Young scientists from across Europe gathered in Brussels last month for a conference that was part support group, part brainstorming session, and part inspirational lecture. Sir Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, stole the show when he proposed his Hippocratic Oath for scientists, calling for ethical behavior by scientists embarking on their careers.
Rotblat presented his idea in an editorial in the 19 November issue of Science . He wrote, "As in the medical profession, the main value of such an oath might be symbolic, but I believe it would also stimulate young scientists to reflect on the wider consequences of their intended field of work. ..."
Most of the conference attendees hold Marie Curie fellowships from the European Commission, a granting agency that funds pre- and postdoctoral researchers who study in Europe but outside their home country. Many of the talks and workshops addressed issues general to any young scientist, but others highlighted problems specific to non-native researchers.
Marie Curie Fellowship Association chair Laure Ledoux explained why such a conference was necessary. The dearth of permanent academic positions forces many young researchers out of their field, she says. Red tape hinders research in many countries, and that problem is compounded when a researcher moves to another country. And researchers returning to their home countries are often shut out of insular academic communities.
Not all scientists at the conference intend to struggle for an academic position; those interested in alternative career paths met representatives of industry and nonacademic research institutions at a series of workshops. Summarizing these sessions, Campbell Warden of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators said that young scientists need to hone "portable skills" such as financial literacy and communication skills that will serve them in any field.