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CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars: The world’s next generation of research leaders

by Alan Bernstein May 17 / 17
Alan BernsteinMax Planck, the great physicist and one of the pioneer founders of quantum physics in the 1920s, once complained that great ideas advance “one funeral at a time.”

By this he meant that even in science there is resistance by older scientists to new ideas, especially if younger scientists advance them. Ironically, there is considerable evidence that paradigm shifts in science are frequently made by younger scientists. And today, young researchers find it difficult to secure the funds needed to carry out their research.

For these reasons, one of CIFAR’s highest priorities is to nurture the careers of the next generation of research leaders. Supporting young scientists, especially emerging science leaders, has been one of my highest priorities throughout my entire scientific career. Thanks to generous support by the Azrieli Foundation, we have been able to create the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program, aimed at researchers within five years of their first academic appointment. This program offers significant funds for research, and the privilege of participating in the CIFAR program closest to their own area of research interest. With the generous support of the Jon and Nancy Love Foundation it also offers leadership skills training   and the chance to participate in a global community of equally talented and highly intelligent scientific peers.

This past weekend, 17 young researchers from five countries, with research interests including clean energy, child and brain development, deep learning artificial intelligence, quantum computing and economics, met in the Banff Centre. What they all have in common is exceptional research promise, clear leadership potential, and a drive to make an impact on the world with their research – and they are all members of CIFAR’s inaugural group of CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars.

The 2016 Global Scholars. Top from left: Kieran O’Donnell, Gerhard Kirchhain, Jeffrey Warren, Craig Chapman, Mikko Taipale; Middle from left:Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, Joel Zylberberg, Alona Fyshe, Graham Taylor, Katherine Amato; Front from left: Ami Citri, Corinne Maurice, Nir Bar-Gill, Giulio Chiribella, Kate Ross, Natalie Bau, Luyi Yang (Not pictured: Gabriela Schlau-Cohen)

In Banff, the global scholars came together for their first annual meeting. They received training in science leadership and communications from expert facilitators, engaged in a wide-ranging discussion led by Dr. Brett Finlay, director of CIFAR’s program in Humans and the Microbiome, and enjoyed an inspirational after-dinner speech by The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

While our speakers and the facilitators were excellent, it was the global scholars themselves who impressed and inspired me the most. Their energy and enthusiasm, and the high level of intelligence and engagement, reassured me that the future of science is in good hands.

Whether carefully evaluating their own performance as mentors, analyzing their communication strengths and weaknesses, or sharing their vision for the future of their research, they never failed to bring their passion for the power of science and interdisciplinary collaboration to the table.

CIFAR’s programs are problem-based and therefore bring together researchers from diverse disciplines to address questions of importance to the world . But rarely do we bring together CIFAR fellows from almost every one of  our programs. The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program is the exception. Hearing the enthusiasm of these young scholars reaffirms my belief that the future of research depends on giving the world’s most promising young people the unique opportunities that CIFAR provides through our Azrieli Global Scholars program.

As we approach the application deadline for our second cohort of CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars on May 23rd, I am eagerly looking forward to meeting the short-listed candidates who will be interviewed and put through an imaginative two-and-a-half-day process to screen for the next group of successful CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars. These young people represent the future of science and the collective brainpower to both advance knowledge and address the great challenges facing humanity.