Science News for May 2021

Science News. 10 May 2021

A Lifeline for Young Scientists Who See the World Differently

POSTDOCS IN CRISIS was the headline of the September 9, 2020, Nature Magazine article that stirred alarm in the US science community. While the article was dismissed by some because of its Covid-19 focus (citing intellectual isolation, travel restrictions, lack of job and life security, layoffs at universities) the underlying poll of 7600 science administrators, representing 19 disciplines, from 93 countries, revealed that 51 % of respondents have considered leaving research over anxiety, stress, and lack of career opportunity.

In another report, countries considered most favorable to science careers were said to be Switzerland (highest salaries and top university positions), the USA (most encouraging of science publications), Korea (comprehensive STEM education preparation), Israel (most government-sponsored R&D funding), Scandinavia (best location for international collaboration), and Germany (encouraging IT investments and infrastructure).

Taken together the concluding words of the Nature article still ring true, “Postdocs are the future of science and the lifeblood of the research workforce. If they don’t receive extensive financial help soon, research – and society as a whole – will bear the consequence of denying a lifeline to the next generation of researchers, inventors, and innovators.”

Six months along we have an awakening economy, the optimism that global access to vaccinations will calm the pandemic, yet governments world over are hobbled by bewildering under-employment, staggering healthcare burdens, and a lack of resources to mobilize next-generation talent to address societal problems.  While there is no shortage of good ideas for improving the environment or for enhancing human livelihoods, there is a shortage of monies for studying them and bringing them to fruition. The hidden truth is that of 80,000 annual applications for post-graduate fellowships, 68,000 are rejected, an enormous loss of civic potential.  Too often young emerging scientists cannot pursue their passion for creating new knowledge and putting it to good use. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than among postdocs and junior faculties whose lives of dedication and scholarship are suspended in their relentless pursuit of recognition and fellowship grants to advance their careers.

Occasionally the private sector offers more light than the black hole of government fellowship competitions currently funding less than 15% of applicants for postdoc lab appointments, internships, and research fellowships. A new initiative founded in Boston called Original Pursuit is established to channel seed grants to emerging scientists of all disciplines whose research promises material benefits, constructive environmental returns, or social and cultural advances to society.  They are working in concert with Change Maker Trust a startup funding partner created for venture philanthropy and program-related investments in science, technology, healthcare, and ESG fields.  Original Pursuit plans to illuminate the vision and promise of next-generation ChangeMakers with a combination of seed grants and documentary productions that provide a career pathway to sponsorship and careers in science.

A preview of their website will be available in May 2021 (www.originalpursuit.com) describing the Mission, Strategy, and early Programs of Original Pursuit.  A Call for Proposals and examples of video productions will be provided, together with short bios on the Key People involved. Here is an excerpt for interested postdocs who may be seeking alternate sources of funding in 2021-22:

Original Pursuit seeks to connect Changemakers to a changing world. If your research offers constructive returns to society, please apply:

1)    Help the Science Committee assess the quality and impact of the research project by providing a 2-4 page research proposal that explains what is being studied, why it is important in generating new knowledge, and how this new knowledge will constructively impact the environment and society, locally, and if appropriate, more broadly.

2)   To help inspire and attract supporters, applicants are being asked to submit short video abstracts ( 3–6 minute video clips. Selfies are ok)  in which they: a) explain how their project began and why they conceived it; b) describe the depth and diversity of their team; c) explain what it costs to sustain the project for the first year, and then over five years; d) enumerate key social and environmental benefits emerging from the research as many investors will view the work through an ESG lens; e) identify who are the intended beneficiaries of the project’s findings, and f) specify any special audiences the applicant would like to reach and why.

Depending on funding available each quarter, the Science Committee will designate qualified candidates as a ChangeMaker connecting them to documentarians to begin the grants process. Original Pursuit will use its best efforts to showcase the enterprise and research of each ChangeMaker, as a social entrepreneur, whose innovative work promises sustainable change to society for generations to come.

Interested sponsors reply to Mark Carthy, Finance Director, jpmcarthy@outlook.com

Potential applicants contact Dan Rubenstein, Science Director, dir@princeton.edu

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