By Joào Borges, Researcher, University of Aveiro.
In your opinion, which scientific questions will set the trends in the coming decade, and which science problems would you like to tackle?
There are many pressing scientific questions that ought to be addressed in the upcoming decade for the benefit of the society. The development of simple, fast, cost-effective, and customized nanotechnology-based approaches and advanced nanobiomaterials to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being of all humans will be at the forefront, which will extensively benefit from an inter/multidisciplinary research approach and collaborative effort. The vital role of inter/multidisciplinary collaboration in the healthcare arena has been demonstrated by the joint efforts of scientists working across different fields, clinicians, regulatory authorities, policymakers, and industrial players in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak. I anticipate that, in the next decade, nanotechnology will revolutionize the way diseases are diagnosed and treated in humans, potentially curing major ones (e.g., cancer, infectious, cardiovascular, or neurodegenerative disorders), and saving a huge number of lives.
How do you experience diverse leadership, diversity in your lab, publication and peer-review, promotion and career progression, in your host country? What are the impediments for creating inclusive, equitable research labs, departments and practices?
In the lab in which I am working as a Junior Research Fellow, I share my passion for research with a collaborative multidisciplinary team of researchers with diverse backgrounds and expertise, race, gender, nationality, and geographic location. Such diversity is vital in approaching scientific matters from a different perspective, fostering innovative ideas, and driving scientific excellence. At a national level, promotion and career progression is tough for both women and men. Moreover, over the last two decades, there has been a huge increase in the number of PhD holders. However, after reaching the postdoc stage, it is very challenging to reach a professorship position and/or a position of professional independence. Outside of academia, the opportunities are even scarcer. There should be more investment in science from companies, in close collaboration with universities and research centres, to create more jobs for PhD holders.
Several steps could be implemented to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in research labs. Those include promoting diversity and inclusiveness in lab members’ composition, and implementing an equitable, inclusive, transparent, and respectful recruitment and open selection process explicitly disclosing equal opportunities. To this end, selection committees should be as diverse as possible. Furthermore, academic institutions should advertise diversity-related events and their statements of equity and diversity throughout all available channels.
What is your message to the next generation of scientists, and what are your tips for their success?
The next generation of scientists should pursue their dreams. The future of scientific research is in your hands and you have the power to drive change and strive for success. Focus your research in a topic that has been barely addressed or not addressed at all, be creative, be resilient and passionate about what you are doing and want to accomplish, seek interdisciplinary collaborations, ask for feedback, and do not be afraid to fail but, instead, embrace failure. Failure is a highly valuable learning experience that will allow you to thrive along your career path. Find a supportive mentor that can serve as a role model, and a lab that proactively promotes DEI, and welcomes diverse perspectives, allows you to work on a topic of your interest, and in which your voice is heard. For that, it is key that you talk to researchers working at those labs that you aim to join and learn from them what you can expect. Last, but not the least, have time for yourself and work towards maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This is fundamental to accomplish both your personal and professional goals.