Masters or doctoral research (students)

These are the steps to submit an application to access a Research Data Centre (RDC) as a student, for a project that is not funded by a federal, or provincial/territorial government department, follow the steps below to submit an application to access microdata at a Research Data Centre (RDC):

Step 1: Draft a project proposal and obtain a letter of support

Scope of analysis in a typical RDC proposal:

  • Focus on modelling data (i.e., regression, logistic regression, multilevel modelling, etc.)
  • Minimal descriptive statistics (i.e., 35-50 frequencies and crosstabs with limited dimensions)
  • Access to single or multiple data sets. (i.e., typically focused on one main dataset with a few others for supporting analysis)
  • Short to Medium timeframe (i.e., 2–3 years for the initial data analysis; extensions with an accompanied written justification may be granted as required)
  • Produce 1-2 products to be published in the public domain (i.e., presentation, journal article, dissertation, book chapter).

Researchers planning proposals outside of this scope should consult with their local RDC Analyst for further guidance before applying for access to the RDC program. The choice may be to submit more than one proposal or a program of research.

To ensure a swift review of the proposal, applicants are encouraged to include all elements of the Project Proposal Template, and can use the sample proposal as an additional guide.

Project proposal template:

The project proposal is a maximum of ten pages and includes the following elements:

  1. Title of the Project
  2. Rationale and objectives of the study
    • Clearly identify the specific questions or objectives of the project.
    • State how the research will contribute to the knowledge in the field of study by summarizing the current literature and identifying the gap(s) to be addressed.
  3. Proposed data analysis and software requirements
    • What is the proposed statistical methodology? How is it suitable for this project?
    • Will the volume of descriptive statistics be greater than that of a typical RDC proposal (i.e., 35-50 frequencies and crosstabs with limited dimensions)? If yes, please explain.
    • What software will be utilized?
  4. Data requirements
    • An explanation of why access to the anonymized microdata files (as opposed to public use microdata files) is necessary.
    • Which survey file/files or cycles are to be used?
      • Will the number of data sets be greater than that of a typical RDC proposal (i.e., 1–3 datasets)? If yes, please explain.
      • Will datasets be merged, pooled, or linked to other Statistics Canada datasets or other data sets? If you plan to merge, pool, or link data in your analysis please provide adequate detail on how the data from each source will be combined in this analysis, and its intended purpose. In particular, your description should outline whether you plan to pool data from two or more sources to increase your sample size; or to merge aggregate contextual data to the micro-records; or whether your plan is to link micro-record to micro-record together from two or more sources. Most of Statistics Canada's micro-data master files contain unique record IDs associated with respondents such as persons, families or households. To protect the confidentiality of survey respondents, RDC researchers are not permitted to attempt any record linkage either between data files (e.g. Census and CCHS) or among cycles of a survey (such as CCHS 2009 and CCHS 2010). Should you plan a micro-record to micro-record linkage please be advised that a second approval process is required by senior management at Statistics Canada and that the linkage must be conducted at Statistics Canada. Additionally, there may be a fee for these services.
    • Provide a statement that the anonymized microdata file(s) identified is (are) in fact suitable for the proposed research.
    • What are the variables to be used?
    • What is the specific population of interest in the required data set(s)?
      • What is the expected sample size of the population of interest? Is this sufficient to complete the analysis as well as respect the confidentiality of the respondents? Please explain
    • Does geography play a role in the data analysis? If it is based on small levels of geography please describe how it will be defined, what variables will be used and the potential implications this may have on the sample size.
    • Refer to these survey specific guidelines for RDC proposals requesting the following data:
  5. Expected project start and end dates
  6. Expected products
    • Working paper
    • Peer-reviewed journal article
    • Book or book chapter
    • Graduate level thesis or dissertation
    • Commissioned report (e.g. government report)
  7. References
    • Sources used in the proposal or for specific analytical methods employed

Letters of support required for student applicants listed as the Principal Investigator

Masters and Doctoral Students are required to include a letter of support from the academic supervisor confirming that the student's supervisory committee has reviewed and approved the proposed project as part of the student's research. This letter is required only for a student who is listed as the Principal Investigator (PI) in the application. If the student is listed as a co-investigator, a letter of support is not required. Applications for students studying outside Canada must also be supported and signed by the responsible RDC Academic Director. The letter of support is submitted along with a researcher's application through the online web application via the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) login page.

The role of the RDC analyst in the proposal writing process:

Each RDC employs an RDC Analyst who can assess the proposal to determine whether the required elements are present and whether the project is appropriate for access to the detailed micro data. Advice from an RDC Analyst before submitting a proposal does not guarantee a successful review but will mostly likely improve the chances of a timely review by ensuring all elements of the proposal are complete and clear.

Step 2: Complete the online application form on the SSHRC website

Academic researchers apply through the online web application via the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) login page. You will need to register as a new user if you are a first time applicant. The application will require you to list research contributions and CV's of the research team members, by including any identifiable contributions made by the applicants to the advancement, development and transmission of knowledge related to the disciplines supported by SSHRC. This application is a maximum of five pages, and will help SSHRC assess if the research team members have the expertise and ability to carry out the work.

