University of Calgary

PhD candidate seeks nationwide funding for post-docs with disabilities

UToday HomeMay 9, 2013

By Trisha Kingcott

Ella Bowles works in her fish lab at the University of Calgary.Ella Bowles works in her fish lab at the University of Calgary.Ella Bowles is used to finding solutions.

A visually impaired graduate student, Bowles found there was no roadmap for accessing funding to deal with the constantly changing needs of evolving research. She fell through the cracks until she worked out a solution with the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

As she nears completion of her PhD, the same question has come up: “Will I fall through the cracks as a post-doc also?”

Undergraduate students with disabilities are supported by the Disability Resource Centre. Graduate students might be assisted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Employees of the university fall under workplace accommodation.

“But for post-docs, you’re pretty much hired by your supervisor,” says Bowles, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences. “So the duty to accommodate would fall to your supervisor which is crazy because people’s research grants don’t cover this kind of cost.”

Researchers with disabilities sometimes require extra tools, such as specialized equipment. Applying for another bit of funding and waiting until the next term to receive it is impractical. Currently, Bowles has a fund of $7,000 she can draw on for tools at any time within the year.

Bowles’ accommodations include software that reads PDF files to her and converts non-readable image files into readable PDFs. She pays assistants to help with husbandry work in her fish lab to compensate for extra time needed for reading and lab work and she uses magnifying lamps and closed circuit camera/television combos to be able to see what she is working on.

She is determined not to fall through the cracks again, and that no other graduate student or post-doctoral fellow will either.

Bowles is working on a proposal to approach the Tri-Council funding agencies (SSHRC, NSERC CHIR) for a pool of funds for any graduate student or post-doc who falls outside the accommodation funding mandates at specific institutions.

“There’s no Canada-wide structure for accommodation for post-docs. None,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to have local solutions when it’s really a national problem.”

Her solution: universities provide a percentage of funds to the pool; the Tri-Council provides the rest to ensure the fund is sustainable. Then the funds would be distributed according to need.

“There are very few people who have disabilities of any kind in science,” Bowles says. “The mind is what matters.”


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