Pandemics (2023 Oct)

Cambridge Biosecurity Hub

By Grace Braithwaite (Published on May 24, 2024)

Theory of Change

INPUTS OUTPUTS OUTCOMES GOAL HIGH LEVEL GOAL
Running 8 week biosecurity projects  Participants complete an impactful biosecurity project  Majority of participants complete the program  Deliverables achieved within 8 week program  Some projects continue long term

Connecting different people working on biosecurity 

High impact project completed e.g. new area of research, helping ongoing biosecurity orgs Increase number of good people working on biosecurity projects - therefore decreasing risk of GCBRs 
Inspire people to work on biosecurity problems - short term projects of career 
Running a 6 week reading group teaching the  fundamentals of biosecurity  Participants have more knowledge about the biosecurity cause area Majority of participants complete the program Participants learn more about biosecurity and why it is an important cause area Participants choose a career in biosecurity Inspire talented people to work on biosecurity problems - therefore decreasing risk of GCBRs 
Participants go on to do a biosecurity project
Participants join biosecurity network
Starting a network of professionals and students interested and working on biosecurity Create a more connected biosecurity community Map the biosecurity network in Cambridge Facilitate events to allow people working on/interested in biosecurity to meet Collaboration on impactful biosecurity projects Connecting different people working in biosecurity, making the community more efficient Decrease time taken to complete biosecurity projects and inspiring new biosecurity projects to decrease risk of GCBRs

 

MVP

Plan

Myself and my co-founder, Sandy Hickson, started the Cambridge Biosecurity Hub (CBH) which has three main projects within it:  

  1. aiming to create a biosecurity network in Cambridge
  2. a reading group to teach people the fundamentals of biosecurity
  3. a project group for people to get involved with potentially high impact biosecurity projects

We launched the projects and the reading group in mid-January to coincide with the start of the Cambridge term.

Cambridge is one of, if not the, leading biotech hub in Europe, including the university research departments, Addenbrookes hospital, and a large cluster of biotech companies. This is a great concentration of untapped talent.

A Cambridge biosecurity network 

We think it would be valuable for people in Cambridge who are working on, or interested in, biosecurity to be part of a cohesive network, to make collaboration on projects easier and safer. We’ve heard that the Cambridge community is very poorly networked, even within the university. 

The network could include a directory of relevant professionals, a slack workspace for collaboration and discussion, and in person events. This would enable more collaboration and help people at an earlier stage of their career network. 

Providing a centralised community for biosecurity research at Cambridge will not only allow us to catalyze impactful research, it will also allow us to foster a culture of responsible science and encourage good norms about infohazards. 

A ‘Fundamentals of Biosecurity’ reading group

We have started running a “fundamentals of biosecurity’ reading group, in person, from the Meridian Office, modelled on BlueDot Impact’s successful ‘Biosecurity Fundamentals’ group. We think that it will help inspire people at early stages of their career, or still students, to think more about career options within biosecurity- particularly in adjacent or particularly relevant areas like public health and biology. 

We believe that running these sessions in person would help build the sense of community that is often harder to establish with virtual groups. 

We think this will build on the success of other cause area specific reading groups in Cambridge such as the AI Safety Fundamentals course run by the Cambridge AI Safety Hub, and could be successfully advertised through academic mailing lists. We would leverage our existing biosecurity community as session facilitators, and enforce strong norms against potentially infohazardous topics.

Biosecurity projects

Finally, we think that running an 8 week programme of working on biosecurity projects would help people at various stages of their career collaborate on impactful projects. We aim to have mentors with experience in academia, the not-for-profit sector, government and industry  helping individuals or groups work through a project over the course of the 8 weeks. Projects are being run as part-time commitments during the university term and for the purpose of community building a preference will be placed on in-person mentees.

Evaluation

It is currently ongoing but we plan to do a halfway evaluation and an end of cohort evaluation to see how impactful we think it has been.

Metrics will include: 

  • % of people who applied are still attending 
  • % of people who are attending socials or extra sessions (e.g. lectures) 
  • How engaged people are - assessed by mentors/facilitators who have been working with them 

 I think it would also be useful to do an evaluation a few months after the end of this cohort to see if participants are still involved with the CBH ( if they attend socials, discussion groups, lectures etc or if they have pivoted their career into biosecurity or if they are still continuing on a project)

We also want people to complete surveys to gather feedback on ways participants think the reading group and projects could be improved. 

Reflection

Lessons learned so far: 

  • Need to make it obvious from advertising that these groups are running in person, we had applications from people all over the globe 
  • Applications to the reading group should have included questions to establish their background and experience in biosecurity. 
  • We should have applied for funding earlier so that we would have a budget by the time the cohort started 

Field-Building Proposal

Next Steps

We are in the middle of running the project and reading group at the moment, aiming to finish this first cohort on the 15th March. 

At the moment that looks like myself and co-founder Sandy Hickson facilitating the reading groups and Sandy overseeing the projects. The aim is for the projects to have deliverables by 15.03.24 and for these to be discussed in a final presentation. 

We are aiming to run another cohort of the projects and reading groups next academic term, if we think this one has gone well and has inspired people to want to work on biosecurity, especially pandemic prevention. 

Call to Action

We would appreciate support from the wider biosecurity community, especially those living in Cambridge. 

For the next cohort we would be looking for in-person facilitators for the reading group and mentors for the projects. We would appreciate any ideas for 8 week projects or people to give one-off lectures to the cohorts. 

We would always appreciate feedback and advice from people working on similar projects.

We are waiting to hear back from potential funders, but at the moment we have a very minimal budget which will make running socials or retreats to aid in community building difficult. 

 

Disclaimer: The idea of founding Cambridge Biosecurity Hub (CBH) was thought of before the Project Sprint. The first meeting about it was held on 23.11.23. The majority of the work and the cohorts began during the sprint period, the first meeting of the first CBH cohort was on 29.01.24.  

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