Early Career Microbiologists’ Forum update
Issue: Engaging Microbiology
17 May 2022 article
Welcome to the Early Career Microbiologists’ (ECM) Forum update. The ‘Engaging Microbiology’ theme of this issue is a topic that will resonate with many of our ECM members. Our ECMs are the driving force behind many of our engagement projects across the Society. I am delighted to have the opportunity to highlight some of their work in this article and update members on the ongoing work of the ECM Forum Executive Committee.
Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to one of our ECM Forum Members, Dr Linda Oyama, who has been working to deliver STEM workshops focusing on microbes for primary schools. Details of Linda’s work can be found in her article titled ‘Inspiring the next generation of microbiologists through outreach: early beginnings matter!’ Our members at the University of Strathclyde have also recently developed a video game titled ‘Dr Dirt’ which aims to teach children about antibiotic discovery from microbes. This is suitable for children aged eight and above and is available on the App Store. Many of our members also planned activities for British Science Week and the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. These events showcased the creativity of our members who strive to engage the wider community with the core values of our Society.
In 2021, the ECM Forum Executive Committee set out to assess the impact of COVID-19 on ECMs. We aimed to understand in detail how our members had been affected with the aim to generate a constructive support strategy on behalf of the Society. Feedback from our panel discussions and surveys revealed the extent to which ECMs were disadvantaged by the pandemic. Our members consistently emphasised that the direct impacts of lockdowns such as reduced access to laboratories were a small fraction of a multifaceted problem. Forum members were particularly concerned about limitations on networking and training opportunities and the heightening of pre-existing disparities for parents and carers. It was clear from our members’ feedback that the pandemic has magnified issues already present within academia, particularly around mental health. This has resulted in growing numbers of people leaving academia, meaning we are at risk of losing some of our most talented people. With increasing numbers of ECMs expressing their concerns, it was decided that the Society was to express its support for ECMs in the form of a position statement. I am pleased to say that this position statement was released in November 2021 and is titled 'Safeguarding the future of the microbiology research and innovation workforce' and can be accessed online. On behalf of the ECM Forum Executive Committee, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to our discussions.
As I write this article, colleagues behind the scenes are working tirelessly to organise the return of our in-person Annual Conference, which has been greatly anticipated. We are planning our annual ECM Networking event on the Sunday night preceding the conference and are looking forward to meeting Forum members face to face for the first time in three years. I hope this will lead to a new cohort of microbiologists joining our Forum and many more networking opportunities in the future. Stay safe everyone!
ECM Representative for Impact and Influence Committee, ECM Forum Executive Committee