The Future of Research (FoR), which was a network of postdoc volunteers when Science Careers named the movement its 2015 People of the Year, is now a full-fledged nonprofit organization complete with a full-time executive director. Gary McDowell, a member of the founding group of Boston-area activists (and a Science Careers Working Life author), will assume the “full-time role assisting junior scientists in grassroots efforts to change science policy” thanks to a 2-year, $300,000 grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, FoR announced on 30 April.
“The grant will fund setting up infrastructure [for efforts to] connect groups and junior scientists around the country with our group and each other; helping local groups organize meetings and workshops by providing full-time logistical support; and beginning to look through the data that exists about the scientific enterprise [so that] we can … advocate for change,” McDowell tells Science Careers by email.
Other plans include developing a “helpful tool” for “young people thinking of entering science … that can help educate them on the landscape of graduate and postdoctoral training.” This will aid aspiring scientists in “figur[ing] out what they want to do with their passion for science [despite] a system that can be hostile to aspirations other than faculty jobs at R1 institutions,” McDowell continues. The goal is to “remove the switch from the ‘bait-and-switch’ [that currently promises] academic jobs until the point where they don't exist, and [young scientists] are told [they] should have known that they don't exist all along.” McDowell will also be “continuing efforts to collaborate with other groups,” such as the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which proposed at its Sustainability Summit in February a project to catalog, categorize, and clarify the titles that universities use for postdoc positions.
Because of who founded it, FoR has thus far been “very postdoc-oriented, and very biomedicine-oriented,” McDowell notes. Now, however, “we want to advocate across many career stages in science, and also across science, and even academia, as a whole.”
Starting with a one-person office, FoR will be seeking additional funding to support more staff members. McDowell foresees two groups working in the organization: “one that is effecting advocacy and communication between junior scientists and the rest of the community; and another that is working with data about the system and driving evidence-based policy changes.” An advisory board will also provide ideas and expertise.
“We are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to do this work and want to help all junior scientists, [from] undergraduates (and younger!) … to junior faculty, [in] their efforts to do science,” McDowell writes. “These people are the future of research and it's important that their passion and intelligence can be directed effectively into a scientific enterprise [for the] benefit [of] both science and the public.”