This idea came to me last summer when I was living in a tent and I was putting together a fellowship application. It was a cold, rainy day and I had limited electricity to submit my application before the deadline. So I just wrote down the following sentence “It would be really cool to create a research institute from scratch”.
But what does ‘building from scratch’ really mean? This is how I imagine it:
Highly motivated people would be recruited after their first year of studies who would have to commit to 4 months of intensive training per year while doing their degrees, attend conferences, write articles and become involved in community events. This would enable students who are completing their degrees to be trained during the summer holiday times.
During one summer they would visit 1-2 institutes. The following year they would be placed in other countries. In their third year they would be placed in a developing country in a remote area. We would circulate the students around the world by making sure that at 1 institute we had at least 2 students who would work together to create a ‘report’ of their experiences.
After these 3 years of gaining an insight to how institutes work all our students would sit down and put together ‘The Plan’. We would be looking for a piece of land in a developing country where we can build our self-sustainable institute.
There would be 4 divisions of our HQ:
We would have an agricultural quadrat where people would work on sustainable agriculture methods and teach small farm holders how to increase their yield and diagnose plant diseases. At harvest the staff and the surrounding community would be given an equal share of food.
The second quadrat would enable scientists to work with fishermen from the surrounding communities to test different aquaculture/ mariculture practices. The third quadrat would be a conservation area what the staff manages and uses for field trials.
The fourth would be a kindergarten for children who live in the surrounding villages. Since communication is an absolute necessity in science, every scientist would have to commit to teach at least half an hour or more per week. If someone knows how to talk to a toddler they will have the skills to talk to politicians.
How would we chose our projects?
An experienced scientist told me that ‘you do not choose your PhD, it is the PhD that chooses you’. This meant that you might absolutely love to study how the brain of aphids (little buggers) reacts to a new delicious leaf tens of meters away, there might not be too many positions advertised close by. Graduate apply for loads of PhDs, different topics that were carefully selected by professors and negotiated with universities, funding bodies and how its impact factor is going to sprinkle fairy dust on them. Most of the times people in suits and ties are the people who decide what scientists should research (for example, I would love to hear how the ‘What Pokémon can teach us about learning and literacy‘ project got its funding and got published in JSTOR…)
So how about allowing scientist to ‘go crazy’ and pitch their own ideas driven by their passion and imagination? What if GOES could have an independent funding system where scientists do not have to put on a size small labcoat to look ‘scientific’ and try to market and sell their ideas but allows scientist who want to experiment with sustainable food production? If someone is passionate to try an integrated system out with a reasonable budget: go for it!
98 year old Walter Munk, Einstein of Oceanography replied in an interview to what is the secret to his longevity?
It is so sad to see scientists who get pulled back by politics, funding, other scientists and become de-motivated by the disapproval of so many other people. Everyone keeps telling me that “you’re so young now, so enthusiastic… that will pass”. I have to put my feet down when someone says that!
I am rather often reminded that I am legally required to take take two half an hour breaks at work. I am still not happy with this as it makes me less stressed + tired to finish my job well and on time than looking at the clouds for half an hour.
Hence GOES, a place where hard-working and being ambitious is not a nerdy thing, where people can have houses next door to their labs, where being yourself is encouraged by your colleagues.
The last point that is crucial to GOES is that to avoid the the fate of some institutes where people work their whole lives there, scientists would not be given a contract for more than 5 years (subject to project management though). People sometimes just get stuck in their jobs because of convenience and the constant payslips but their frustration grows and the ‘magic’ that they experienced when they first started there fades away rather quickly.