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To be, or not to be... a researcher in Romania?

Tudor Oprea
University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

When we first considered initiating this competition, addressing the feasibility of high quality research in Romania, we contemplated two alternatives: One reflecting the choice of working outside Romania, the other staying in Romania. We further implied that those who find themselves abroad have, at times, considered the possibility to return. Yet, as Zimbrean points out, these alternatives are not incompatible, and are subject to further change. The choice is ultimately individual, but our main argument has been, for years, that Romania's infrastructure, mentality and overall conditions are not inviting for possible repatriates.

The major aim of this competition was to informally poll the Ad Astra readers, to learn more about the issues that are currently perceived as troublesome with respect to (i) the state of research in Romania, (ii) the level of awareness of researchers considering a career abroad, and (iii) the degree of readiness and acceptance for returning expatriates. The state of research in Romania is rather grim, as noted by all essayists, but mostly by Avrigeanu, with salaries at the bottom of the pyramid, with libraries shelving decade-old journals and rarely new ones, with teachers not knowing what to teach and buildings just above the freezing point in winter, with widespread in-breeding when hiring new people in most academic and research institutions, and very low rates of success in getting funds from external agencies... In short, research in Romania has never been worse in the past century.

From a detached perspective, one can only wonder why this is happening, given that a significant fraction of the post-1989 politicians in Romania who held higher office received higher education, while some of the past and present prime ministers and presidents are/were professors at Romanian universities. From an emotional perspective, the situation is so hopeless, that one should practically advise any would-be researcher to think ten times before even considering such a career option. We are witnessing such an unprecedented decay of research - from lab ware to human resources - that we can safely state that Romanian science is dying. The criminal negligence with respect to existing researchers needs to be addressed by Romanian authorities, perhaps assisted by the Romanian Academy or by the Ministry of Education and Research - yet there's nothing more than bombastic phrases to support starving scientists.

The level of awareness when considering a research career abroad varies widely - and one of the major functions of Ad Astra and other on-line resources is to provide pertinent information about cultural differences, mentalities, expectations and selection criteria at various research institutions around the world. As noted by Blaga, not every young researcher is willing to become a hired hand, while Pantos points out that not everything taught at Romanian universities is up-to-date, or even relevant.

The degree of readiness and acceptance for returning expatriates is clearly considered zero by Vasile, whereas Costa points out that, at least in the medical world, some options exist. A third alternative to our initial considerations is best illustrated by Moroianu: take time-limited appointments abroad while maintaining a "home base", i.e., an active position in a Romanian institution. From personal experience with two universities in Timisoara, this requires the benevolence, creative cooperation and understanding from academic colleagues, management as well as Human Resources: there is no legal basis for "freezing" positions for people who are most of the time abroad. This illustrates the rather low degree of readiness for returning expatriates, since the home-base institution is often required to find 'creative' solutions to host returning expatriates. To our knowledge, the legal basis for returning expatriates is inadequate; from salaries and working conditions to infrastructure and grant-funding criteria, one is still required to rely on 'the old boys network'.

Hope remains the only option. This crisis provides a unique opportunity, best synthesized by Pantos: Invite qualified, well-known scientists, some among them expatriates, to teach (about research) in Romania; provide them appropriate conditions to live and work - this is not unlike the China Expatriate Program, or the way Italy and Greece are dealing with top scientists who wish to live there. As the country experiences brain-drain at increasing levels, returning to Romania to teach is, in itself, the best starting point for rebuilding Romania's human resources. This needs to be a large-scale solution, so the government needs to sanction it.

To be, or not to be, a researcher in Romania? The answer may be subjective, but under the present circumstances, one can safely state that choosing a research career in Romania is not a wise decision.  Will the future be more forgiving with the next generation?

 

Ranking for the Ad Astra essay contest:

Name Rank  Award (in USD)
Dan Pantos, Austin, Texas First Prize
100
Serban Costa, Frankfurt, Germany Second Prize
70
Paula Zimbrean, New York, New York Third Prize
50
Iulia Blaga, Cluj, Romania Fourth Place
40
Sergiu Moroianu, Toulouse, France Fourth Place
40
Vlad Avrigeanu, Bucharest, Romania Sixth Place  
Speranta Avram, Bucharest, Romania Seventh Place  
Corina Vasile, Padova, Italy Eight Place  
Mirel Birlan, Meudon, France hors concours  

 

Jury composition:

Razvan Florian, Cluj, Romania
Liviu Giosan, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Tudor Oprea, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dorin Toader, Boston, Massachusetts

 

Scoring sheet (all twelve entries were given scores from 1-10 to each category):

1. If the essay provides a direct answer to the proposed theme
2. If the essay offers an international background to Romania's problems
3. If the essay suggests possible solutions
4. Is it readable as an essay / is it motivational ?
5. Is it written in a clear English language?
6. Does the viewpoint pertain to Romania's research in general?

Note: Double points were awarded for items 1 and 3.

 

Sponsors for the Ad Astra essay contest:

Tudor Oprea, Albuquerque, New Mexico $200
Dorin Toader, Boston, Massachusetts $100

 

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