This week, the 6th iteration of the Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition was announced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Next Generation for Global Health Security Network, the iGEM Foundation, SynBio Africa, and the Global Health Security Network.

Along with Harshu Musunuri and Jonas Sandbrink, I participated in the 2020 version of the competition (and won!) , and I would highly recommend students and early-career folks focused on biosecurity to participate this year. 

I think our team spent about 45-65 hours writing up the paper between the three of us (including meetings), over the course of 2-4 weeks and I think that’s fairly representative of what you could expect.

The competition

From the announcement:

“The competition aims to cultivate the next generation of global leaders in biosecurity. We seek innovative and creative papers focused on verification measures for the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

Winners of the Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition will receive:

  • Online publication of their paper on the NTI website
  • The opportunity to travel, attend, and present during a side event at a prestigious global health security event, such as the Global Health Security Conference 2022.

(...)

ELIGIBILITY

  • Teams must have three participants and include members from two or more countries and/or regions. Multisectoral teams are strongly encouraged.
  • Applicants must be currently enrolled in an academic institution or have less than five years of professional experience.

(...)

DEADLINE

Submission deadline is April 18, 2022 at 11:59PM ET. Submissions should be sent to nti-bio@nti.org. Winners will be announced in June 2022.

NEED A TEAM?

Participants can find teammates by:

  • Completing the Next Generation for Biosecurity Interest Form. Once you have completed this form, you may find potential teammates here.
  • Becoming a member of the Next Generation GHS Network. Members can find teammates through the NextGen GHS Network Hub, which is available to all members after registration. To become a member, click here."

Some good reasons for participating

I was reluctant about participating in the competition during a busy summer but am really happy that I did.[1] Below are some of the things that I got out of it that I think you could, too.

I should note that people's experience probably depends a lot on how well they get along with their team.

  • Working with awesome peers. The competition can be a terrific opportunity to meet new peers from across the world with a shared interest in biosecurity, or to strengthen your bonds with someone you already know but haven't had the chance to work with before.
  • Making invaluable connections in the biosecurity field. The competition is sponsored by some of the coolest organisations in the biosecurity field and is organised, I think, largely because they want to connect with promising young people. I still interact and work with several of the organisers and judges I met in 2020. The winning team will have especially good chances to connect with people via presentations at global events, but I can imagine it's possible to make some good connections if you're motivated, regardless of whether you win.
  • Starting a paper that you can expand, and maybe publish, after the competition. After the competition, my team and I continued working on our paper, and ultimately got to publish (a heavily revised version of) it in the journal mBio. Of course, this took a lot of extra work and some topics are undoubtedly easier to publish than others, but I'd say there's a decent chance for this to work out for highly motivated and creative teams, even if they don't win the competition.
  • Contributing to an important open question. Verification of the Biological Weapons Convention is a notoriously difficult challenge from both a technical and political perspective, and it's not easy to make progress on either front. That said, I'm optimistic about the value of putting new, creative ideas out there for relevant stakeholders to consider – perhaps particularly in light of the potentially renewed interest in pursuing some form of verification.

Some benefits may be especially large if you manage to win the competition, though I expect all of the above to be fairly independent of winning – though, to some extent, with the exception of #2.

Go forth and make the world biosecure!

Good luck to anyone participating this year! Feel free to post any questions in the comments and I'll try my best to answer them.

Also, feel free to leave a comment if you're looking for teammates!

Note: I currently work as a consultant with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, one of the organisers of this competition. I write this in a personal capacity. I thank Gabby Essix for input on this post.

 

  1. ^

    Thanks to Jonas Sandbrink for talking me into it!

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This sounds super exciting! Despite working in biosecurity field-building, for some reason running paper-writing competitions never occurred to me, but I think this seems like a promising direction to point biosecurity-keen students towards.

You mentioned that writing the paper took 40-60 hours, but what about the time commitment for reading papers / talking with experts?

Hi James!

Good question. That estimate was for our entire process of producing the paper, including any relevant research. We wrote on a topic that somewhat overlapped with areas we already knew a bit about, so I can imagine there'd be extra hours if you write on something you're less familiar with.  Also, I generally expect that the time investment might vary a lot between groups, so I wouldn't put too much weight on my rough estimate. Cheers!