|Title||The most ‘CHALLENGING’ 10 years of the IBS|
The most ‘CHALLENGING’ 10 years of the IBS
Introducing Research Fellow Emeritus SHIN Hee-Sup of the Center for Cognition and Sociality!
Innovation, Beyond, Support. He who was with IBS for 10 years describes IBS using these 3 words. He is Research Fellow Emeritus SHIN Hee-Sup from Center for Cognition and Sociality, who retired in December after serving as the director. We met him again in September, at the Daejeon IBS headquarters
Dr. SHIN Hee-Sup, IBS Research Fellow Emeritus, is busy shuttling between Daejeon and the greater Seoul metropolitan area after his retirement. Age does not deter him from conducting his own research at the IBS headquarters in Daejeon while working to develop a treatment for brain diseases in the industrial sector.
Innovation - The most challenging 10 years at IBS
“I conducted research at POSTECH (previously Pohang University of Science and Technology) for about 10 years starting in 1991. Then, I moved to KIST (Korea Institute of Science and Technology) in 2001 before I joined the IBS Research Center, which was established in 2012. Thus, I moved to a different institute every 10 years.”
A series of interviews of Directors of IBS Research Centers who are at the forefront of competition with
scientists from all over the world revealed some commonalities. Most of them changed the institutes they
belonged to or research areas about every 10 years (refer to ‘Paving a Path of His Own and Setting a
Milestone in World History, Director KIM Seong Gi, Center for Neuroscience Imaging Research’ in the IBS
Research 16th Issue).
“If you are in an area for about a decade, you could get mired in conventions. You need to change your environment or take a fresh turn in your research with a creative idea before that happens.”
Research begins with a novel idea. If researchers stick to their own stereotypical method lacking creativity and fail to come up with new outputs, they should think deeply about why they actually started research. Breathing new life into what they do every decade is a good way of working through the rut. Putting this into a different perspective, it may take at least a decade to produce outstanding output. Such rationale might have been behind the IBS’ slogan of ‘A decade of New Discoveries’ that it put forward when celebrating its 10th anniversary.
‘Korea’s First Neuroscientist’
This title always follows Shin. He chose to become a scientist after graduating from the Seoul National University College of Medicine. Willingness to take up challenges, he said, has been a driving force in his life of taking a new path that others do not choose.
Such attitude led him to become a neuroscientist. Shin’s attempt to connect psychology with neuroscience was a culmination of his willingness to take up challenges in his research field.
“Even in the early 2000s, no one tried to relate psychology and neuroscience. While proving psychological phenomena by conducting animal experiments, nobody cared about brains and nerves.”
Dr. Shin started to focus on sociality in earnest after the Center for Cognition and Sociality was established in 2012. He said that sociality, in retrospect, was not a mainstream research subject then.
“At that time, it was said that empathy was something that was found only in higher animals such as humans. My research started against the backdrop of such stereotypical assumption. I started by asking whether it was true that monkeys did not have empathy. After weathering countless challenges, I was able to prove genetically and neuroscientifically that even mice have capacity for empathy.”
Every new decade has been full of challenges in a new research area. What does a decade at the IBS mean to Research Fellow Emeritus Shin? He wasted no time by saying that it was “the most challenging.”
“The best thing about my 10 years at the IBS was that I was able to work with extremely competent researchers on big subjects that I had dreamt of for a long time. I was engaged in research projects with confidence that our research would produce exceptional outputs given the research capabilities that each one of them had. That was why I could push ahead with ambitious projects that I would not have dared to take up alone.”
Beyond - sacrifices must be made to go beyond the limit
Dr. Shin was over 60 years old when he was designated as the director of the Center for Cognition and Sociality in 2012. Even before the designation, his scientific achievements had been recognized with various honors and awards including the designation of the first National Scientist in 2006, the Korea Best Scientist & Engineer Award in 2005, and the Order of Civil Merit, Dongbaek Medal in 2004.
“College professors are not allowed to take graduate students as soon as they reach the age of 60. There is widespread concern that they cannot supervise students all the way to their doctorate degrees before reaching retirement at the age of 65. I was at that juncture, so I was able to make a new start at the IBS.”
Dr. Shin’s dedication to research was only possible thanks to his family’s support.
“I immersed myself so deeply in research that I seriously thought that I could not say anything about my life without research. I basically avoided everything that stood in the way of research. I did not do anything as a father or husband, and I am deeply sorry for having let my wife take care of everything at home.”
Expressing his regretful feelings for his wife, he confessed, “I wanted to show the maximum of what I have with my rather limited capacity.”
“Be careful. You will end up in big trouble these days if you do the same as I did”, warned Dr. Shin when giving advice to young scientists.
He also advised young researchers about so-called work-life balance, which has become a major issue in the modern world. “The total amount of efforts that you can make in your life is set. It is your decision as to how to allocate your effort here and there or whether to concentrate it on just one thing. Do remember, however, it is you who should take all the responsibility for that decision,” said Dr. Shin.
The veteran researcher chuckled, saying that he had led many young researchers in the field and seen various cases but failed to find a good answer. He added that one should not forget about his/her duty as a researcher.
“In the U.S., if you look into a leading group that is performing well, all of its members are literally running with their eyes fixed only forward. Such focused people can realize tremendous achievements that really change the world.”
Support - expect research culture that supports without interfering
“In Korea, every time researchers apply for grants, they have to change research subjects. This is a problem for basic science, which needs steady investment flows over time.”
To address this shortcoming, the Korean government established the IBS to strengthen research capabilities in basic science with the announcement of the Special Act On Establishment Of And Support For International Science And Business Belt in 2011 following the initiation of designating National Scientists1) in 2006.
“Thanks to a variety of investment and projects in basic science, those who acquired doctoral degrees at home are considered equally as capable as those with doctoral degrees from overseas. Not only institutions like the IBS but also universities need to ensure a research environment where researchers can delve into a certain subject over the long term.”
Investments in basic science have led to tangible performance. The Center for Cognition and Sociality that Dr. Shin led produced significant publications in international journals.
“We have advanced to a point where Korean scientists are playing important roles in global research. Increasing numbers of researchers are invited to international conferences, and more of them are recognized as top scientists.”
The IBS has made a great contribution to advancing Korea’s basic science to the current level. The research centers under the IBS have greater autonomy and receive more research funding than other research institutes. Doing so has the sole purpose of advancing basic science, which cannot reap results in a short period of time. Nevertheless, somebody should take responsibility for performance. Dr. Shin, who served as director of one of the IBS research centers for 10 years, expressed concern that the IBS is increasingly less autonomous like other government-funded research institutes.
“The philosophy of ‘providing support without meddling’ started in the U.K. We need to make sure to help such culture and policies of supporting research take root in Korea so that researchers can fully control the research process but then be subject to thorough evaluation afterwards.”
Despite his retirement as the research center director, his life of research continues. Recognized for his research capabilities, Dr. Shin is conducting research on the behavioral roles of a brain along with two postdoctoral researchers and one graduate student.
When asked whether he feels sorry for leading just a small research group unlike the large ones he used to lead, he said, “I am happy because I can truly explore what is of greatest interest to me without having to bear heavy responsibilities.
Yes, I lead a smaller group, but we are going all-out in our research. I am more than ready to step aside in any case if I stand in the way of young scientists. My philosophy of life is to immerse myself but not become obsessed.”
1) A system that provides research grants of 1.5 billion won per year to selected scientists for 5 years, with a possible extension of up to 10 years after evaluation. Currently not in operation.