REPU’s success has been limited by three main hurdles: recruiting laboratories, securing visas and obtaining funding. As REPU learned from previous experiences, the first two limitations were overcome. Economic support remains the main restriction on the growth of the program. Participants invest personal funds to cover the expenses of visas, travel and room and board. Limited support from Peruvian universities and the Peruvian government is funneled to students with greater economic needs. This lack of funding reduces the pool of qualified students. As a consequence, many gifted students have been unable to participate in the program.
REPU’s success in the biomedical sciences suggests that the same approach can be applied to other fields, such as chemistry, physics and ecology. Expanding to these disciplines would help nucleate a wide network of Peruvian undergrads, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members and professional scientists. This network would impact Peruvian science positively and give a natural foundation for interdisciplinary collaborations. Importantly, one of the main goals of the program is network building. Therefore a long-term goal is to expand beyond Peru and include other Latin American countries with similar needs, such as Ecuador and Bolivia.
Programs like REPU are well suited to complement scientific development in countries where graduate education in the sciences has not developed fully. This is the case in most countries in the region, the big exceptions being Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico, where an established scientific community thrives in comparison. In fact, these countries invest five to 10 times more in research and development than their neighbors. As a result, exceptional opportunities like the one offered by the Pew Latin American Fellows Program mostly benefit these countries (97 percent of Pew Latin American Fellows come from these countries).
Generating a strong peer network of budding scientists is a critical component for advancing science in Latin America. A generation of well-trained, well-connected, socially engaged scientists will support the long-term goal of establishing a strong scientific community in developing countries. This approach constitutes a perfect complement to the ongoing efforts to transform the scientific reality of Latin America.*
We would like to thank Mev Dominguez, cofounder of REPU, the Office of International Student and Scholar Services at Yale and Vanderbilt Universities, and hosting department business offices for help with visas; Enrique De La Cruz, Michael Bradley, Dawn Turton, David Castro (BioUnalm), Hugo Flores, Modesto Montoya, Kristy Lamb, the De Camilli and Wente labs, PIs and labs hosting students, REPU participants, CONCYTEC, and UPCH for financial support; and Yale and Vanderbilt Universities for providing a site for the program to develop.
*In Peru, important initiatives to organize scientists and to stimulate research and education are well underway. The National Center for Technology and Technological Innovation in Peru has secured a large investment grant from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Peruvian government to fund several research and development projects. Large international scientific meetings (ECIs) hosted in different parts of the country and high school science fairs that introduce children to the wonders of the discovery process disseminate information about science. And major universities have established re-entry grants to attract highly trained Peruvian scientists working abroad. In this context, and in a collaboration with UPCH, Carlos Bustamante at University of California, Berkeley, has established a mirror lab at UPCH to conduct single molecule studies on proteins of clinical interest in Peru. The REPU program fits perfectly with these initiatives and complements these efforts.
1. Sagasti, F. (2004) Knowledge and Innovation for Development: The Sisyphus Challenge of the 21st Century. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
V. Kenyi Saito-Diaz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate student in the department of cell and developmental biology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Abel Alcázar-Román (email@example.com) is a postdoctoral associate in the department of cell biology at Yale University School of Medicine.