The SciFinder® Future Leaders Experience: A Diverse Family

Future Leaders diversity in the field of chemistry

This August, I was one of 22 scientists to attend the SciFinder® Future Leaders program. We spent a week visiting the Columbus, Ohio, offices of Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a division of the American Chemical Society (ACS), before heading to the 254th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Washington D.C. for another week of scholarly (and fun) activities. In this blog post, I will talk about the Future Leaders family and share tips for successfully applying to the program.

The Importance of Diversity

SciFinder Future Leaders Coordinator, Peter Carlton, told us that selection into the program is highly competitive and multi-faceted. To maintain diversity, participants are evaluated based on their achievements, research, cultures, and geography. This diversity is necessary to develop new perspectives to look at problems and generate creative ideas for inter-disciplinary solutions. This diversity takes a number of forms:

Diversity in Non-Academic Achievements

This year’s SciFinder Future Leaders are all accomplished academically. Most of us have a couple of publications. But we’re all in the early stages of our careers, and we don’t have a lot of papers in top journals. However, I believe it was the work we do outside of labs that got us chosen as Future Leaders.

I have been working as a freelance writer for popular websites like Naturejobs Blog and The Conversation where I share career tips and scientific concepts with scientists and the public. During this program, I realized that other participants, such as Gabriela Tormet-Gonzalez from the University of Campinas, Brazil, have also been writing for blogs.

Nacole King, another SciFinder Future Leader from the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology also shared with us her volunteering experience with young students and how science outreach allows her to impact STEM education.

For those of you interested in this program, I strongly encourage you to try science outreach. You can accomplish this by engaging with various science communication platforms (such as ACS Axial for instance), mentoring/teaching and volunteering.

Diversity in Research

During our poster presentation, I was pleasantly surprised to see how diverse our research was. While this program is organized by CAS, I could see research spanning biology, ecology and even computational simulation. For instance, the research by Magaret Sivapragasam, a participant from Universiti Teknologi Petronas Malaysia, looked at how waste discharge affects ecology. Youngjin Kim from Seoul National University is trying to develop batteries that are safer and more energy efficient.

The Future Leaders asked sharp and intelligent questions, even about research outside their fields. For my research on magneto-mechanical neural stimulation, I was asked an interesting question on how I can modulate only specific populations of neurons. I would not expect such a question from a pure chemist!

If you are wondering whether your research falls within the scope of this program, my advice is not to worry too much. The selection committee truly values diversity in research, and as long as you can demonstrate how your research has some relation to chemistry and can create an impact on society, you stand a good chance!

Diversity in Experience

While there were only 22 participants this year, I counted 17 countries that were represented. I promise that the Future Leaders program will be one of the most geographically diverse experiences you can enjoy.

Take me as an example. I am a Singaporean studying my Ph.D. in the U.S. I traveled to the program from Sydney, where I am doing an internship. Previously, I have also performed research in Germany and Japan. Another SciFinder Future Leader, Alyssa-Jennifer Avestro who comes from the U.S. is now working as an independent group leader in the U.K. She also spent time in Switzerland during her Ph.D.

The value of this diversity is that we can easily share our research and working experiences in different countries and learn from one another. I remember one day over lunch, a group of us started discussing the culture of working on the weekends.

We learned that while this practice is extremely rare in Europe, it is almost mandatory in Japan (you can also see my Naturejobs Blog post on this). This discussion was useful for some of us looking to further our research experience overseas. It allows us to assess whether there could be potential conflicts in workloads and lifestyles.

In your application, spend time emphasizing how you can contribute to the diversity of the program. Perhaps you are active in science advocacy/policy, or you have spent time working for a non-profit in developing nations. These are valuable experiences that you can add on to the existing SciFinder Future Leaders family.

Summing Up The SciFinder Future Leaders Experience

At the end of the program, I asked many of the Future Leaders whether they were confident that they would be selected for this program.

None of them said yes.

To me, this spirit of humility is what makes the SciFinder Future Leaders family so dear to me. Perhaps it is also one of the few qualities that are common to all the diverse participants. Despite all of our achievements, we are continually trying to improve our research, mobility and science outreach. If you think that you will be a great addition to this family, I encourage you to apply for the next cycle of the SciFinder Future Leaders program.

Learn More about the SciFinder Future Leaders Program

Get stories like this one in your inbox every month. Sign up for a custom newsletter from ACS Axial.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.