Science is a journey to the fantasy for me. Science is the endless source of findings that can make our world different. We can discover something that one can’t imagine, or even dream about; the principles which are running this world, the reasons why we die, the reasons why we live.
I’m a scientist with a PhD MD degree working at the Department of Neuroscience, Mayo clinic (Florida, USA), one of the best hospitals in the world. Sounds terrific; I’m beautiful (just joking), smart, successful woman. But how did I get here?
I was born in a small city in a small country called Slovakia. I grew up in, let’s call it, a “typical” Slovak family and everything that comes with it. I had a lot of reasons to escape reality and hide in the world of books and fantasy. When I was 16, my 11 year old cousin died because of an aneurysm. That was the moment when I’ve decided I want to become a doctor. During my college studies I found a passion for science and I’ve decided to study both – Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Natural Science. I completed both degrees and continued my career outside of Slovakia. All my decisions were driven by the simple motivation – I want to make a difference.
I started to work at Mayo clinic as a postdoctoral researcher 3 years ago. Even though I started to work far away from my home, I still had an urge to help my country and help science there. So in the same year as I started to work at Mayo clinic, I founded a non-profit organisation called “I Live Science” (in Slovak: žijem vedu).
What is “I Live Science” (žijem vedu) about?
“I Live Science” is an apolitical non-profit organisation with the main goal: to help Slovak science to become world class.
Why should we be interested in Slovak science when we have top level science in the other countries of the world?
Not supporting science in countries like Slovakia means, we are wasting potential of great minds born and growing up there. Science is the base for future of the whole society and can’t be centralised only to the rich countries. Science will surely be a job that will not disappear even with robotic automation, quite the opposite; it will become even more important. Therefore, we need to support scientists and science also in small countries like Slovakia.
In comparison to other countries, science in Slovakia is falling behind, largely due to the low priority assigned to it by the Slovak government (Fig. 1A, source: www.ec.europa.eu/eurostat). In addition to the lack of funding dedicated to Slovak science, it is also often subject to various obscure corrupted actions resulting to its unfair distribution. In fact, level of corruption is one of the highest in the EU (Fig. 1B, source: www.transparency.org). Hand in hand, this leads to the enormous brain drain and Slovakia is on top of the charts of people leaving the country before or after PhD studies; that’s also how Slovak science is presented in the eye of the public. From the long term perspective this means a catastrophe for the society. “I Live Science” wants to change that.
What is the platform “I Live Science” doing?
Our platform is divided into two main parts: the web page “zijemvedu.sk” was created as a catalogue of Slovak scientists, living either in Slovakia or abroad. We have around 250 members with their short profiles and contact information with the aim to provide help for other Slovak scientists. The second part is a facebook group with more than 1,100 members; which is comprised of researchers, teachers, students, science fans and everyone who likes to help Slovak science. Our platform connects these people over the globe in order to mediate the change by (i) providing an interactive online meet-up place; (ii) bringing science closer to the public; we are regularly publishing blogs and we are co-organizers of events like March for Science Slovakia; (iii) providing an interface between Slovak scientists and Slovak government as well as the media (i.e., communicating problems and their potential solutions to the Ministry of education and informing Slovak TVs and newspapers); (iv) organising the annual conference “I Live Science live” (“Žijem vedu naživo”) to facilitate direct interaction and networking of platform members.
But it’s not enough and we want to do more
As the founder, I’m standing right now ahead of a big question: how to engage more people to be interested in science in general and to support Slovak science in particular?
We need a call for action to motivate people to support science; which will stress that science is crucial, scientists are people who improve the quality of our lives and move our world and knowledge forward.
I came up with an idea to start a very ambitious project – make a crowdfunding / fundraising campaign and collect money for a grant supporting PhD students and their projects.
What is the plan and time-line for each step?
- Build crowdfunding / fundraising strategy: The plan is to engage people to support science. Make the public realise that supporting science means investing in their own future. Do you want to fly to the Moon? Do you want to live forever? Do you want your kids to be healthy? It is science that can make it happen. The plan must clearly communicate our vision and mission, and our objectives of why we are asking for money. The aim is to have detailed and bullet-proof plan by the end of May.
