In December 2003 I defended my PhD in biological anthropology in Marseille, France. I am a Hungarian national who has spent the last 7 years abroad in various mobility programmes and multidiscipline research projects. My doctorate and other parts of my studies were in the framework of a French-Hungarian exchange programme which I describe in my other article. It has been an extremely educational and rewarding experience although due to administrative complications I am still waiting to get my PhD officially recognised.
Now, I am back in Hungary and happy to be so--although I am not doing research at present. As a consequence of the foreseen long administrative procedure for the recognition of my doctorate and the lack of any chance for applying for a postdoc grant or getting a university status, I had to think early about doing something else than research for a living--at least, for a while. I was more or less prepared for a hard transition period, and therefore I was really surprised when I got a proposition from the International Forum of Young Scientists Foundation to set up and head the main office of the presently forming World Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS) in Budapest.
No stranger to issues involving young scientists
I had been already active in issues concerning young scientists for some time: I had been responsible for international relations in the Association of Hungarian Ph.D. Students and attended some conferences which focused on science policy concerning young scientists. Although I had a considerable lack of experience in heading an office, what's more, building and coordinating a worldwide organization, my abilities and work seemed to be promising for the founders. My decision to accept this position was greatly influenced by the fact that Dr. György Pálfi, my long time mentor and teacher, was involved in the foundation of the World Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS). It also struck me that it was a terrific opportunity to do something for other young researchers, and, based on my own experiences of research and mobility, I really felt that I had something to offer!
WAYS (soon available on the Web at www.waysnet.org) is dedicated to providing a forum for young researchers--principally between 15 and 40 years of age--to actively participate in today's and tomorrow's knowledge-based societies. The organisation is being developed under the aegis of UNESCO. The main goals of WAYS are to provide contacts, funding, and training for young scientists (i.e., fellowships, scholarships, and mentorship). WAYS also engages the young scientists as equal partners in science policy and the decision-making process by focusing on the full use of their visions, competencies, experiences, and potential in meeting scientific challenges.
This global network strives to establish "ways" between generations and continents. There is also a special focus on "ways" to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries. To do this, we attend conferences, organise meetings, and produce information for our community of young researchers. We also put a lot of effort in developing strong networks with the "established" science community (e.g., we benefit from the support of some very valuable senior scientists, including six Nobel laureates).
Our first major project was at the World Science Forum in Budapest, in November 2003, where 35 young scientists participated. This was also the official launch of WAYS, where we first publicly outlined our objectives and our planned activities. Moreover, in a 10-person board, I was elected as president for 1 year. The first general conference of WAYS will take place 4 to 8 December 2004 in Morocco. There, the General Assembly will decide on the new executive board, directing the work of the WAYS headquarters in Budapest, where I will continue to head the office.
The WAYS office is now run by two full-time employees; I work together there with another young person. Our daily duties consist of a great deal of administrative tasks for the maintenance of the office and the organisation, but it also involves a more dynamic and creative part: developing contacts and networks, organising meetings with potential interested parties, establishing collaborations with other organisations, and developing strategies for the structure and functioning of WAYS. Our work is helped by some motivated volunteers, who believe in this initiative and therefore do not mind devoting some of their free time and energy to it. In all likelihood they also enjoy the community spirit and the atmosphere in our team, composed of enthusiastic young people.
Heading the office and WAYS requires an ability to develop contacts and build relationships, a good deal of diplomacy and organisational skills, a large amount of creativity, and openness to other people's opinions and ideas, but at the same time an ability to make quick and firm decisions, when necessary. It is good to see that by having a scientific background, I am considered as a real partner in the scientific world. However, I feel that it is unavoidable that later, if I don't continue research, I might lose track of the current needs and expectations; I fear that I might become an outsider.
"Little in common with past stereotypes of absent-minded researchers"
I believe in promoting the future of young scientists. Critical partners in this process are policymakers. They have the power to strengthen the reputation of science and push the importance of scientific careers on the international agenda. Many of today's scientists have little in common with past stereotypes of absent-minded researchers living in the ivory tower. They now have to be good communicators, marketers, managers, economists, strategists, etc., and of course, researchers in one person! But who is born with all these attributes? The opportunities to improve these skills are limited at the moment, and this is where we can help. To make it come true, the organisation is seeking the active participation of young scientists from all over the world in its development: young scientists working for young scientists!
So what is the next step for me now?
I still haven't made up my mind whether to leave research for good and stay in a position representing and working for young scientists. Although I feel that, in the long run, representation would only work when I am still an active young scientist, doing both in parallel professionally isn't realistic. So which way will I go? Well, it is getting more and more difficult to decide. I still love research, but presently I am enjoying working for and with the young. I love meeting brilliant people. I really get a kick out of seeing the enthusiasm of the young and the old that are still young at heart. I hope that the community spirit among scientists--one that supports creativity, the free flow of ideas and talents--gets stronger every day. With my work with WAYS I feel I can and do support this. And a wonderful feeling is that even outside the lab, I do something exciting for science!
Researchers and organizations interested in the World Academy of Young Scientists are invited to contact the WAYS Secretariat in Budapest (firstname.lastname@example.org).