President’s Blog

Posted on June 26, 2013

In most parts of the world, governments are cutting their budgets for research funding.  For many of us, government grants are the lifeblood of our career, or so we are told. Faculty evaluations and tenure decisions are increasingly based on funding. Graduate students and postdocs can only get paid if there is funding for the research they do. With less funding available, investigators are submitting more and more grant proposals. We choose our strategies.  Some manage to produce more proposals by working extra hours each day and sacrificing family time. Some will aim for quantity and hope that something will be randomly successful.  Others write more proposals by reducing the time they spend on research and publications, which is professional suicide if it goes on for too long. All of these grant proposals will need to undergo peer review, and guess what, the peers are the same people who are already too busy writing grant proposals.  So now the quality of the peer review is at risk, making the funding process even more unpredictable.  This situation is clearly not sustainable.  It is important that we talk to our funding agencies and communicate these concerns. I worry that many promising investigators will choose to no longer play in these “hunger games”.  I also see a worrying trend in funding of “the rich get richer” and this needs to be reversed so that funding becomes more equally shared.

But not all is doom and gloom.  As I have mentioned before in this blog, the work we do as biomechanists has great value for society.  We just need to find a way to get paid for it.  If government does not work right now, I suggest we should look at industry and education.  I have done some of my best work in projects with industry.  Some of those projects could never have been funded by government grants, they were too risky, not hypothesis-driven, or not well enough developed to justify a multi-year grant proposal. If you do this right, you can keep your basic research going while trying to get that government grant.  Real innovation happens when you go outside of established knowledge, and companies are perfectly willing to take that risk.  How to make contact with companies who could sponsor your research?  Talk to companies who have booths at scientific meetings, talk to clinical colleagues and find out who develops the technologies to which you could contribute.

And let’s not forget about education.  The knowledge we have is valuable, and if you teach, you earn money for the university and/or perform a service to society.  You earn your salary! Yes, research funding is necessary but you may be able to do good work with a small grant from industry or foundation, instead of a million-dollar government grant.  Universities where faculty members are required to apply for large grants may not be the best place to work right now. This is something you may want to consider when applying for your first faculty position.

But, whatever research funding you apply for, make sure that the budget allows you to travel to attend the ISB Congress.  Even in the days of electronic communication and social networks, there is no better way to stay in touch with the field than a real scientific meeting.  The upcoming ISB Congress in Natal, Brazil, promises to be especially exciting and I can’t wait to see many of you in the first week of August.

Ton van den Bogert
Cleveland, June 23, 2013

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President’s Blog – March, 2013

Posted on March 21, 2013

The weather is still cold in Cleveland, but we are already looking forward to the summer season and the scientific conferences we will attend.  As I’m sure you all know, the ISB will meet August 4-9 in Brazil. It always impresses me how many old friends and colleagues I meet at each ISB congress, no matter how far away it is.

This year, we gave travel grants ($1000 each) to 30 students who have submitted abstracts to ISB 2013.  This program was administered by Hae-Dong Lee, our student grants officer.  I was one of the reviewers of the grant applications, and reading those applications made me feel very good about the future of the society.  We have many student members who are smart and do good work.  But what really struck me was the large number of students who are already very well connected internationally, some have visited labs in other continents, some have moved permanently, and are likely to move again.  All are clearly comfortable with seeing the world as a village where they can find the people who can help them advance their career.  My hope is that many of them will become lifelong members of ISB. Some will certainly become leaders.

President’s Blog – December, 2012

Posted on December 20, 2012

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting short and dark, the perfect time for reflection on the calendar year that is about to end.

In February, we lost David Winter, one of the giants in our field.  I had the good fortune of meeting him several times, in person and via e-mail, and remember each and every interaction quite vividly.  He was the type of person who made permanent impressions, most importantly on his students and through his books, also on an entire generation of biomechanists.  If you have not done so yet, I encourage you to read the obituary and tributes.  To honor David’s contributions to the field, and especially his efforts in mentoring and education, the ISB has established a David Winter Award for young investigators, to be awarded at each ISB congress.

