The Princeton Biomedical Engineering Society hosted an informational presentation on Feb. 22 with Elise Mochizuki, investment analyst at the Akemi Capital family office. She is the founder of the honor society Epsilon Alpha Mu and the nonprofit organization The Elise Foundation, which aims to make available new sources of funding for STEM research and pursuits on campus.
The honor society will provide Ivy League-affiliated researchers with funding and the opportunity to enter a new poster contest in which researchers will create exhibits to showcase their current projects. She was accompanied by Kenji Mochizuki, chairman of the board of directors of the honor society. The honor society plans to award current Ivy League students in science fields with monetary awards for research.
According to Kenji Mochizuki, grant applications take up close to 75 percent of researchers’ time; this wastes valuable time that could instead be spent doing research with no guarantee of a payoff.
In addition, Mochizuki noted that traditional sources of funding like the NIH are harder to access. He added, “[The NIH has] made it harder for faculty to even apply for grants [because] ... you need to identify a specific genetic causality for a disease. [The NIH] are insisting, and preferring, grant applications to be linked to a single biomarker. But the problem is ... most of [the diseases of interest] are multifactorial, and other biomarkers may not even have been discovered, and there’s a huge environmental component.”
“So you have a whole discipline. All of a sudden, it’s not even worth your time applying for grant,” Mochizuki said. "And we’ve heard this from a lot of investigators. We’ve heard it from chairs, chiefs, other senior scientists, at a handful of schools, at the Ivies.”
Because of this, the honor society aims to provide funding at every level of involvement in research, from principal investigators to graduate students to temporary or summer visiting researchers. Another one of the society's aims is to foster an inter-Ivy League network of scientists.
“Once you’re a member, you’ll have access primarily to funding and the network,” Mochizuki said. “The trend in science is collaboration, interdisciplinary, interdepartmental research, and we’re just trying to facilitate that.”
“Initially, we would provide small cash awards through a traditional science poster competition, then larger poster-competition awards like scholarships, fellowships, and endowments to scientists we identify and vet through the poster competition,” Mochizuki added.
Elise and Kenji Mochizuki have spent the last week touring Ivy League colleges in order to increase awareness of The Elise Foundation and Epsilon Alpha Mu.
“Because I just set up a nonprofit organization one and a half months ago to start a brand new annual poster competition, nobody has heard of us,” Mochizuki said. “That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to provide the opportunity for students to meet me in person to hear about this new funding source and to ask their questions.”
Kenji Mochizuki cited Drs. Bonnie Bassler in molecular biology, Robert Kaita in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and former University dean of engineering H. Vincent Poor, as well as University trustee Fiyinfoluwa Akinlawon as some of the honor society’s contacts on campus.
When asked which subject in STEM she was most excited about supporting, Elise Mochizuki said, “Neuroscience. Anything that has to do with the brain.”
The two organizations currently are exclusively for STEM students and researchers affiliated with the Ivy League, though Mochizuki also stated that expanding the scope of the foundation and competition to schools other than Ivies was “definitely on our horizon. We’re going to start small now, probably stumble, take some baby steps ... there’s a learning curve; philanthropy is not as easy as you think.”
“We’re very welcome to such initiatives,” PBMES president Rohan Shah ’20 wrote in an email.
This year’s Epsilon Alpha Mu poster competition will be held at Cornell Medical School and/or Columbia University, according to the honor society’s website. Participants will vote on the dates.