By Gabriela Desiree Tormet-Gonzalez, PhD Candidate, University of Campinas.
In your opinion, which scientific questions will set the trends in the coming decade, and which science problems would you like to tackle?
“No pain, no gain”. A very cliche motto used at the gym as an indicator that you need a very hard/intense/insane workout to get results. I like to extrapolate the same motto to some relationships between advisors/professors – students in chemical science. And, indeed, we cannot assume all the relationships are the same in academia and it would be very unfair to say it. But, it is also true many old conservative models are still being used in academia. In my opinion, this rigid, inflexible, harsh, vertical environment, which many times includes abusive relationships between professors-students, is a major problem in academia.
It is not something new that this oppressive relationship results in a determinant factor by which many grad and undergrad students decide to abandon the academy or even their perspectives to continue in the science field. Chemical topics are difficult; chemists solve complex problems that challenge your mind every day. If additionally, you are experiencing an abusive relationship, you have the whole factors to cause that even the most motivated students fall into a general discouragement. Science and society lost brilliant scientists every year for that reason. Along with the students that leave academia every year, we have high taxes of anxiety and depression between students that could be associated with the same factors.
Finally, I do not think we need to set an extra weight on the students’ shoulders through these rigid relationships. The professors and advisors need to understand that putting extra weight in the students is not a way to develop better professionals. It is a common mindset that the difficult or tortuous paths result in stronger scientists. The truth is it creates a lot of frustration; demotivation and you could end up by blocking the creativity, vision of a future scientist.
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?
My personal experience after studying in Venezuela and Brazil is that we can do better for guaranteeing the participation of students from all around the world in conferences and congresses. There should be more support for developing-countries students to attend more conferences. As a Ph.D. student in South America, I experienced the difficulties of attending international events. I observed two reasons for it: first, few international conferences take place in South America, especially the very specialized conferences; second, the financial resources to cover a long-travel to attend the conferences on the other side of the world are very limited. I feel optimistic right now because the terrible crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 has encouraged events to be thought in a remote fashion. As a result, more resources and initiatives are taking place in online platforms, so you can attend these events without having to pay for hotels, flight tickets, etc.
What is your message to the next generation of scientists, and what are your tips for their success?
A few tips for the next generation of scientists:
Try to keep a balanced life. Practice regularly exercises and meditation sound very classic, but after trying the Ph.D. life with and without these activities, I can tell you it is fundamental to improve your productivity in the laboratory and life;
Take breaks. a fresh mind can find more answers than saturated minds;
Communicate. Never forget scientists of our time have a double role, one of communicating science to experts and to non-specialists. It is fundamental if we want society to understand why science and chemistry are important;
Scientists cannot live in lab-bubbles. We live to solve problems that affect the world; in communication, in energy, in health, in science materials, etc. So, always try to understand the “big picture” behind the problem you are solving in the lab. It will help you to explain the science that you are making for people with a diverse background;
Networking, networking and more networking;
In chemistry, as in nature, diversity is essential;
Science is flexible, so you need to understand what is valid today could not be in 5 years, you need to have your mind ready to accept the changes that are supported by scientific facts;
Be ambitious and remember, the sky is the limit.