As scientists, we seek out the edge of the unknown, and learn to surf it. An urge for new insights wakes us in the morning, and curiosity drives us. It is profoundly inspiring to be part of a community that deepens our understanding of life. But today, many scientists are also underpaid, overworked, and facing increasingly dismal job opportunities. Why do we tolerate this? Why are we, one of the more rational and progressive subcultures, struggling to build sustainable institutions with reasonable job prospects? Answers, provided in an escalating number of online forums, editorials, and twitter feeds, include: competition, funding deficits, bureaucratic burdens and information overload. Yet, such online discussions can distract, or nail us to our screens even more. Is there a practical solution to such a complex and entangled situation? I think there is, and it’s literally staring us in the face!
Working the Networking
We can see science adapting to the current challenges in the growing allocation of dedicated face-to-face time at scientific conferences. Platform presentations are making place for speed networking and roundtable discussions, and posters are discussed with small groups. At this summer’s European Association for Cancer Research congress in Manchester, networkers did not want to stop! When we are face-to-face, pro-social instincts kick in, doubts are waived, and a sense of community and mutual encouragement arises. It seems that we all want and need reminders that science is founded on collegiality: a shared responsibility to extend and share knowledge. Coming face-to-face restores our culture around the foundations of social cooperation. Let’s talk about how we can shape the future of science, create long-term opportunities for its citizens, and reaffirm the principles of scientific quality.
Let’s Face It
Today, many institutions are in rapid transition, and are turning to science for input on everything from carbon emissions to economics. To help renew society, science needs to first embrace its own renewal, and replenish its stores of integrity and mutual respect. I believe we can do it - scientists are after all meant to spread the sense of wonder, to ignite sparks of insight in society at large - so let’s vow to do the same for each other. Let’s face it, and build the cultural strength of our society. It may be that only when we nurture and rebuild our own culture, will we see the way to significantly increase the quality-of-life of the people and populations we study and treat. This is a testable hypothesis!
Photo courtesy: Andrew Binns, European Association for Cancer Research