The ongoing conflict in Syria is one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises, but an often overlooked consequence of this catastrophe is that it is also causing a generation of promising researchers to be potentially lost. Since 2012, the Illinois Institute of Technology has welcomed 35 promising students from Syria to the US, and they have been conducting research in STEM-related fields which in many cases has also led to offers of work from companies such as Motorola and Goldman Sachs. These students view communication and collaboration as a crucial tool in helping to support the struggling research community in their country, and here they give their own inspiring perspective on what can be done to counter the many challenges they face.
We always believed in our capability to do big things as Syrians, but the amount of visible success that we have achieved during our short time in the US strengthened our confidence in the potential of Syrians. We also deeply and firmly believe that we have an obligation and responsibility to the tens of thousands of university students in Syria and those now displaced – and to the memories of those who have lost their lives. Our goal is to work with partners, such as Mendeley, to amplify and lift their voices and their research to the global academic community.
Syrians, however, are facing very hard times now. Due to the catastrophic conditions throughout Syria and now neighboring countries, bright, talented and ambitious undergraduate and graduate students are now faced with even greater adversity in their desire to move their innovative ideas and research forward – fewer resources, a declining number of students and faculty who can readily assemble to pursue intellectual inquiry, and significantly reduced connectivity to fellow peers, and the regional and global community of researchers and scholars. This does not mean that it is over for them, it just means that we need to put more effort into gathering resources and making them widely available for Syrians, as well as any other countries facing conflict. Syrian university students must know that they are meaningfully connected to current researchers and to the legacy of those who have created the foundation of science and the arts for more than a thousand years.
Inspired by the ambitious and expansive Google manifesto our idea is to create a Syrian Research Exchange with the following vision:
To organize Syrian undergraduate and graduate research abstracts, innovation initiatives, and intellectual property in order to share these resources with the Syrian diaspora and the world for mutual and universal development of the human condition. In so doing, we seek to provide a platform, a “virtual incubator for ideas,” and learning architecture for other university students where education is at the extreme through armed conflict, insecurity, poverty, natural disaster, repression, and loss of academic freedom.
We believe that the Mendeley community and network of scholars offers an ideal foundation to explore the details of this idea, and to collaborate to create a platform to provide young Syrian university students – our future faculty, researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, diplomats, artists and peacemakers – with mentoring and the necessary resources that to help them carry their education forward despite the daily, and often horrific, realities of armed conflict, increased poverty, and fear. The Syrian people are resilient and we believe that this initiative creates a momentum for research, scholarship, hope, freedom, and peace.
Finally, we would like to thank the entire Mendeley team for the opportunity to present these ideas; in addition, offer our gratitude to Jusoor, EducationUSA, the Institute of International Education, Illinois Tech, as well as our families and generous donors who have supported us in our journey forward.
The IIT Syrian student undergraduate community in support of research and scholarship
We would value feedback from the Mendeley community on how we can help further, and have started a Mendeley group called Research in Conflict where you can also share your thoughts and experiences on the subject.