The 7th edition of the Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition was recently opened for applications. This is an annual competition hosted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative in partnership with the Next Generation for Global Health Security Network (NextGen), the iGEM Foundation, 80,000 Hours, SynBio Africa, and the Global Health Security Network (GHSN).
We took part in this competition last year and were fortunate to have our work recognised as the winning entry. Wonderful work by another team was also recognised as an outstanding submission. We think this is a good opportunity for students and early-career professionals interested in biosecurity to (i) forge strong networks with each other and with experts, (ii) develop a focused piece of work that can be further expanded upon, and (iii) push the envelope on how we approach the growing bioeconomy. We agree with Joshua Monrad’s reasons for participating in the competition, listed in his forum post last year.
The full prompt, eligibility, and submission requirements for the competition can be found here. In summary,
- The competition calls for applicants to design a policy proposal that promotes biosecurity-by-design as a way to bolster emerging bioeconomies.
- Teams must have three participants and include members from two or more countries and/or regions, with representation from different fields strongly encouraged.
- Applicants must be currently enrolled in an academic institution or have less than five years of professional experience.
- The submission deadline is September 11 2023, 11:59PM ET.
- Winners will have their paper published on the NTI website, and receive a sponsored opportunity to attend and present their work at a prestigious international biosecurity event.
- There will be an informational webinar on July 12 2023, 9:00AM ET for interested applicants that includes a discussion on the topic and an opportunity to form teams with other applicants.
- How did we form our group?
The competition website lists several ways to link up with other applicants. We did not know each other beforehand but we connected over social media, and were fortunate that we had a balanced set of skills and perspectives.
- How much time did we spend on the competition?
Last year’s competition had tighter time constraints, so we roughly had weekly hour-long meetings for 4-5 weeks and ~2-3 hours outside the meetings to prepare. There seems to be more time until the deadline this year and so less need for intense work.
- Be open to broad expertise - from biotech and beyond
We found our meetings especially meaningful because we had different technical and cultural backgrounds, which led to multiple perspectives being discussed. This is also an opportunity to work with others outside the EA community, and potentially be their first interaction with the EA community!
- Broaden your contextual awareness
When thinking of issues and/or solutions in biosecurity, there is a tendency to default towards popular topics which are often resource-intensive. It is important to be aware of how resource constraints can limit the feasibility and acceptability of these policy proposals. One way to build this awareness (as early career individuals without a seasoned perspective) is to engage with experts and stakeholders who are familiar with low-resource settings. This is especially important for this year’s prompt.
- Strike a balance between grounded and ambitious proposals
It’s easy to get carried away with proposing ambitious policy ideas, but it is equally important to ensure that these ideas are realistic and achievable. Striking a balance between incremental progress and ambitious policy ideas while framing recommendations will not just make the proposal(s) more palatable, but also serve as a useful exercise to test whether you enjoy straddling these considerations. Interacting with experts will help a lot in ensuring the proposals are grounded in reality. We encourage using those considerations to guide brainstorming.
- Study and acknowledge existing work
Many ideas and arguments that might initially seem novel most likely have been proposed in the past (perhaps under different framing). Doing your due diligence and acknowledging past work will make your proposals more robust and ensure that you are not rehashing points but adding to the conversation.
Overall, the competition really did help us feel like our ideas were part of the next generation of biosecurity. Participating helped us refine our understanding of past issues, incentives, and constraints in order to effectively prioritise action that will work in the real world in a way that doesn’t come naturally from just engaging with articles, books, webinars and posts. We hope you find similar values out of the process. Good luck to all applicants!
Note: We thank Gabby Essix for feedback on this post.