International networking should be a priority for young scientists, says Aliyah Weinstein.
Early career scientists are often told that networking is important for future career prospects and mobility. Often, this comes in the form of a nudge to attend university seminars, events for local scientific professionals or national conferences. These are typically great for meeting scientists working in your city or country – but developing an international network can often be much more difficult. First, scientists are most often around others working at their university or research centre, making this their primary network. Second, travel to attend international conferences may be cost-prohibitive, especially for early career scientists. Finally, connecting with colleagues outside of the country may not be on the radar of students and postdocs, or may seem overwhelming at that stage of a scientific career.
But the benefits of international networking far outweigh the challenges. These include providing scientists with new insight into their research, and the potential for international collaborations or positions. Additionally, issues related to scientific research – such as outreach, gender and socioeconomic inequalities, and funding – exist worldwide, and gaining an international perspective may lead to the development of unique ways of addressing these concerns back home. Networking on an international level should be considered a priority for trainees and those in the early stages of their careers.
In January 2017, I attended my first meeting outside of the United States, and it opened my eyes to the size of the scientific community around the world and the limits that scientists put on themselves when they do not engage with the international scientific community. I was invited to attend the Week of International Scientific Young Talents in Paris, France. This event brought together 42 scientists aged 27 and younger, from 26 countries, in a variety of STEM fields including biology, physics, computer science, environmental science, and science communication. As a group, we attended a week of programming related to dissemination of science to the public and to other scientists, and discussions on issues impacting research progress around the world.
We discussed the social inequalities that act as a barrier to science education in most countries. One way to begin addressing this is through outreach to schoolchildren: letter-writing campaigns between scientists and students have been launched in the U.S., presentations in schools have been delivered by scientists in Russia, interactive science exhibits held in Ecuador, and visits made to rural communities in Indonesia.
We also presented our own research, which allowed us to make professional connections across borders: a session on technology included speakers from Algeria and China; a session on physics featured students from Ireland and Senegal. The parallels across scientific research and the culture of science highlighted the similarities – and diminished the differences – between us.
What I learned from this experience is that despite differences in language and universities and societies, scientists face many of the same goals and concerns no matter where they are from. Because of this, we can all learn from expanding our dialogue to include colleagues from around the world.
This relates to the culture surrounding research, as well. There are benefits to networking outside of your primary field of research, including opportunities to collaborate on interdisciplinary research, develop initiatives to support science around the globe, and gain exposure to career possibilities and locations that may not have otherwise seemed possible. In order to benefit the most from these lessons, early-career scientists should take advantage of opportunities to meet and engage with their international peers.
For scientists interested in building an international network, some upcoming opportunities are listed below:
- I, Scientist – May 12-14, 2017 in Berlin, Germany
- Young Researchers in Life Sciences – May 15-17, 2017 in Paris, France
- Heidelberg Forum for Young Life Scientists – June 8-9, 2017 in Heidelberg, Germany
- One Young World Summit – October 4-7, 2017 in Bogota, Colombia
- World Festival of Youth and Students – October 14-22, 2017 in Sochi, Russia
Aliyah Weinstein is a 4th year graduate student in immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and a STEM Chateaubriand Fellow at the Cordeliers Research Center in Paris, France, where her research focuses on the tumor-immune microenvironment. Outside of the lab, she’s interested in writing and traveling. You can find Aliyah on LinkedIn, Twitter, and on her blog.