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The Black Hole

In search of The Black Hole’s next voice(s)

We want to actively encourage a wider range of perspectives to represent early career researchers.

BY DAVID KENT | JUN 13 2022

Our long-term readers will have noticed that the frequency of column entries here on The Black Hole has dropped in recent months. We’d love to imagine that the number of issues facing early career researchers has also dropped, but it seems that it is a lack of time rather than a lack of content driving the reduction. With ever-expanding work commitments and five kids under six between us, Jonathan and I are probably not going to get back to the once-per-week frequency that we used to enjoy. On top of this, it’s been nearly 15 years since we were awarded our PhDs and while we have racked up years of experience across a wide range of issues and can continue to offer expertise, we are probably not the best representative voices for the early career researchers of today. So, instead of a random guest writer here and there when a burning issue emerges, we are looking to recruit a new permanent voice (or two) to The Black Hole and want to cast the net widely.

First and foremost, you do not need to be in any sort of authoritative position in order to write on an issue that affects young scientists. When Beth and I launched the blog in 2009, we had just finished our PhDs and were certainly not policy experts. What we did have was a desire to make things better for young scientists and to communicate best (and worst!) practices from across the globe so that the structures supporting science and scientists could improve. We knew that nobody else was going to fix these things for us. When Jonathan joined, it was off the back of a series of letters that he was sending to the government at the time on the need to halt Canada’s loss of scientific talent to other countries and to find ways of recruiting people back to Canada. Funnily enough, Jonathan and I remain outside Canada, with our families based in the U.S. and U.K. respectively.

Secondly, we are both white male scientists who have internationally relocated and “survived” the system. While we try to recruit a wide diversity of voices to write for The Black Hole, Jonathan and I still write the majority of the content and it inevitably comes via this lens of privilege. We want to actively encourage a wider range of voices to represent early career researchers who might be able to benefit from the audience we have built over the years. There are so many aspects of the training environment that still desperately require change, and efforts to increase diversity, address the gender gap, re-balance the power structures of peer review and publication so often fail as a result of a poor situational understanding of those who are disenfranchised. More money won’t necessarily solve the problem and some people who enjoy luxury and power at the top of the science pyramid need to understand that their ability to operate at that level has often come in the absence of such barriers as opposed to some sort of innate talent – a lot of what we do is learned from others and is also much easier to execute in a familiar environment of like-minded people.

Thirdly, systemic change in science cannot be achieved at a single location or even a handful of institutions and requires people from across the world to engage in the issues locally but to share success and failures more widely. An interesting grouping that has emerged in recent years is the eLife Ambassador group which connects people from across the world to try to make science more equitable. For almost any issue that you are experiencing or have experienced, there is someone else out there who has had the same happen to them. Connect and learn from each other and be unabashed about stealing good ideas for implementation elsewhere.

So, please spread the word widely – encourage colleagues who you think have a passion for change, or an underrepresented voice to put their name forward. For those in positions of authority, give someone else the confidence to apply by letting them know that you think this is a good opportunity for them. We will run a two-stage process where stage 1 is that submission of a 100-word statement on “why I’d like to write for The Black Hole” and stage 2 involves an interview where you can expand on your idea(s). We hope that we will find a combination of regular writers alongside people with a passion to communicate on a specific issue in a single post in an overall effort to rejuvenate the content on the Black Hole for the current generation of early career researchers. In the meantime, Jonathan and I will try (again!) to finalize the book on the issues that still haven’t been sorted since we began writing nearly 15 years ago.  Stay tuned!

If you are interested in adding your voice to The Black Hole, email us your 100-word statement

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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