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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Why Russian scientists prefer to work abroad

Published “MK” draft about the return of 15 thousand scientists in Russia (23.05.2016 g) caused a storm of discussions not only in the country but also abroad. Comments on the Internet reached the extremes: “there is no need to return the traitors and opportunists, they would only be a money grab” to “no reasonable person on their own will not return here, unless everyone on the conference to convene and to lower the iron curtain”. The presidential Agency for strategic initiatives (ASI), under whose wing he conceived the idea, said the direction is good, it is necessary to act, at least until everything is under development. We interviewed a successful emigrated scientists, including Nobel prize winners: how they evaluate prospects, why leave the country and under what conditions could return.

photo: From personal archive

Despite working in the best institutes in the USA and Italy, the scientist Raul Gainetdinov always wanted to do science in Russia. In his St. Petersburg laboratory.

The first thing we wrote to Manchester University to know the opinion of MIPT graduates, Nobel laureates in physics for experiments with graphene Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov.

The answer came only from Konstantin Sergeyevich, more than laconic: “…to be Honest, I’d prefer to keep your opinions to yourself”. Apparently, this opinion has changed little since 2010, when Konstantin Novoselov in an interview to our newspaper said:

— If I have made an interesting proposal to work in Russia, I would probably and returned. But… no, still unlikely. The fact that the organization of work in the same England much simpler and clearer than in Russia or, say, in Germany. It’s not just about the money…

In General, many of the interlocutors “MK” had mixed feelings: the idea is good, but too much need to bring it to life. And risks not suit everyone.

I’d love to, but as you work?..

Sergey Levchenko (working at the Institute. Fritz Haber of the max Planck Society — one of the leading research organizations in Germany) left Russia in 1999: “I went to the USA, graduated from MIPT. In his native city, Stary Oskol, Belgorod region, opportunities for academic growth are very limited, and to buy an apartment in Moscow means no. Through several years of study abroad I did not see the opportunity for the same level of wealth and availability of research facilities (computing power) in Russia.”

According to Levchenko, the return of scientists with international experience will definitely benefit the country (now lost the continuity of generations, development is lagging behind technology), but for immigrants themselves, this step is a big question — or rather, a lot of questions. “I’m glad to be back,” says Levchenko — but I need to see clear prospects for scientific growth: will I have access to research facilities necessary level; do not drown in a sea of bureaucracy; if I can freely travel around the world (it is an integral part of my profession)? Where will I live if I can steadily provide for his family..”

Another scientist, Alexander Goncharov, who left the country in 1991 as a recipient of the prestigious Humboldt fellowship in Germany for young scientists, and then remaining abroad (“In Russia to work in the specialty was not”), openly declares:

— Personally, I was too late to return to Russia — according to the age, and the need to do overtime for which no special interests. I doubt that will give me better conditions than I have.

Today potters working at the Carnegie institution for science (Washington), engaged in the physics and chemistry of materials under extreme conditions of high temperatures and pressures, including the search for new materials. According to the scientist, Russia will be very difficult to recover the experimental base, and even harder — to restore the prestige of the scientist, although the initiative he likes.

Approval coexists with fear and in the words of Vladislav Dagina (Professor, doctor of biological Sciences, Deputy Minister of health of the Russian Federation (1990-1992), the author of a number of drugs, since the 1990s, actively engaged in the pharmaceutical industry in Canada and the USA, since 2010 in the framework of the SKOLKOVO project also opened a laboratory in Moscow and returned the intellectual property rights for patents from Canada to Russia):

— If the country in large quantities will help create a lab that will provide state aid, will be healthy scientific competition, and the researchers will be able to freely exchange experiences with colleagues from other countries and have scientific basis in different regions of the world, — I would be happy to be based mostly here. Under such conditions, it can grow a new generation of talented scientists who don’t have to return. But if the arrival in Russia threatens to limit the possibilities, it’s not very interesting.

photo: youtube.com
Achievements of graduates of MIPT Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov proud of now as its in the UK. The Nobel prize, 2010

Professor Andrei Gudkov, senior Vice President of the Cancer Institute. Roswell Park, Buffalo, USA, author of over hundred scientific papers in the field of cancer treatment:

— You can talk about the sense of gratitude and debt to the society that raised you, gave knowledge. For me, this unpaid debt is first and foremost education that I could pass on to young people living in Russia. But, on the other hand, I sincerely believe that do more good science in their work abroad, as the existing technical possibilities allow achieving the per unit of time comparable results. While in my lab are constantly training people from Russian institutions, some now head of research in Moscow, and established relations with the best oncologists. I’m happy where am working now. In Buffalo, about 40 Russian-speaking families — we create a microsocium, we are not forced to change their culture. There is no ideology, we are trying to work in Russia, but it is unlikely I will be back: first, I for many years, and secondly, it seems to me, is more useful to continue an already existing business than to start something anew.

The return does not mean “serfdom”

Professor, Director of Center of nanotechnology for drug delivery and co-Director of the Institute for nanomedicine University of North Carolina at chapel hill (USA), Alexander Kabanov — one of those who left Russia in the 1990s, it has established contacts with the homeland. Since 2002, the scientist started to arrive in Russia, reading volunteer lectures at the chemistry Department of Moscow state University and returning some of his students with work experience in USA, and in 2010, received a megagrant of the Russian Government, has opened a laboratory in Moscow state University:

— In the late 1980s — early 1990s, we did work together with some scientists in the world, which, in essence, laid the foundations of nanomedicine. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the economy has made the continuation of studies is impossible. I have long resisted the departure: it seemed to me more than others given — in 1990, I became the youngest in the USSR, doctor of chemical Sciences, and I should be the last one to leave. But in the end I went to the USA. And it was absolutely the right decision: move threw me for 5-7 years, had a lot to catch up on, but I continued to study and otherwise would not take place as a scientist in his field, became a leader of the school of pharmacy No. 1 in the US and would not have been able then to bring to Russia their experience and knowledge.

