinicians and scientists studying the molecular origins of brain diseases.
  • Marcel Babin, CERC in Remote Sensing of Canada’s New Arctic Frontier at Université Laval, has launched a major research program that will involve several Canadian, European and American teams on the function and productivity of Arctic marine ecosystems.
  • Michael Houghton, CERC in Virology at the University of Alberta, is developing a vaccine against the hepatitis C virus—which he also identified and cloned—and will be ready to test the vaccine on Canadians within the next four or five years. Many of his other lab discoveries are currently being translated for clinical and commercial use.
  • At the University of Waterloo, David Cory, CERC in Quantum Information Processing, is engineering the tools needed to navigate, control and exploit the quantum world in ways that we can only begin to imagine. These tools will form the building blocks for future quantum computers and technologies.

 7. What is being done to attract more women researchers to these Chairs?

The CERC program is committed to the federal government’s policies on non-discrimination and equity in employment. The program is proactively promoting exemplary equity practices. In collaboration with its participating institutions, the program is working to ensure that all recruitment practices for CERC positions are open, transparent and equitable.

The program will strengthen its emphasis on equity and diversity in Phase 1 of the 2016 competition, as well as implement additional requirements. This includes a detailed equity plan, submitted by participating institutions, that will be part of the application process and the subject of rigorous monitoring once the CERCs are established.   

Learn more about the program’s equity practices.

8. What are the priority areas of research for the CERC program?

For this competition, 11 new Chairs will be funded in the following priority areas:

  • environment, climate change, and clean and sustainable technologies (within this category, at least two Chairs will be awarded in fields related to clean and sustainable technologies);
  • health and life sciences;
  • natural resources and agriculture;
  • information and communications technologies;
  • advanced manufacturing;
  • social inclusion and innovative society (within this category, at least one Chair will be awarded in business sector innovation), and;
  • open areas of inquiry demonstrated to be of benefit to Canada (up to three Chairs).

9. Which institutions can apply for a Canada Excellence Research Chair?

Canadian degree-granting institutions are eligible to participate in the CERC program only if they have received, annually, an average of $100,000 or more from the three federal granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Eligible institutions may submit a limited number of applications to Phase 1 of the competition. Applications to Phase 2 can only be submitted upon invitation.

10. Has the program been successful in attracting researchers from outside Canada?

All of the researchers appointed in the first two competitions have been recruited from outside Canada, with one Canadian returning home.

11. Are Canada Excellence Research Chairs renewable?

Canada Excellence Research Chairs are tenable for seven years and are not renewable.

12. What is the difference between Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs?

The Canada Research Chairs Program, created in 2000, supports world-class researchers in all disciplines, and is linked to the strategic research priorities of individual institutions. The Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program is a distinct program that targets the very top tier of world-class researchers to help Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the Government of Canada’s targeted science and technology priority areas.

More Information

For comprehensive information about the program, including a detailed research profile for each chairholder, visit the Canada Excellence Research Chairs website at

Media Relations

Michael Adams
Communications Advisor
Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Tel.: 613-944-1758
Cell: 613-219-7523