Pandemics (2023 Oct)

Database of Potential Technical Biosecurity PhD Advisors

By Evan DeTurk, Christian Pearson & Benedikt Thelen (Published on May 22, 2024)

Links

  • Want to learn even more about biosecurity? 
    • Helpful information can be found here, here, and here.
    • A more general list of relevant organizations can be found here.

Motivations

While biosecurity is in many ways still an emerging field, there is no shortage of cutting edge technical research being done with tremendous relevance to the field. Additionally, graduate programs in the life sciences and other adjacent fields remain crucial avenues for those hoping in biosecurity to acquire relevant skills and knowledge as well as career capital. However, to our knowledge, no centralized database of academic researchers existed prior to this project. 

Thus, we set out to create a repository that would provide answers to the following questions:

  • Who are the top academics doing scientific research relevant to biosecurity?
  • What specific areas of biosecurity is their work relevant to?
  • What academic field do they work in and what knowledge and qualifications might a prospective graduate student want to be successful in their lab?

Our list is primarily aimed at:

  • Prospective or current life sciences-adjacent PhD students looking to get involved in biosecurity (note that postdoc opportunities may also be available outside of the academic institutions on this list) 
  • Other people curious about reading more about the technical side of biosecurity

We’ve included basic information about each researcher and their lab, categorized their work into both biosecurity-relevant and broader academic fields, and listed some of their most relevant publications so that readers can get right to the meat of each lab’s research. More detailed information for each researcher can be found on their website; we resisted adding even more fields to the table to keep it from being too difficult to parse. While the list is primarily directed at those looking to pursue graduate studies in the life sciences, we’ve also included a few researchers in adjacent fields (such as epidemiology, mathematical modeling, and computer science) to increase its breadth. 

Our goal is that young researchers looking to move into biosecurity are able to use this list to gain a clearer understanding of biosecurity in academia and use this knowledge to inform their graduate school applications. We also hope that the list contributes to broader mapping of the biosecurity landscape and subsequent field-building. 

Methodology and Limitations

The project’s division of labor was primarily along geographic lines, with each member of the team focusing on their home country/region. This belies the primary limitation of the current iteration of the project: it’s likely that the list excludes relevant researchers from areas that we haven’t been able to study directly (most notably the entire continents of Asia and Africa). We’ve attempted to fill this gap by soliciting recommendations from people with knowledge of biosecurity in those areas, but covering these areas in greater detail remains an ongoing priority. We’d appreciate any suggestions that viewers of the list might have, which can be submitted via our Feedback Form

Searching among research articles using keywords such as ‘biosecurity’ and ‘biorisk’ mostly returned policy articles which, while valuable, didn’t help us identify technical biosecurity-relevant research. Thus, we employed a slew of other methods to identify researchers:

  • We began by vetting researchers we were already familiar with or who came recommended by others
  • We searched specifically within various relevant areas of research (e.g., those under ‘Biosecurity area’ in our database)
  • We looked at the papers cited by review articles in areas of interest (examples: 1, 2)
  • We vetted researchers affiliated with pandemic-focused institutes, including the Oxford Pandemic Sciences Institute and the UT Austin Center for Pandemic Decision Science
  • We looked at research funded by specific grant programs with broad biosecurity relevance (examples: 1, 2)
  • When we added papers of interest for a researcher on our list, we checked for any potentially relevant co-authors

Assembling the list thus forced us to make determinations about which labs were ‘relevant enough’ to  include, since we encountered explicit mentions of biosecurity only occasionally during our search. It was difficult to come up with consistent criteria, but we generally tried to only include labs that had already published research directly on a relevant topic. There are undoubtedly many more labs working in adjacent areas or creating frameworks that could be applied to technical biosecurity, but we wanted to focus our list on the researchers who are already the most directly involved.

Team

Project lead and US representative: Evan DeTurk

Oceania representative: Christian Pearson

Europe representative: Benedikt Thelen

This database was created as a capstone project for the BlueDot Impact Biosecurity Fundamentals course. We’d like to thank the course organizers and facilitators for taking the time to share their expertise. 

Additionally, we’d like to acknowledge Pierce Manlangit, Alix Pham, Johan Täng, and Michael Chen for their helpful input and feedback. A thanks also goes to Phil Palmer and Cambridge Effective Altruism for providing us with access to an unfinished version of a similar list.

Lastly, we’re indebted to those who have suggested researchers and/or strategies for identifying them as we’ve sought to maintain and update this list: Vorathep Sachdev. 

Resources

This project has not received any funding. It has been implemented (and continues to be maintained) through volunteer effort and free online web technologies.

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