President’s Blog – September, 2012

Posted on September 27, 2012

In this issue, I would like to highlight some of the work of the ISB Executive Council. The Executive Council consists of fifteen individuals who work tirelessly to ensure that the mission and programs of the ISB are executed in the best interest of the membership. The council communicates on a daily basis by e-mail (my ISB folder has accumulated 1374 messages for the year 2011 alone!), but also is mandated by the ISB constitution to meet in person once every year. In odd years, the council will meet on the Saturday and Sunday prior to the ISB Congress. In the even years, we usually plan our council meeting in conjunction with another society’s scientific meeting.  This year, the council meeting was on July 22-23, immediately after the ISEK 2012 Congress in Brisbane (Australia).  It is important to note that no elected council member receives travel expenses from ISB, with the exception of the student representative. Several council members (including myself) traveled for more than 24 hours and suffered through major jet lags. It is truly remarkable to have a group of leaders in the society who are willing to make these efforts.  The dedication of this team becomes even more apparent during the meeting itself.  We always have a long agenda of discussions and decisions, and in all of those, we have the same guiding principle: how to best serve the interests of our membership as well as the worldwide biomechanics community. I will mention a few of the items that were discussed by the council during the meeting.

President’s Blog – June, 2012

Posted on June 26, 2012

In the last President’s Blog, I wrote about careers and funding, and advocated two ways to reduce the unhealthy competition for research funding: (1) A career path for PhD scientists where they have a permanent position where they can do good science without continuous grant writing. (2) Reduce the number of PhDs we train, perhaps by hiring more of those permanent researchers to do the work.

President’s Blog – March, 2012

Posted on March 14, 2012

Today I am writing about careers and funding. Or, as one might say, the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything.  Which indeed turns out to be 42.

President’s Blog – December, 2011

Posted on December 16, 2011

This week, the Ohio State University hired someone to teach human movement at an annual salary of $4 million.  Hundreds of orthopaedic surgeons contribute to innovations in implants and devices, and in doing so, receive substantial research funding and personal income through consulting and royalties.  Before we all get too excited about lucrative career opportunities in biomechanics, let me quickly add that the first individual was a football coach, and the second practice is the subject of ongoing federal investigations into illegal kickback schemes. I am not raising these issues to talk about problems in the U.S. education and healthcare systems.  You can find plenty of that elsewhere in the media. My point is that these examples are merely the unfortunate morbid excesses of what is fundamentally a very good thing about our field of study, which is that society places a high value on the human body and its capability to perform movement.

President’s Blog – September, 2011

Posted on September 19, 2011

As incoming President of ISB, I will be writing contributions for the ISB Newsletter (ISB NOW) under the title “President's Blog”. Before getting down to business, I first want to express my appreciation to the ISB members who have chosen me to lead the society for the next two years. It is truly humbling to follow in the footsteps of a long line of previous ISB Presidents, including those who were my “heroes” when I first joined ISB in 1987. My trepidation at this task is, however, greatly diminished by the presence of an enthusiastic and competent Executive Council. Please see the report of the recent General Assembly, elsewhere in ISB NOW, for a list of the council members and their portfolios.

President’s Blog – June 2011

Posted on June 16, 2011

It is hard to believe that it is nearly two years ago that I had the honour of stepping into the role as President of ISB. It was somewhat daunting following in the footsteps of my predecessor, Walter Herzog, as he set an extremely high standard in terms of leadership of the Council, the scientific integrity he brought to the role, combined with his pure passion for the Society and biomechanics. In fact, I would argue that Walter presented one of the highest quality Presidential addresses that I have had the pleasure of attending throughout my 22+ year’s association with the Society. A strength of ISB is the extended family who provide each of its members support, including at the Executive Council level. I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank the Executive Council members I have had the privilege of working with over the past two years and who have supported me in working to achieve our goals for ISB.

President’s Blog – March 2011

Posted on March 24, 2011

As this is the first Newsletter for 2011, I wish you all a belated Happy New Year!

A few weeks ago we circulated a letter to all ISB members inviting individuals who have strong technical skills in electronics and signal processing, and who have a passion to develop clinical skills and possible research collaborations in the field of gait analysis, to contact us to discuss possible collaborations with staff at the Tanzania Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (TATCOT).