Step 3: Evaluation of a proposal

Each proposal is evaluated by a Statistics Canada Subject Matter Expert(s). SSHRC facilitates this review process. The approval of proposals will be based on:

  • relevance of the methods to be applied - the data to be analyzed;
  • demonstrated need for access to detailed microdata as indicated by key variables contained in the dataset; and
  • expertise and ability of the researchers to carry out the proposed research as illustrated in the CVs and list of contributions.

An institutional review determines if access to detailed microdata is needed and provides feedback on whether these data can support the project. SSHRC will inform the principal investigator of the decision within eight weeks of the date of application. If proposals are deemed to be incomplete by institutional or peer reviewers (due to insufficient detail on any of the elements in the proposal), the eight-week review timeline may be extended to accommodate revision and resubmission of the proposal. Institutional review of a project proposal does not guarantee analytical success. In the case where work cannot be completed on an approved project,Footnote 1 researchers have the option of amending the statement of work to ensure project feasibility or withdrawing their project from the RDC.

Terms of project approval

If the proposal is approved and access is granted to a Research Data Centre, the contract with Statistics Canada allows the research team to access only the microdata specified in the approved research project and only for the purpose of completing that project. Researchers are asked to submit a new proposal for any subsequent research project. In addition, SSHRC and Statistics Canada may ask for a new proposal if the scope of the research changes significantly.

Step 4: Complete the security screening process

Once a project is approved, a number of security procedures will be followed:

  • Statistics Canada performs a Reliability Check on any researcher who will directly access its anonymized microdata.
  • Researchers must contact their RDC Analyst in order to complete the security check form. This form must be completed within the presence of a Statistics Canada Analyst at the RDC where the research will be conducted.
  • The RDC Analyst sends this form to Statistics Canada in Ottawa to be processed and contacts researchers to inform them of the results of the security check.
  • Effective December 1, 2016, the RCMP requires all federal public servants in Canada (including RDC researchers and staff) to undergo fingerprinting as part of their security clearance. Additionally, the Treasury Board of Canada requires a credit check. Please contact your local RDC to learn more about the security clearance procedure. A list of FAQs is also available for additional information.
  • The RDC Analyst invites the researcher, or group of researchers, for an orientation session to explain procedures at the RDC.
  • At this session researchers sign their contract with Statistics Canada and take The Oath or Affirmation of Office and Secrecy.

In general, when completing the security screening forms each researcher must also provide:

  • a copy of photo ID
  • full 5 year address history
  • non-Canadians must also provide a work Visa, and proof of Canadian address
  • letters or police clearance certificates from law enforcement agencies in the country in which the individual resided (in English or French) for all international researchers (see definition below) and for Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have resided outside of Canada for more than 6 months within the past five years.

Please note there are additional security requirements for international researchers (those who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada).

Effective May 2018, there has been a change to the definition of international researcher. The new definition is:

  • International researchers are researchers who do not reside in Canada. They include all persons that do not hold one of the following: Canadian citizenship, Canadian permanent residency, Canadian work visa or Canadian student visa. They do not include Canadian citizens or permanent residents who live abroad.

International students or researchers living in Canada and possessing a valid study or work visa are no longer considered as international researchers.
The requirements are:

  1. Include a Canadian citizen or permanent Canadian resident as a co-investigator
  2. Provide a letter of reference from a person that vouches for the character of the international researcher, that he/she is a reputable researcher with a legitimate purpose for accessing Canadian data.
  3. For international students only, provide a letter of acknowledgement from their home institution confirming their affiliation and acknowledging the potential penalties should they contravene the requirements of the Statistics Act.

For further information on these requirements, please contact the local RDC Analyst when the project is approved.

Step 5: Sign a microdata research contract with Statistics Canada

A Microdata Research Contract (MRC) between the researcher(s) and Statistics Canada needs to be signed once the proposal is approved and security clearance is confirmed. The RDC analyst will invite you, and your research team into the RDC for an orientation session to review research procedures, sign your contract with Statistics Canada and take The Oath or Affirmation of Office and Secrecy, making all the researchers on your project "deemed employees". The contract specifies the following terms of access:

  • Data sets to be provided by Statistics Canada (please note the contract grants researchers access only to the microdata specified in the approved research proposal).
  • Purpose and scope of the research project as outlined in the approved research proposal.
  • Project start and completion dates.
  • Agreement of the researchers to abide by the RDC security and confidentiality requirements.
  • Agreement to provide a final product to Statistics Canada at the contract end date.

Step 6: Submit a product/output

A product must be submitted for each contract signed in order to fulfill the contractual obligations agreed upon between the researchers and Statistics Canada. There are five types of outputs that you can submit as a product for your research project.

  • RDC working paper: A paper for the RDC working paper series authored by the Principal Investigator for Statistics Canada.
  • Peer-reviewed journal article: A journal article authored by the Principal Investigator for a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Book or Book chapter: A book or book chapter authored by the Principal Investigator.
  • Thesis or Dissertation: A graduate level thesis or dissertation.
  • Commissioned Report: A commissioned report authored by the Principal Investigator.

It may be possible to submit other types of products. Please discuss other output options with the RDC Analyst before the contract is written. Once a year, researchers are contacted by Academic Directors of the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) to submit a list of all products generated from the project work. The number of products generated by researchers working RDCs demonstrates the success of the program and helps the CRDCN secure funding to provide this service free of charge to affiliated members.

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