According to Alexander Viktorovich, the idea of the return is correct, but it should not be viewed as a new “serfdom” — a modern masters combine work in different countries: “We live in a world of mobility of everything, it gives you the opportunity to be at the forefront of world science”. Kabanov recalls that already has the Association of Russian-speaking scientists outside of Russia (RASA), which created interdisciplinary research centers in cooperation with universities of Kazan, Tomsk and St. Petersburg, and there are successful scientists-compatriots are helping to bring Russia young shoots.

“A very difficult task, summarizes Boars. — Russia has lost the leading positions in science that were in the Soviet Union, and retreated far back in the field of discoveries and technologies. A number of countries which had 20-30 years ago were not strong, not only bypassed Russia, but escaped among the world leaders: China, South Korea, Singapore… and For this they needed large financial investment, to rebuild the archaic organization of science, its integration into world science. Russia also made some steps (mega-grants, Skoltech), but to succeed it is necessary to do immeasurably more, and we are waiting for stagnation and decay”.


Konstantin Severinov, Professor, SKOLKOVO Institute of science and technology, Professor Rutgers University (NJ, USA), the winner of the competition of mega-grants at the Polytechnic University of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg:

— In contrast to scientists, are returning in recent years in Russia due to various support programs, I returned one of the first, in 2004, for personal reasons and without any “cookies” from the state. With the help of his senior colleagues and former teachers, I opened a small laboratory in an academic institution. First time financed it at the expense of personal means and their American grants and learning the “joy” of scientific work in Russia. I want to believe that my active position regarding these absurdities contributed to the emergence of such new forms of support, as the mega-grants, grants of RNF and revitalization of science in the universities.

With regard to the stated ideas, it is, in my opinion, irresponsible and immoral. If a person have to return a lot of money, you almost certainly will not get the one you want. This “mercenary” is likely to be one of those who could not succeed in the competition for “Hamburg account” in developed countries and will leave you as soon as someone else offers him a bigger piece. Generally the question is wrong. It’s not to “bring”, “to pull” here as a thousand people. They will go where better. But “better” is not personal salaries and certainly not free kindergartens or sponsorship of housing. These are the conditions for scientific work: timely funding, timely delivery of reagents and equipment, low bureaucracy, free movement of research staff across the world (including, of course, the arrival and employment of foreign scientists in Russia) and a lot of other things, which today in Russia are either absent or require any crazy tricks, which occupies a lot of time and effort. In the field of life Sciences, the foundations of modern medicine and biotechnology, Russian laboratories of the world strong level not much more than fingers. Of course, you can, as it makes the SKOLKOVO Institute of science and technology, to attract a dozen other scientists of exceptional conditions. They even will open in the Russian Federation has one lab along with the already available overseas, but it will be a “Junior” in fact, but serious stuff will be made in a foreign unit.” And this is natural. Energetic scientist to pull fully to our country means to ruin his talent because to work in Russia — all the same what to float in the pool without water. 90% of defending my guys go to the West. It’s not their fault, but our misfortune. They are talented and highly professional, they see their future in science. And they understand that they will not be able to compete on equal terms with the world, if you stay in Russia. It is hoped that in the future someone will systematically improve the conditions for scientific work in our country, not to speak in populist programmes on the topic of the day, forcing everyone to engage in the agro-, neuro-, nano-balls from side to side. Then some of those who left will come back: not because someone “brought”, but because it will be possible to work productively, and to work in their country, other things being equal, of course, more comfortable.

Raul Gainetdinov, Professor of Skoltech, Director of the Institute for translational Biomedicine, head. laboratory of neurobiology and molecular pharmacology, Saint-Petersburg state University:

— Similar plans have been discussed for 15 years. The idea is very good and necessary. Unfortunately, I did not wait for state support: is back himself, and had their own to knock out the money for the lab.

Personally, I never planned to leave for life, I went for professional reasons — to work in the best laboratories in the world in their specialties in the USA (I believe that international experience is required of every scientist). The first ten years I joked that I must leave Russia on a business trip once a year for 11 months. Then it became not funny because opportunities for work in Russia has not appeared. Then I moved from America to Italy to be closer to Russia, and eight years in parallel tried to find clues for a serious project in our country. Fortunately, it all came together: I was supported by Skoltech and St. Petersburg state University, then I got a decent funding from the Russian science Foundation.

With the fact that in Russia now there are no conditions for work, I strongly disagree. Yes, infrastructure in Russia is not enough, but create it. The state is pretty seriously invested in the equipment of the last six years, and in some institutions but not enough people willing to work on it. So now you have to invest in frames. You have to understand that out of 100 about 90 scientists who left will not return (from megastars difficult to move, even to move to another city in the US, they don’t want to waste time; there may be other reasons). 10 but such as I like Artem Oganov, how did when-that Konstantin Severinov, will come. And thanks even 10% of our science will be radically transformed. No need to overwhelm people with money, enough to create a standard Western conditions: to provide guaranteed funding for 5-7 years (for example, in the USA the main type of grant is 300-400 thousand dollars a year for five years), more-or-less comparable salaries. Necessary laboratory, reagents, salaries for employees.

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One Response “Why Russian scientists prefer to work abroad”

  1. Global Yurtdisi Egitim
    06.06.2016 at 19:24

    Why this site don’t have different languages?

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