Amid the array of crises faced by scientists globally, including anti-science sentiments, misinformation, geopolitical tensions, hindered international collaborations, funding issues, and ethical concerns in emerging technologies, young researchers face even further hurdles.
Beginning their careers, they contend with limited funding and high competitiveness, job instability, lack of recognition and publication opportunities, and lack of access to effective mentorship. Nonetheless, globally, young scientists are addressing these challenges by establishing themselves as Young Academies, promoting collaboration, networking, and early-career development.
“In a changing world, and with a lot of serious issues like climate change, young scientists want to have their voices heard directly,” says Mirella Marini, a historian and policy officer with the Belgian Young Academy.
Young scientists are suffering from an increasingly challenging environment. “Science is often under attack,” notes Marini. “It’s very difficult for young researchers to stay positive and find solutions when their work is often disregarded and even denied in the public space.”
Marini recalled a member at a recent Young Academy meeting expressing how frustrating this dynamic can feel to scientists pouring their energy and enthusiasm into deeply important topics: “What’s the point of continuing this research if nobody listens?”
That’s why connecting science with action is “at the heart of being a researcher these days,” she explains – and particularly for young scientists.
“They’re dynamic. They want to make a change. They work hard – the world is changing at a rapid pace, and they do not want to wait for institutions to change or for people to finally discover that science is important. Young scientists want to be heard now,” she says.
Young Academies as platforms of change
The Academy offers a unique, open space for young scientists to connect with colleagues and develop solutions: “We have a very open organization. We don’t want to be constricted by the boundaries of discipline,” Marini explains.
The Belgian Young Academy is also one of several Young Academies around the world that has created a partnership program that matches young researchers with parliamentarians. The goal, Marini says, is to encourage science-based policy-making by helping partners “learn each other’s language,” so they can better understand each other’s needs and how they can work together more effectively.
Part of the program’s success comes down to the Young Academy’s engaged network of researchers and their up-front, open communication: “I think that’s the strength of the community that we have,” Marini says. “We communicate in a different way. We’re very direct; we just call these politicians and political parties, saying, ‘Hey, you should be in this.’ It’s a completely different style, I think, than what they are used to.”
Priscilla Kolibea Mante, a neuropharmacologist, Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy, and ex-officio member of the Ghana Young Academy’s Executive Committee, rattles off a handful of projects dedicated to that goal – including the work of GYA members on the Strategic Foresight Project. Overseen by the ISC and the UN Environment Programme, the project provides advice and insights on emerging global issues.
Science communication is also a key focus, including through the GYA’s Science with Society project, which aims to open up the “black box” of science. Through easily accessible videos, the project offers insight into the scientific method and ethics – in part as a response to the growing problem of misinformation and pseudoscience spreading online.
“Young Academies play an essential role in advocating for evidence-based policies at the national and international levels,” Mante says.
Making an impact at the global level
At 13 years old, the Nigerian Young Academy (NYA) is one of the more well-established national Young Academies – and President Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim says momentum is building as the NYA increasingly establishes itself as a vital source of knowledge to inform policy.
“The future is quite bright for Young Academies to start making a real impact in the global arena,” Ibrahim says.
Key to the Nigerian Young Academy’s efforts, he says, has been their close working relationship with the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), whose support has helped to cement the Young Academy’s place in the national scientific ecosystem. Mentorship programs and other efforts by the NAS to promote the work of young researchers have helped get them into the room with policy-makers and draw attention to their work.
To newly established Young Academies, he suggests nurturing connections with their counterpart senior academies: “I think this is a strategy that can be adopted by many other institutions,” he says.
On the international level, he sees Young Academies increasingly being recognized for the uniquely valuable perspective they bring: “The admission of Young Academies into the ISC is also a very significant step in admitting the voices of young academics into the global science arena,” he adds.
Building resilience and the need for support
Young Academies face a number of specific challenges, notes Mante. Funding is a constant issue – for long-term projects, outreach work, networking events, and more. “Support for training programs and capacity-building initiatives can empower Young Academies to enhance their expertise in policy engagement, science communication, and leadership skills,” she says.
Organizing training opportunities for young scientists is a growing part of the NYA’s work, Ibrahim adds, noting a recent conference that brought together young members working in education to look at how generative AI will affect the field. Continued support from international institutions – not just in terms of funding but also connections and expertise – can provide a jumpstart for the work of young researchers.
“Consistent funding from any source is the challenge,” he adds. Many Academies depend on volunteers to function, he points out – and the search for grants and the means to keep working takes up a huge amount of time and energy.
He also highlights the importance of additional funding to support young African scientists doing basic research in their home countries – something that continues to be a challenge, he says: “You may finish your postdoc, but you don’t have the funds to put up a lab,” he says. “I think that greatly affects the scientific activities of young scientists.”
The enormity of the challenges scientists now face can be overwhelming – but it’s vital work, Marini says.
“The whole reason to become a member of the Academy is to have an impact on a societal level. It’s not science in and of itself – it’s the whole idea of making an impact, of doing something more, of connecting with society,” she adds.
Ibrahim is optimistic – and categorical: “The future of science is young scientists,” he says.
A call for Young Academies to join the ISC membership
To address these challenges, the ISC has made a commitment to fostering an ecosystem of collaboration, resource sharing, and partnership by engaging with young scientists at national, regional, and global levels. As part of this commitment, the ISC has launched a new membership campaign that offers free Affiliated Membership to all eligible young scientist organizations.
All organizations of young scientists meeting the eligibility criteria are invited to apply for membership by contacting Gabriela Ivan, ISC Membership Development Officer, at email@example.com.
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Image by Desola Lanre Ologun on Unsplash.