The knowledge economy needs investment in brainfrastructure

This week has seen me taking my rapidly evolving personality cult on the road to Canberra and Sydney, ostensibly to sell Crowd funding for academic research.

This was after a kind invitation from Julie Preston (@julzpreston) , on behalf of NECTAR at ANU, a ‘grass roots’ group formed by the Early and Mid Career academics. I see myself as part of this group, who are increasingly disenfranchised by the current ultra competitive grant system, which is skewed to cement the position of the elite of Australian Ponzidemia (detailed in a recent blog post by Adam Micolich aka @ad_mico)

I asked Julie to book my return flight two days later than needed to attend the Crowd Funding workshop, as I wished to spend time in Canberra engaging with Politicians and Public Servants. This was at the request of Honourable Richard Marles MP, federal member for Corio. Amelia from Richard’s team managed to set up meetings with both Parliamentary Friends of Science representatives (Richard himself and the Honourable Karen Andrews MP, federal member for the Gold Coast)

Unfortunately, due to a holiday absence, I couldn’t see the woman who is the contact for STA (the lobby group for Science and Technology in Australia….whose efforts could do with more galvanising right now, IMHO!) but did get to catch up with my local MP, the Honourable Sarah Henderson, of Corangamite.

Sarah had been for an extended visit to my lab at the Deakin Medical School at Waurn Ponds the week before, during National Science Week, to hear about my research on the local endemic and emerging infectious disease, Mycobacteria ulcerans. I told her then that all my research was supported by local philanthropists, crowd funding and internal University funding (which is generous in my Dept versus stories I hear from sundry colleagues).

When we met again in Canberra on Wednesday, we spoke of her plans to try and secure funding for the Geelong region and how she saw the transition to a ‘smart’ economy as imperative for her constituency. Sarah is aware she is preaching to the converted on this, as I also push the ‘Smart Geelong’ barrow, purely out of self interest (and for the future job prospects of the students I teach).

During our conversation on the upcoming announcements for public-private partnership schemes to be soon launched for investing in ‘smart’ infrastructure by the current government, there came an opportunity to mention that I was currently the beneficiary of such infrastructure. As I am in the middle of designing my new lab to be opened opposite the Hospital in Central Geelong, paid for with a Regional Development grant.

I also mentioned that while it will be fabulous to have a shiny new lab….I may be unable to do much research inside it, due to the current situation for funding ‘people and projects’ in Australian Science. I re-stated the point made in this recent Fairfax Editorial, that investing in people to DO science is a form of infrastructure funding. Sarah agreed in principle to this concept, but lamented her junior minister status and said ‘you may have to talk to the Prime Minister about that’.

But I think this #brainfrastructure concept is an important one, and all the evidence on the financial return on investment in a Knowledge Economy model is well defined. Here’s hoping that my next trip to Canberra gets me the meeting proposed by Karen Andrews, with Greg Gilbert, the Senior Science advisor to Ian Macfarlane’s Dept of Industry.

If I can sell medical maggots to sheep farmers in a Crowd funding project, perhaps I may have a stab at selling the #brainfrastructure concept to the Department responsible for driving the productivity of the Australian economy?

And here’s a picture of me wishing this wasn’t just a pipe dream of a delusional ‘Pollyanna’ scientist….

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