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Young people are the future of science

by Alan Bernstein May 29 / 18

Banner photo: 2016 and 2017 CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars at the Annual Meeting in Victoria, B.C. (Photo credit: Jen Steele)

Despite the importance of young scientists and scholars to the vibrancy of the research enterprise, it has never been more difficult for young people to launch a successful career than it is right now.

Alan Bernstein

The competition for peer-reviewed research funding, the gold standard of excellence in the research community, is fierce. And the demands on young investigators at the very outset of their careers, when their first years as an independent researcher are the make or break years, have never been greater. They are likely to have high teaching loads, and they will be challenged for the first time to be a leader of their own research group, mentor students, train technicians, write grant applications, serve on faculty committees, and on it goes. They are also at a time in their lives when they are often starting, or thinking about starting, their own families.

Despite these formidable obstacles, young researchers are the future of science. It’s not simply that in time they will develop into the next generation of experienced scientists. It is at this point in their careers, while they are young, that they are the drivers of change, rejecting conventional ideas and coming up with innovative ways of thinking. Young scientists are fearless, bringing new perspectives to old problems that often lead to unexpected and new ways forward.

In short, it is not in our interest that they fail. That means leadership training, mentoring and networking opportunities, and research support.   And that is exactly what the two-year-old CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program does: mentoring, networking and funds for research.

Earlier this month, we held our second annual CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars Leadership meeting in Victoria. Superbly organized again by Dr. Pamela Kanellis, a senior director on our staff, the meeting showcased the energy, passion, and intelligence of these young scientists and reassured me that the future of science is in very good hands indeed.

The CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program selects some of the best researchers from around the world who are within five years of their first academic appointments. With generous support from the Azrieli Foundation, we offer them funding, leadership training, networking opportunities, and perhaps most important of all, the opportunity to participate in one of our 12 research programs where they interact with some of the most distinguished researchers in the world.

The CIFAR Global Scholars have already tallied up impressive achievements. For example, at last year’s annual meeting, they were asked to break up into small groups and write an op ed to learn how to communicate outside the scientific community. Three scholars successfully submitted their piece to Maclean’s magazine.

I believe that the most critical challenges facing the world today will not be solved by any one generation of researchers. I’m confident that these young investigators have a critical role in driving change and pushing intellectual boundaries. It’s an excellent opportunity for them. And an excellent opportunity for science itself.