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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:
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.”
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.
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