My name is Debora Keller, I am a 1st year PhD student in Molecular mechanisms of Cancer at the Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and also member of the Young European Biotech Network (YEBN).
While reading your article on the "political scientist", I could not help but agree. Yes, young scientists tend to focus on the scholarly output first (if not only), and yes, the advisors (aka "boss") also tend to see any other activity apart from being in the lab and doing experiments as a waste of time. And trying to communicate with the media or with policy makers is the worst of betrayals and will keep you from becoming an excellent scientist...or so it seems!
Scientists in general, be they younger or older, also tend to lament themselves when politicians reduce the funding, or pass laws that just make no sense, scientifically speaking! But how can these politicians take "informed" decisions when only 5% of them have a scientific background (at least in the European Commission, according to Zoran Stancic, deputy director general of the European Commission's Directorate General Research)? Can we expect the same politicians to take the right decisions to promote research and development, and life sciences in general?
During the EuroBio2008 conference (the european counterpart to BIO) that took place in Paris from October 7th-9th, 30 young scientists and students in Life Sciences from the Young European Biotech Network and coming from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland decided to get involved in the political process and engage with policy makers and stakeholders of Europe.
This event, bringing together researchers, industry and decision makers, was meant to discuss the future shape of the Life Sciences and Biotech sectors and issue a "Call for Change" report to Make Change Happen in a Europe that wants to become THE leader of a knowledge-based economy (according to the Lisbon Agenda).
The "rising generation" was key in bringing forth their vision of the future and debated passionately with international stakeholders on several hot topics such as "axe the CAP and spend money on R&D instead" or "nationalism is the greatest enemy of Biotechnology in Europe" during the House of Commons. They contributed actively with critical comments and concrete questions and proposals to the BioDialogues on Red, White and Green Biotechnology. After all, they would be working in these areas in the coming years and, as Professor Federico Mayor (former director general of the UNESCO) pointed out at the reporting plenary, the future is indeed in the hands of the young generation!
The enthusiasm and dedication of these young scientists that dared to set aside for a few days their important scientific experiments and take vacation to attend EuroBio2008 and become "politically active" led to the comment by Eric Poincelet - Commissioner General of EuroBio2008" : "next time, you will not be thirty only, you will be one hundred"!
This comment is already a success in itself. It was definitely NOT a waste of time for these young scientists to participate to these debates, and the appreciation for this will be measured by the outcome of the conference, the "Call for Change" report, as our YEBN chairman Francesco Lescai pointed out: “The YEBN contribution to EuroBio2008 was an example of the fresh inputs these kind of discussions need most: our students and young researchers were capable to break the schemes of the discussions and highlight some critical points to be addressed with high priority. Everyone seemed to appreciate: we will be able to measure this appreciation with the number of suggestions that will actually appear in the Green Paper to be delivered to the European Commission".
So, as stated in Peter Fiske's article, when "many members of the scientific community retreat to the comfort of their laboratories or lecture halls" we believe that it is the "Science's next wave" that has to take a step forward and make their voice heard. We encourage our young scientists that pursue excellence in their research to become "political YOUNG scientists" and Make Change Happen!
Young European Biotech Network (YEBN)
Communication Task Group Leader