To pursue the most important research, scientists must have the freedom to shift the focus of their work when new ideas present themselves. However, leading young scientists say current policies of research funders and institutions are discouraging innovative thinking.
Among them is Gerardo Adesso, Professor of Mathematical Physics, at The University of Nottingham. He is one of the authors of ‘Let researchers try new paths’, published this week in a special issue of Nature.
This week Nature explores some of the concerns of early-career scientists by attempting to give them a voice. The journal has spoken to young researchers ‘battling to establish their labs, hoping to innovate and at the same time build a career when so much emphasis is placed on paper counts’. The Nature editorial argues that when career progression is hampered by a global postdoc glut, scarce funding and the disappearance of tenure-track posts, it is up to everyone in science — young and old — to ensure that the next generation of researchers is not lost.
Earlier this year Professor Adesso was named among the world’s 45 leading young scientists under the age of 40. This was recognition by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for playing a transformational role in integrating scientific knowledge for the public good and advancing the frontiers of science, engineering or technology in areas of high social impact. The Young Scientist recognition enabled Professor Adesso to attend the 10th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin (China), also known as Summer Davos 2016.
Scientific enterprise in catch-22
In the Nature article Professor Adesso and three of his WEF colleagues suggest the scientific enterprise is stuck in a catch-22 situation. Researchers, they say, are charged with advancing promising new questions, but receive support and credit mainly for revisiting their past work.
Professor Adesso said: “It is about promoting the "pivot" - allowing scientists to shift their focus during their career. Currently this can sometimes be difficult, as young scientists compete for funding with no track record in the new area they want to explore. My own experience was eventually a success story. The European Research Council (ERC), which is currently supporting my work at the border between the classical and the quantum world, is one of the few organisations which recognises excellence and encourages scientists to pursue unconventional research and truly novel bold ideas. This offers a key opportunity for transformative research beyond the national funding landscape, in which the principal emphasis is instead on applied research rather than blue sky investigations. I believe it is of capital importance for UK researchers to maintain access to prestigious ERC funding in the future.”
Must try harder
In a blog post communicating his experience at the WEF Summer Davos 2016, Professor Adesso writes: “We have a responsibility as scientists to pursue truth, to create knowledge, and to nurture talent of the next generations. But we also have an ethical responsibility to society - the taxpayers, the public - who entrust us to drive the world forward and address global challenges with creativity. We need to try harder to communicate our intentions and outcomes without dumbing down or hyping up.”
Research thriving in School of Mathematics
Professor Adesso joined The University of Nottingham in 2009 as a Lecturer and was promoted to Professor of Mathematical Physics this year. Since his appointment he has established his own team of junior experts studying fundamental resources for the next generation of quantum-enhanced communication and sensing technologies.
He said: “The School of Mathematical Sciences and The University of Nottingham provided me with the best environment for my research to thrive. They facilitated my career with continued support and unique opportunities. I strive to do the same for my PhD students and postdocs.”
His efforts have been recognised with the University Staff Oscar for Best Research Supervisor in the last two years in a row (2015 and 2016).
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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