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Staying or going - the perspective of a senior graduate student

Cornelia Iulia Blaga
Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

This article is from the point of view of a student in the final year preparing to become a scientist. The problem in question being if there are proper conditions to do research work in Romania, I shall try to point out some issues which arise, and which stay in the way of many who try to do their job.

Let me begin with the choice of the research topic. Many may say they enjoy independence in choosing it, but I feel that some of you at least will agree that this "independence" is based on what the coordinator's interests are. The research goals could be very well defined but the extent to which the research progress is monitored is not always what you would expect. This could have later implication in the writing of the articles, problem upon which I shall make further comments later.

Why do I feel it is like this? Well if you enter a laboratory, you will see that each one has a main research topic, evidently, and that materials, here including experimental equipment and all that is associated with research, are mainly purchased with the funding money from grants. Moreover, if you want to become a part of any lab you have to choose the same topic, which could correspond your research interests or not quite, because if you do not, you will not get the support any young scientist needs. Therefore, you may end up becoming a hired hand.

Once you become a part of this team, other issues arise. In the beginning, like everywhere, you must adjust to your team. The inflexibility, the selfish attitude of your colleagues may strike you from the very beginning, giving you the feeling that there is no team, just individuals interested in achieving their own goals. If you are a woman, things could be a bit more complicated if we take into consideration the prejudices that some have, that women must work twice as much as men.
Having passed this stage, let us take into account other problems. One could be the available resources. The experimental equipment may be of high quality, but this does not necessary help you if the technical staff is unable to assist you. The paucity of literature does not get you very far in your research and, if you do not have the right relations with people abroad who could help, you can find yourself lost.

The lack of time is another problem that young scientist must confront. This is an essential issue, as time allotted to complete the research project is not enough. This could stem from the fact that in the same time you have to do other things to earn additional income, e.g., teaching, administration, and preparing grant applications. Teaching can take a significant amount of your time. Even if teaching takes just some hours per week, preparing the courses almost doubles the time and this could very well fragment your work. Such tasks interfere to a great extent with research. The periods of funding are limited, but on the other hand administrating and preparing grant applications take a lot of time and skill, which is not necessarily useful to the research itself. Women here seem to have more problems with time pressure, especially if they have a family with children to raise.

Other typical problems refer to the lack of communication between research groups, the low motivation due to low remuneration and lack of appreciation, the pressure of having papers published, mostly by observing quantity, not quality. In writing articles, you might not get the coordinator's attention unless the topic is in his/hers best interest. It appears that the main goal is to produce publications, rather than to develop new equipment or better methods of investigation.

The uncertainty that hangs over the future interferes with the ability to concentrate on research, with the capacity to invest all your time on the subject of the research. Many realize, sooner or later, that the fact that you achieve good results on your research topic has no bearing on job opportunities. Speaking of job opportunities, it becomes obvious after studying the labour market, that they are not so many. The research institutes are one after another closing for want of government funding, leaving other scientist who have that so much needed experience, unemployed. The private sector is just beginning to open its doors to young scientists, but one of the requirements is several years of prior experience. Where to get such experience!? Hence, there is a substantial number of talented young researchers with little prospect of obtaining tenured positions.

The above observations are equally valid for both fundamental and applied research. Most of the issues are the same, with some exceptions. Let us take for example environmental protection. This is quite a problematic issue in our country. Although some legislation exists, it is not taken seriously even by those factors directly responsible for enforcing it. The cause may vary from poor training and environmental education to the indifference of ordinary people. It often happens that people who do not have the appropriate training do this work, so we should not surprised that the effects of some serious accidents are minimized.

All the above things put a bleak light on the future of scientific research in our country. Unfortunately, we continue to witness the exodus of "the gray matter", young and not so young anymore. Problems that arise regarding language, culture, work permits, taxes and pensions seem no to matter so much. As it has always been, the problem that remains in this case is the fact that, while in exile, you are a stranger. Not surprisingly, the satisfaction of young researchers strongly depends on the working conditions at their host institutes. If you are fortunate, you may end up in a place where your work might be appreciated and where you can exchange ideas with some open-minded people from different countries. The less fortunate encounter issues regarding career uncertainties, inadequate salaries, funds and equipment.

Asked if I want to do research in Romania I answer that I would like better conditions. But who among those potentially accountable for changing things for the better will lift a finger to improve matters? The reaction was that we should be the ones to change the actual conditions, but if you try it seems like for each step forward you take two backwards. Young scientists get closer and closer towards senility before finding permanent scientific positions, or have to quit research without accumulating reasonable employment benefits. Hence, the statistics for the following years do not seem to differ.

Many of these problems have been heard before and still major improvements seem far away. Although my point of view is rather somber, I strive to keep my optimism.

Ad Astra • Volume 2, Issue 1, 2003 • Viewpoint
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