Friday, October 8, 2010

Investing in Our Future

Yesterday, Research!America and the American Chemical Society co-hosted a congressional briefing that is right up our alley: Investing in Our Future: A New Generation of Researchers. (See Rachel Shoop’s summary of the event.) Clearly, investing in young scientists resonates with the community, as was seen by the large turnout.

As Mr. John Edward Porter, former Congressman and current chair of Research!America, pointed out, the US is the global leader in scientific research but there are strong competitors. We must work to maintain our competitiveness, and that means investing in science, technology, innovation and research, particularly in the young scientists that are our future.

Apparently, it’s not just the early-career investigators out there who think this funding is crucial. These scientists have a much bigger impact than simply satisfying their scientific curiosity. According to Iain Cockburn, PhD, Professor of Finance and Economics, School of Management, Boston University, the life sciences are the “crown jewel” of our economy. Scientists’ progress leads to improvements in human health, more jobs, and economic growth. The point is that a small investment in young scientists now will have a huge payoff later.

What’s more, the lack of investment can have devastating effects. Meryl Comer, president and CEO of the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer’s Initiative, emphasized that the lack of funding is not only decimating the research but also discouraging young scientists from pursuing research as a career. This is where we are going to lose our competitiveness.

Raquel Lieberman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology, a brilliant early-career investigator herself, pointed out what many late-stage graduate students are shocked to realize: running a lab is more like running a small business, only they didn’t go to business school. The job becomes all about funding, with new investigators writing around 20 grants in their first year. How can they take care of the rest of the “business” when they worry so much about where the money is coming from?

Marshall Hussain Shuler, PhD of Johns Hopkins University demonstrated the level of expertise and creativity these early-career researchers have - essential components of discovery. Their new and unique visions will blaze the path for the future of research.

To make that happen, we must alleviate the pressure from these early-career investigators. It seems that they just can’t find enough money or time. There needs to be more funding directed to early-career investigators so they can focus on the research and teaching aspects of their jobs. Those are the aspects that will have the most impact.

Regardless, there definitely needs to be more advocacy. Ms. Comer and Mr. Porter both stressed the importance of advocacy in getting support for an issue meaningful to you. This is a very important issue--we need to let others know, too.

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