Online Network, CienciaPR, Compensates for Puerto Rico’s Brain Drain

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Rodrigo de Oliveira Andrade writes on how online networking compensates for Puerto Rico’s so-called brain drain. Basing his comments on the scientific article “Supporting Diversity in Science through Social Networking,” he states that a social media site that links Puerto Rican scientists abroad with those at home could be helping to strengthen the science community. [I would add that the same goes for community-building in fields in the Humanities, and I thank our readers, Caribbean-centered social media groups, and a growing number of blog directors for continuing the project of bridging distances.] Here are excerpts of the article:

The founders of CienciaPR (‘Science Puerto Rico’) say the island group has few high-quality scientific institutions and, like other Latin American countries, spends little on research – so brain drain is a problem. Some 64 per cent of Puerto Rican students studying for PhDs live outside the archipelago, as do 44 per cent of the doctorate workforce, according to a paper reviewing the website’s progress, published last month (31 December) in PLOS Biology. With so few scientists in Puerto Rico, it is hard to foster local science, say the authors. But CiencaPR may be compensating with a digital community that can help fill the gaps.

Launched in 2006, the network has almost 7,000 members in 48 countries, and includes people in more than 185 universities in the United States. The authors of the paper say CienciaPR has brought benefits at a local level, enabling students and scientists who leave Puerto Rico to continue to contribute to the local scientific community through science communication, outreach initiatives, research and education. For example, the platform “has been a resource for teachers [in Puerto Rico] who look to bring scientists to their classrooms or to contextualise their science lessons. It is helping to stimulate students’ interest in science careers,” says Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, CienciaPR’s executive director.

Export potential: Guerrero-Medina says the concept could work in other countries, even in those that do not have government support for building a database of scientists, as CienciaPR has had. Because most Latin American countries spend less than 0.4 per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product) on research and development – far below that of more developed countries – she advocates online science communities as ways these countries can increase their economic and intellectual potential.

There is a similar network for scientists in Chile, called RedCiencia. “What began as a grassroots effort has been successful in bringing together Chilean scientists from all over the world to promote scientific training and research,” she says. “RedCiencia has over 8,000 users, mainly researchers, graduate students and science teachers,” adds Patricia Muñoz Palma, RedCiencia’s director of science information. “It has contributed to improving the quality of scientific knowledge by creating shortcuts to scientific information and by facilitating outreach and connection between scientists, research centres and industry.” She says this kind of platform is important for promoting a sense of community, creating connections and collaboration among those with interests in science.

Views from the diaspora: Luis Villanueva-Rivera, a research assistant from Puerto Rico based at Purdue University’s department of forestry and natural resources, in the United States, says CienciaPR has helped to fill a gap in Puerto Rican culture by highlighting the potential of the local scientific community.

[. . .] Itzamarie Chevere-Torres, a post-doctoral fellow also living in the United States, and at Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, adds that CienciaPR represents a great opportunity for Puerto Rican scientists living abroad to stay connected with their home community and to contribute through science education or mentoring opportunities using social networking. “Increasingly, people use social media as the main source of information and entertainment. So why not use that as an advantage to educate our communities about science,” she tells SciDev.Net.

For full article, see http://www.scidev.net/global/knowledge-economy/news/online-network-puerto-rico-brain-drain.html [Accessed through the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP): http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=1bc5cd74-a544-45fe-8775-76c26602cc45&c=65e0e960-32a8-11e3-8638-d4ae52753a3b&ch=66a91b60-32a8-11e3-873b-d4ae52753a3b.]

For scientific article “Supporting Diversity in Science through Social Networking,” see http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001740

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