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Science & Technology

San Antonio Researchers Discuss the Future of Science Education

Rosanne Fohn

Dramatic reductions in federal funding for medical research have been closing doors on some projects and narrowing the scope of others.

But even while funding has been declining, educators have been guiding more students toward STEM careers.

A State Department official said in San Antonio this week that young scientists will collaborate in new ways with other countries, provided they are guided to a broader education.

The UT Health Science Center maintains a strong arsenal of medical research and development, but president Dr. William Henrich says it’s a struggle.

“The NIH budget has basically been flat for the last seven or eight years, which means that the actual buying power of research organizations has dropped by three or four percent per year. We’re no different,” he said.

On the heels of an NPR series about cuts in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. State Department’s Science Advisor was in San Antonio to talk to the very people whose work – and jobs – are threatened by funding cuts.

“I think being a scientist doesn’t mean putting on a lab coat and being in front of a bench, necessarily,” Colon said.

Dr. Frances Colon stopped short of calling it a funding crisis. But she told researchers at the second annual Postdoctoral Research Forum at the Health Science Center that the situation is an opportunity for scientists to think globally.

Colon says now is a good time for scientists to put on a different coat and learn skills beyond technical expertise used in the lab.

“We don’t have enough people with scientific training on The Hill as our political representatives. We don’t have enough people with scientific training, sometimes, in our classrooms translating that knowledge for our up-and-comers. We don’t have enough people with scientific training in the private sector, working on some of the issues that are at the forefront of everybody’s minds,” she said. 

Colon says the trend now is toward international STEM collaborations, and that broader scientific communication skills will be meaningful in finding those funding opportunities.

Colon believes the funding shortage is cyclical and will turn around.

In the meantime, Dr. Henrich says the UT Health Science Center is buoyed by collaborating with the military and the Veterans Administration in studies that will benefit the general population.

“Every single advance that occurs – in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, neurologic disease – depends on this medical research to be successful,” he said.