Science is Global: Why Diversity Triumphs Over Adversity

In August of 2017, I had the privilege of spending 12 days with 21 other young scientists from all over the world as we all took part in the SciFinder® Future Leaders program. First, we met in Columbus, OH, to spend four days at the offices of CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society (ACS). There we took part in team-building and leadership activities. We also got a sneak-peek behind the scenes to see the enormous effort that goes into the making of their products such as SciFinder. We then flew to Washington, DC, to visit the ACS headquarters where we participated in several workshops on authoring, communication, and the reviewing of manuscripts, before attending the 254th ACS National Meeting & Exposition.

Craig FraserOne thing that came to mind throughout the trip was the incredible diversity of the people surrounding me. Among our group of 22, there were 14 nations represented from 5 continents, and this number grew when we visited CAS and the ACS conference. It got me thinking about the importance of diversity in science, and how barriers between cultures, languages, and beliefs need to be taken down, not built up. Recently, however, two of the world’s scientific strongholds, the U.S. and the U.K., seem determined to close their scientific borders, putting collaboration and access to international opportunities at serious risk.

Science communication and collaboration are two of the most fundamental aspects of successful research and the advancement of science. Therefore, the quality scientific research and its ability to positively impact the world is intricately linked to diverse workforces across all disciplines and their ability to come together and work together. I encountered a perfect example of this while at the ACS meeting. Just before we all rushed outside for the solar eclipse, there was an audience with 2016 Nobel Laureate Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, who ended his talk with a note on how “science is global.” For 50 years, he has led his research in both the U.S. and the U.K., with collaboration in China, and has mentored 413 Ph.D.s and post-docs from 43 different countries. On top of this, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two other brilliant scientists, Ben Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage, from the Netherlands and France, respectively. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded 109 times to a total of 177 recipients, which further highlights the importance of international relationships.

Stories of great science often focus on an individual, brilliant scientist who makes substantial contributions through their seemingly innate genius, e.g., Albert Einstein. However, no one is born with scientific talent. It is cultivated through many hours of hard work and learning from peers and mentors. Ultimately, it is teams, not individuals, who conduct most scientific research. For example, my research group in Singapore is led by an Australian, and we have one Chinese, three Indian, and two British researchers, as well as local undergraduate students. Our variety of backgrounds and levels of training from global institutions helps to shine new light on our research.

As scientists, we must embrace diversity in the face of this newfound adversity by pulling together and continuing to forge essential relations with our peers, not only in our institutions but all over the world. After all, science is global.

Craig Fraser currently works at the Department of Chemistry, National University of Singapore. Fraser does research in Organometallic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. Their current project is ‘General: Metal and non-metal catalysed E-H activation (E = H, B, C, Si).’

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