Lukas Hutter

4 minute read

To many young scientists, the prospect of pursuing a career in academia has become a scary one. They’ve all seen idealistic young academics keen on changing how academia works from within, their grand ideas gradually stripped from them when attempting to balance personal and professional life while trying to meet the demands of tenure track committees and funding agencies.

Science is an endeavour that should be abound with idealism and innovative thinking, yet how come that so many young researchers have become so disillusioned nowadays?

We believe that the problem is systemic:

  • The rigid institutional structure of universities and research centres creates a context where linearity of career paths has become a primary selection criterion for success. This quenches innovation, is a source of existential anxiety for young scientists and inhibits interdisciplinarity.

  • The ever-expanding spectrum of scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines creates a real measurement-problem at the heart of science: How do public and private bodies that fund science assess the quality of scientific output of researchers, whose valuable work may only be fully comprehended by a handful of people? The answer is an over-reliance on aggregated metrics such as the number of publications in high impact journals, with the result of a distorted scientific culture that predominantly fosters fashionable and novel research, and lacks incentives to warrant reproducibility of studies and to openly share ideas.

  • In light of increasing specialisation, the lack of interdisciplinarity and failure to integrate outreach activities in the research process creates a communication problem: Not only does it become increasingly difficult to communicate ones research to scientists within and between fields of scientific inquiry, science is edging away from the broader public. When science fails to communicate the scope and value of the insights it produces, the aforementioned measurement problem becomes aggravated, the very notion of publicly funded research falls under scrutiny, and opportunities for valuable feedback are lost.

  • Overall, success in science follows typical rich-get-richer dynamics. An industry that has grown around supplying science with anything it may need has created substantial financial barriers. Overpriced lab-equipment, horrendous publication fees and paywalls in front of publicly funded research articles render it virtually impossible for anyone without the financial backing of a strong and established institution to pursue science.

Mission Statement

Biotop is the idea to build an open collective of scientists engaging in the curiosity-driven, cross-disciplinary and collaborative exploration and translation of ideas; it is an experiment trying to reinvent the way we do science.

Cornerstones

We are a group of young researchers. Biotop is our attempt at taking our future in science - and in part the future of science - into our own hands. It is the idea of conceiving a research network as an ecosystem that fosters a scientific culture that truly deserves this name. We believe that addressing the aforementioned systemic problems in an integrated manner, will not only allow us to tackle the many problems we see in science, but also provide a sound foundation for our own research endeavours.

Interdisciplinarity & Collaboration

  • Innovation-friendly, flexible organisation
  • Collaboration in small teams that promote interdisciplinarity.

Rethinking the Paper & Open Science

  • Active advocacy
  • Development of a platform of tools to establish a new model of scientific publishing, share research openly, open up the peer-review process and allow the development of more suitable research metrics.

Integration of Public Outreach Activities

  • Closely work with the public
  • Science communication through art
  • Development of visualisation tools to empower the public in the exploration of complex problems (economy, political budgets, scientific problems)
  • Citizen science projects that include active contributions from members of the public.

Development of Open Lab Equipment

  • Development of open-source lab equipment using accessible technology (3D printing, robotics) to reduce financial barriers for us and the broader scientific community.

Basic Research Areas

We focus on six partially overlapping research themes:

  • Computational genomics
  • Distributed computing
  • Regulation and control in biological systems
  • Interface materials and self-assembly
  • Theoretical neuroscience
  • Complexity in socio-economic and biological systems