By Dr Martine Abboud, Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford.
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 areas in the sciences that we still do not understand much of. For instance, our knowledge of the human brain and the nervous system, the driving forces in developmental biology, the onset of autoimmune diseases, and bacterial/viral-host interactions is still very limited. Novel discoveries in these fields will be breakthroughs. The same applies to developing novel and more powerful methods enabling quicker drug discovery, more comprehensive diagnostics, and deeper biological understanding. All these topics require collaborative forces across different divisions and disciplines; a real global coalition of effort to get a diverse understanding of the problems across different populations and unite the tasks and efforts to address these challenges. Working together in such initiatives requires a certain set of skills (interpersonal/transferable skills; e.g. good communication, management, leadership, etc) that could only be achieved by embracing a culture of openness and diversity. Dialogue and collaborations, rather than competitions, can truly allow scientists to unlock to the next level of hard-core knowledge!
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?
The best ways of becoming a fully rounded scientist is by complementing science itself with what shapes a scientist. For instance, workshops and trainings that are focused on the importance of science communication, management, outreach activities, interdisciplinary science, and global integration are important. All these topics are close to my heart and I have advocated for them. A recently introduced management training for new principal investigators/group leaders in our department will help to further create a welcoming environment for graduate students, ensure their wellbeing, and encourage a culture of proper life-work balance. Another example for creating suitable environments that has been recently adopted is to not hold talks/seminars after 4 pm. People with caring responsibilities and/or from underrepresented backgrounds can be directly excluded from these meetings and this can make them wrongly feel guilty and/or less dedicated than their colleagues. Proper life-work balance is important and nurturing; it enhances productivity and happiness. I believe that encouraging women and those from minority backgrounds to pursue careers in science is unfortunately not enough. If we do really want them to be involved, we need to create the right environments (for example, via open-ended contracts and more stability and reassurance, access to subsidised nurseries and childcare, adequate maternity/paternity leaves, flexible working hours, etc). As much as mobility is important to provide scientists with wider perspectives, it should not be a prerequisite for funding applications. Scientists should not feel pressured into changing countries/environments every couple of years. The current culture of “postdoctoral nomading” is very destabilising and difficult for those with partners and/or caring responsibilities and does constitute an impediment for inclusive environments.
What is your message to the next generation of scientists, and what are your tips for their success?
Curiosity is the driving force of a scientist. The most exciting discoveries arise from mistakes. My advice is do not be afraid to make mistakes. Troubleshoot and think critically all the time. It might feel difficult sometimes but keep going. Do not lose confidence in yourself. Manage your time and do your tasks. There are strong networks and communities of more experienced scientists who can help and support you; do not be afraid to speak out, reach out, and get involved.