APS News

November 2020 (Volume 29, Number 10)

Office of Government Affairs

Supporting Early-Career Physicists Through COVID-19

By Tawanda W. Johnson

APS strongly supports bipartisan legislation recently introduced by members of the House Science Committee to enable early-career researchers to strengthen their skills and maintain continuity in their careers as they grapple with obstacles due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act calls for the director of the National Science Foundation to establish a two-year pilot program to award grants to highly qualified, early-career investigators to carry out independent research.

In a letter to House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) outlining the Society’s support for the legislation, APS President Phil Bucksbaum wrote, “The severe financial stress in our universities means that new opportunities in academia are not likely to return to pre-pandemic levels for some time. It is essential that we maintain our capacity to prepare new members of our R&D workforce for a broad set of career options, including research positions outside of academia. By providing recent PhD graduates and postdocs opportunities to further develop their independent research skills, they will become more competitive candidates regardless of career choice and even stronger contributors to our nation’s research enterprise.”

Bucksbaum’s letter offered two suggestions to the bill for clarity and to broaden its impact:

  • clearly define the groups eligible for the award and distinguish it from the current NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER), which supports researchers who already hold career positions in academia; and,
  • allow the awardees to partner, as appropriate, with research labs located outside of an institution of higher education. These partnerships would broaden the program’s reach and allow for all sectors of the US R&D enterprise to participate.

Supporters of the bill also acknowledge that it would make awardees better scientists as they are afforded more opportunities to conduct independent research, allowing them to improve or augment their research skills. Additionally, the researchers will continue to hone their qualitative and communication skills, among many others, that will make them more prepared and competitive, whether they go on to work in academia, industry, or a national laboratory.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented unique challenges for early-career scientists due to its health and economic impacts. For a research scientist working for academia, a national laboratory, or industry, their investigations and collaborations immediately after obtaining their degree distinguish them from their advisor and sets their course for advancement,” said Ben Ueland, Associate Scientist at Ames Laboratory and chair of the APS Forum for Early Career Scientists. “Passage of the bipartisan Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act would go far in assisting early-career scientists in preparing them for success in their careers during a difficult time in our nation and ensuring that the United States stays at the forefront of scientific and technological advancement.”

Added Dan Pisano, APS Director of Industrial Engagement, about the legislation: “This bill is critical to avoid a break in the US pipeline of new physics talent, especially in the more rapidly growing segments of the field, such as quantum information science, where the demand far exceeds current supply in both industry and academia.”

Ben Ueland

Ben Ueland

Francis Slakey, Chief External Affairs Officer for APS, said the legislation is an excellent step toward ensuring that newly graduated physics PhDs and postdocs are ready for whatever career path they choose.

“We know that early-career researchers are confronting numerous challenges during the beginning stages of their careers right now, and this bill would help maintain the continuity needed in their careers as they pursue various job opportunities,” said Slakey.

The author is Senior Press Secretary in the APS Office of Government Affairs.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

November 2020 (Volume 29, Number 10)

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Articles in this Issue
2020 Nobel Prize in Physics
New Research Resource Group Brings Physics Expertise to the Coronavirus Pandemic
APS Launches a New Chapters Pilot Program
APS to Consider Police Conduct in Choice of Meeting Locations
Jami Valentine Miller Inspires the Next Generation
STEP UP Social Hours
The APS Topical Group on Magnetism and its Applications
Small-Scale Robots Benefit Environmental and Medical Research
This Month in Physics History
Office of Government Affairs
FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
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