On A Mission

Written by on February 17th, 2015 –

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In late January, I flew out to Toronto to meet with the Personnel Awards  committee at the MS Society of Canada office. The Personnel Awards committee is responsible for reviewing research applications for studentships – Master’s, Doctoral and Postdoctoral fellowship applications that are involved in both biomedical research and clinical and population health research. This committee was comprised of 11 researchers and clinicians, (one of whom was the chair) two MS Society grants staff, an MS Society intern, the Vice President of Research, (who  herself has a PhD) and four community Reps, which included me. In all, the board room was filled to capacity with 19 people working as a team.

All of us spent 6 weeks prior to the meeting working hard on our reviews. I personally reviewed 24 grant applications. I spent countless hours learning new words (Thank goodness for Google!) and trying very hard to understand a few applications that were exceptionally challenging. There were times where I felt like I was stretching far beyond my comfort zone, but I would temper that with the knowledge that I was doing this work to the absolute best of my ability.

The review process was eye opening for me. I came away with a deeper understanding of just how complex a process it really is.

The Canadian MS Society’s mission statement reads:

“To be a leader in finding a cure for multiple sclerosis and enabling people affected by MS to enhance their quality of life.”

And these are the values* I saw in action during the review process:

“We keep those affected by MS at the centre of our work at every level of the organization.”

This was demonstrated by the appointment and involvement of the Community Reps throughout the review process. It was also at the forefront of our meeting by way of a slide show that played on a continuous loop on a big screen in the boardroom. The slide show had numerous photographs of MS Patients, their families and caregivers a well as group photos of MS fundraisers at various events. (I saw quite a few people I actually know!) It was an ingenious way of reminding all of us who we were working on behalf of and how hard people worked to earn the money being granted.

“We provide meaningful benefit to the greatest possible number of people affected by MS.”

As a Community Rep, part of my role in the review process was to talk about what I understood the research to be, whether or not I felt the research was relevant to those living with MS and why.

“We give hope to people affected by multiple sclerosis.”

I can tell you that sitting in that boardroom and listening to the grant applications being presented and feeling the intensity and passion of my fellow reviewers, it was impossible to NOT feel hopeful for the future.

“We demonstrate ethical behaviour and integrity. We adhere to the highest standards of quality, transparency, and accountability.”

In spades! I can tell you first hand this is something the Canadian MS Society takes very seriously.  The process was incredibly fair and I was really impressed at how everyone conducted themselves. They not only want to make sure that the money everyone works so hard to raise is used wisely and to the greatest benefit, but they are also intent on attracting and keeping the brightest minds in neuroscience research working towards a cure for MS.

“We create safe and collaborative environments that foster positive relationships.”

Everyone involved with the review committee went over and above to make the Community Reps feel welcome. They were incredibly kind to us. It was very clear that our perspectives were valued and that what we had to say carried weight. It truly was a team effort.

“We recognize that volunteers, donors, and employees are critical to our success, and we celebrate their commitment.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Karen Lee gifted each of the members of the review committee with a lovely note in a silver frame. I can’t tell you how much this meant to me-my eyes were full of tears when I read it. Her gift now sits on my inspiration altar in my studio where I can see it every day.

I felt especially humbled to have had the opportunity to bring my unique perspective to the grants committee. This is the first time someone who is living with NMO has been appointed as a Community Representative and my hope is that it won’t be the last. I am so deeply grateful for this experience and for everything I learned. The future of MS research is looking very bright indeed!

*Taken from the Canadian MS Society’s list of values, which can be found here: http://mssociety.ca/en/community/mssc/mission.htm

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