A recent entry in AAAS' Science Careers blog featured a former classmate of mine who was trained as a molecular biologist and then became a social entrepreneur. The nonprofit she founded and heads provides recycled lab equipment to researchers in low resource settings and is based on an initiative she started while still in graduate school. This is an interesting example of branching out beyond the lab and doing something that has a very tangible and practical impact on society, particularly in developing world countries.
Embarking on this kind of endeavor didn’t occur to me when I was in graduate school. My research on phospholipid signaling didn’t pertain to global health or sustainability and so it wasn’t immediately clear how I could contribute to solving developing world problems in a way that utilized my training. But as the example above shows, we don’t have to be limited to the subject matter we studied or be tied to the lab bench to make a difference.
If you’re looking for inspiration on ways to get involved, a few things come to mind:
- Check out Idealist.org - a fabulous resource to search for volunteer and work opportunities here and abroad. It’s also a clearinghouse for nonprofit organizations (e.g. here’s their page on the New York Academy of Sciences, which contains a short description and our latest job ads).
- Join Scientists Without Borders - an online community dedicated to solving global challenges through science- and technology-based solutions. They are seeking scientists like you to lend your knowledge and problem-solving skills to challenges posted by individuals and organization from around the world. (e.g see these potential solutions for purifying water in response to a poster from Uganda).
- Consider a postdoc or fellowship in international development. For instance, the D-Lab at MIT occasionally has postdoc, volunteer, and full-time positions and Columbia’s Earth Institute has an official Postdoctoral Fellows Program.
To help explore these various avenues Science Alliance is collaborating with Scientists Without Borders to co-sponsor Innovating on a Shoestring: Medical Technologies for the Developing World being held June 30 at the Academy and broadcast live via the web. If you can’t make the event, it will also be archived on the Science Alliance page as an eBriefing. This workshop will provide a case study of developing world innovations being carried out at MIT’s D-Lab as well as practical resources to help you get started in initiatives outside of the lab. What’s more, the presenter will speak about transitioning from a PhD into this field and starting her own nonprofit.
It’s nice to know that it’s never too late to try and change the world.