Of Seeds and Support

by Robert T. Pennock | Dec 14, 2021


Everyone is born with the basic capabilities needed to learn about the world. Babies are proto-scientists; evolution endowed us all with the disposition needed to attend to and explore our surroundings and discover its useful regularities. Attentiveness, curiosity, and related character traits are the seeds of science. These traits must then be systematically cultivated if we are to not only survive but thrive. Cultivating these traits and developing the systematic habits needed for exemplary science is not easy. For the tree of science to flourish and bear fruit requires not just fertile soil and sun, but also careful tending by a supportive community.

Sigma Xi’s Grants in Aid of Research (GIAR) program, whose 100th anniversary we celebrate this year, has long supported mentored research experiences for students. These are seed grants in two senses of the term. They do not just support early research; more fundamentally, they support the growth and development of young scientists-to-be. Since initiating the GIAR program in 1922, Sigma Xi has awarded over $14 million in research funding to more than 30,000 graduate, undergraduate, and high school students. As you read quotes and stories from past GIAR recipients on the next two pages, you’ll get a sense of how meaningful these mentored experiences can be.

For seeds to germinate and grow requires a hospitable environment. Sigma Xi added the Student Research Conference to its annual meeting in 2001 to provide a welcoming venue where GIAR recipients can present and get feedback on their early research. Professional development workshops at the meeting provide budding scientists with the chance to develop their skills. Most significantly, the Conference provides an environment where students have the chance to interact with eminent researchers and educators who recognize their responsibility to be role models and mentors for the next generation, so students can learn to cultivate the scientific mindset in themselves. These and other programmatic activities are part of Sigma Xi’s deep commitment to advancing the values and virtues that underlie a flourishing research culture.

What can you do to lend your own support to these efforts? Identify talent and nurture it. This is especially significant for those who might not have recognized in themselves the traits that could ground a career in science. Encourage promising students to apply for a GIAR—the next application deadline is March 15—and offer to help them as a Research Advisor. Tend to the seeds. And consider contributing to the GIAR Centennial Fund so Sigma Xi can run this successful program for another 100 years.



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Robert T. Pennock, Ph.D.
Sigma Xi President

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