Global Young Academy's first Arab co-chair

Published online 2 July 2013

Sameh Soror aims to attract more Arabs to the international society of early-career scientists.

Sara Osman

Sameh Soror became the first Arab co-chair of the Global Young Academy.
Sameh Soror became the first Arab co-chair of the Global Young Academy.
© Sara Osman

Sameh Soror, a structural biologist at Helwan University, Cairo, has endured the daily frustrations experienced by many young researchers in Egypt firsthand. Soror hopes his being the first Arab to become a co-chair of the Global Young Academy (GYA) will give him the chance to help his fellow scientists in the region.

"The greatest problems facing young scientists in the region are inadequate research funding, poor integration between research and industry and bureaucratic hold-ups that hinder collaboration between researchers," says Soror. That is why many promising young scientists leave, seeking better opportunities elsewhere.

The GYA was founded in 2010 to support and empower early career scientists across the world and address governments and members of the broader science community. "Our aim is to be the 'voice of young scientists around the world,'" says Soror.

The GYA appoints one scientist from a developed country and one from a developing country as co-chairs at any given time. This gives the academy a balanced representation of the problems facing young scientists from most parts of the world, says Soror. As the first Arab in this position, Soror is poised to bring the challenges of budding researchers in the region to light.

"The efforts of the co-chair with the support of other GYA Arab members will enable it to develop several projects that are important for the future of the region," says Ala'aldeen Al-Halhouli, an engineer at the German Jordanian University and one of the Arab members of GYA. "This could range from promoting R&D in the region to encouraging networking and collaborations between scientists from the Middle East with international partners and with Middle East scientists in the diaspora."

It might also encourage more Arab states to get involved. "The GYA has members from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan," says Soror. "But there is a conspicuous absence of members from the Gulf states, for example. We are aware of this and are pushing to change it."

Soror contends that the most significant accomplishment of the GYA so far has been achieving worldwide recognition for the organization and its members. A greater membership of Arabs would give young Arab scientists a voice. He stresses, however, that the GYA remains an advisory body only able to offer suggestions.

National efforts

Some countries feel that having an NYA is unnecessary because they already have an academy of science.

"The GYA cannot directly interfere with national science policies," says Soror. That is why the GYA helps members setup National Young Academies (NYAs) in different countries to try and influence national governments to address issues of concern for young researchers. To date, 27 different NYAs have been established. "NYAs are more aware of the facts on the ground in their countries so are better positioned to represent young scientists on the national level," says Soror. The GYA coordinates between the different NYAs to facilitate scientific collaboration across borders.

There is currently only one NYA in the Arab world, in Sudan. Bureaucracy is a barrier to young scientists establishing more NYAs in the region. But after much hard work, plans are underway to establish an NYA in Egypt, which Soror's claims is almost there although no date has been set.

"The Egyptian National Young Academy will be completely independent from the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology [Egypt's government body responsible for scientific and technological activities], and members will be able to express their opinions freely," assures Soror, highlighting that NYAs are always non-governmental bodies. There are also plans to establish an NYA in Jordan, he says, but does not know of any other plans in the pipeline elsewhere in the Middle East.

Hampering the establishment of NYAs is not a problem restricted to Arab or developing countries. Developed countries, such as Canada, sometimes face similar challenges. "Some countries feel that having an NYA is unnecessary because they already have an academy of science. They do not realize that the voice of young scientists should hold as much weight as that of senior scientists. Also in some cases, these senior academies are not happy with the added competition."

Nevertheless, Soror is keen to see more NYAs in the region to try to tackle young scientists' problems on the ground.