- Viral video: In order to gain traction and critical mass, we are aiming to create a catchy, memorable yet funny video that will highlight our goals. Some initial ideas include (but are not limited to): (i) Members recording comical yet informational videos of them working on their current projects which will be catered for the general public; (ii) students submitting videos of their projects / potential new ideas that they wish to work on; (iii) A stretch would be to have children submitting videos of themselves of how they perceive science in everyday life. The release of such a video is planned for the middle/the end of June.
- Crowdfunding / Fundraising: the goal would be to raise 20,000 EUR. The duration of the campaign is tentatively planned for the entire month of July. At this point we need to have ready also the rewards for contribution – i.e. mugs, t-shirts, books, posters with famous scientists, postcards from Slovak scientists working abroad. As a reward for bigger contribution we are planning to offer “the lunch with a scientist”, “visit of scientist in your city or school” or vice versa “visit of scientific institution”.
- Marketing, marketing and marketing: in order to reach our goal we need to get as much attention as possible, write supportive blogs, give interviews, use our contacts with Slovak media and press, engage our members and invite them to contribute. We need to pay for ads and campaigns on social media to spread our idea. We also plan to use the help of SEO experts with targeting of our audience. Marketing part is the most important and needs to be running in different forms and approaches during the whole crowdfunding / fundraising campaign.
- Announcing the grant call for PhD students working in Slovakia: Here we will go back to the 4th point (above) using marketing, engaging media and utilising our platform. The applications will be short (2 pages) describing the PhD project in a popular way and describing what the money will be used for. The tentative deadline for accepting applications is October.
- Building an international committee: The core committee will consist of experienced scientists from different fields and from different parts of the world. The evaluation of the grant proposals has to be transparent and the scores will be officially announced on our web page. We will announce the funded project in December during our annual conference “I Live Science live”.
Toptal scholarship is a great opportunity to make this plan real.
What will be the money used for:
I am a medical doctor and scientist with no background in leadership or marketing strategies. I’ve learned everything I know about marketing from the internet and reading books. I have a huge enthusiasms and passion to learn much more about how to run a non-profit organisation from professionals. In order to progress, our organisation will greatly benefit from person with education in these areas. This set of skills is also extremely important for my personal growth and future directions. Therefore, the majority of Toptal scholarship funding will be used for me to enrol in online course(s) in general marketing, non-profit organisation marketing strategies, fundraising strategies and leadership. I want to discuss the most suitable course for me with my future mentor. Ideally, I would like to enrol in this course(s) in March-June in the time of preparation of our crowdfunding/fundraising strategy. I plan to use another part of the grant money to attend a conference focused on non-profit organisations. It’s also important to build a network and to meet people working in similar fields who are dealing with similar problems. This could bring new collaborations and ideas. I plan to attend a conference after our project is finished – beginning of the year 2020, so I can share or present experience that we gained during our project. I would again like to discuss the most suitable conference with my mentor.
The last but not the least, the rest of money will be used to support project itself; for the marketing part of our plan (ads, social media campaign, video, gifts for contribution in the crowdfunding / fundraising campaign) and will help us to reach our goals.
It’s not the money included in the scholarship but the mentoring support which is the most valuable for me.
I was very excited to hear that Toptal scholarship includes one year mentorship. It’s excellent opportunity for me to discuss my plans, brainstorm and troubleshoot with an experienced expert. The ideal mentor for me would be an expert in marketing, online marketing, fundraising strategies mentioned in my plan above and/or in leadership for non-profit organisation. I will surely need a help with preparing the crowdfunding / fundraising strategy, prioritise the ideas and follow precise and realistic timeline and goals.
How can our vision change the world?
Science is on the edge of attention all over the world, not only in Slovakia. “March for Science” is one of the world-wide projects that is trying to change that.
We live in the era of “superficial-ism” where everything needs to be done and be delivered, ideally yesterday. I am proposing here tedious work, starting with small Slovakia. It’s really hard to change my home country so how can we change the world? In my endless fantasies I have a dream, that “I Live Science” will become a non-profit funding organisation supporting science with financial contributions from regular people, being transparent and completely independent from government and corruption.
And after this dream is fulfilled I have an even bigger one, that “I Live Science” will create local branches within various countries similar to Slovakia. This organisation will build a growing community of experts, create a board of individuals who will work in the future as advisors in mainstream and respected association helping to develop science all over the world.
Changing society and making direct impact on the recognition of science as the base for our future is much more difficult and maybe much more “unreal” than building software, but it’s necessary. Because we all live science.