SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK

A conference called We are the future of the Russian science was held in the Russian Academy of Sciences. It was organized under the aegis of the World Fund of Fundamental Physics in Moscow and the Dynasty Fund. Needless to say, the reports delivered by young scientists were of some scientific value. More important, the conference spotlighted the issue of many young Russian talents whod left this country due to financial insecurity. Russian scientific community, business people and the ins used to be in a state of discord. Things have changed for the better lately.

The business elite have been traditionally criticized for being too focused on moneymaking without paying any attention to science and education, though a large company can only benefit from good living standards and an investment environment that could enable to put money in the most capital-intensive business sectors involving the use of high technologies. Russian examples proving the theory are few. However, in the last few years some top Russian entrepreneurs have established a number of foundations to support national science.

The Dynasty Fund aims to provide financial support to theoreticians in physics. 50 monthly scholarships of 2,000 roubles each are paid out to students on the basis of competition; $500 grants are paid monthly to 50 young scientists over the period of 3 years. This years latest competition was tough, 7 persons per grant. According to one of the organizers of the event, a lot of entries could meet good international standards, at least 25 entries were found worthy of grants.

2 Russian scientists, both 30, were awarded grants and came back to Russia after spending some time in Western universities. Yuri Makhlin worked for six years in an university of Karlsruhe, Germany, while Leonid Golub spent a year in Gothenborg university, Sweden. Now the Candidate of Sciences Makhlin is back with the Institute of Theoretical Physics and the Candidate of Sciences Golub re-joined the St. Petersburg Institute of Physics and Technologies.

State funds allocated yearly by U.S. government to support science and research amount to $113 billion. Russia provides $1.3 billion. American scientists get additional funding in the neighborhood of $100 from various private foundations. The ties between Russian science and real business are broken therefore scientists mostly have to rely on individual acts of charity. Russian entrepreneurs can be regarded the worlds most intellectual business people. 80 percent of them went to universities and 40 percent of top-level businessmen earned their postgraduate degrees. Still, Russian science and Russian business go separate ways.

Official statistics say that 60 percent of all Russian winners of various international scientific contests leave this country to continue their careers in the West. Just a handful sometimes come back home.

The darkest days are over

It was my own decision that I made shortly after getting my postgraduate degree. But I didnt make it for the money, says Yuri Makhlin. Its nothing unusual about it for a scientist. Its good to gain experience, work with different scientists and develop contacts. Later I had to make a choice, either to seek a permanent position in Europe or get back. I decided to come back. I was looking for opportunities and came across the Dynasty Fund.

Makhlin sounds pretty quixotic while speaking of reasons for his coming back. I wanted to live and follow my scientific pursuits at home. For my part, it looks pretty natural. Im not sure that things will work out right, though I hope for the better.

His desire to ensure a good education for his twin sons was one of the more obvious reasons behind his return to Russia. Theyve been to Moscow since last Septemper in a mathematical school. Nothing of the kind is available in Germany.

In Russia, he worked for a mere year as a junior fellow after receiving his degree. Hes to be reinstated in the same position. He declined to discuss his salary. He used to make from E4 to 5 thousand a month in Germany. His highest hopes relate to a state policy change with respect to science. The authorities have finally begun talking business. Theres some light of hope shimmering on the horizon how. I hope that the darkest days of Russian science have been gone and things can only get better. I believe that a state science policy is imminent though Im not sure that science, especially fundamental research programs, will be funded entirely by private companies. There should be a combination of methods, as far as Im concerned.

Makhlin doesnt understand why he was put into the spotlight by the local media.
The way you put your questions makes me wonder if Im the last scientist working in Russia. Therere lots of people in our institute who dont want to emigrate and leave science behind. Theyre doing a wonderful job. Therere other things in life that money cant buy. I enjoy working with students here. Being in my home country and talking to my children in our native tongue cost a lost too.

Life is more exciting here

3 years ago Leonid Golub, a candidate of sciences, got back to Russia from a Swedish university based in Gothenburg. He has never had any regrets since then. Though the reasons lying behind his moving to Sweden were a mixture of financial insecurity and career ambitions.

Back in 1999, Russia had no foundations whatsoever providing financial support to scientists on a regular basis, says Leonid. I might have gotten some sort of a grant, around 200 roubles a month which is less than peanuts as you can imagine. I wouldnt say that I was seeking to make lots of money out of my trip to Sweden. But it helped me resolve my housing problem.

Even before moving to Sweden, he would regularly work a few weeks in Germany for financial reasons because his salary couldnt support his family. You save up the money you make out there and then make it last for half a year over here.

He spent a year in Sweden. The Swedes were quite happy with the results of his work and suggested he extend his contract. He refused to stay any longer. I didnt intend to spend more than a year abroad in the first place. Therere more career opportunities here than in the West. Being a scientist means communication. Everybody is on his own in the West, you cant approach your professor and ask him a question without making proper arrangements. The level of communication wasnt enough for me.

Swedish students looked less impressive in comparison to Russian students when it comes to appetite for science, according to Golub.

Q: Does patriotism somehow have to do with your decision to come back?

A: Yes, it does. I hate using high-flown language, though. I had no intentions to remain an emigrant. All in all, its a different country, Im an alien there. Id rather work my way out in this country by winning a few grants than be in clover over there and end up losing contact with my Russian friends. Life is more exiting here, all meanings implied.

Last year Golub was awarded 4 grants: from the Russian fund for fundamental studies, from the St. Petersburg administration, the Presidents grant and a salary paid by the Dynasty Fund. You cant support your family on one grant only, says the physicist. Golubs monthly paycheck amounts to 3,000 roubles.

Q: Do you reckon than nowadays the state is increasing its support to scientists?

A
: Yes, I do. 3 my grants out of 4 are funded by the government.

Q: What about your salary?

A:
What about it? I told you the figures, didnt I? (smiles)

Q: Any plans for going back to Sweden? They must be sending you more offers.

A:
Yes, theyre calling me back. No immediate plans yet.

Nobel Prize winner: My salary is 2,700 roubles.

A:
Lots of scientists work by shifts outside Russia. Theyre paid pathetic sums by the state so they travel abroad to make some money. Scientists should be getting a raise, as far as Im concerned. You know the size of my salary? 2,700 roubles. The point is, Ive been paid additional 20 thousand roubles each month since 2003 because Im an academician.

Q: Grants or high salaries paid regularly – what do you think would be the best way to go?

A:
A foreign system is better. There should be an academic institution where a professor can do research apart from teaching his students. If he requires equipment, he would pay for it using grant. Postgraduate student could be paid out of the same grant.

Q: Will our scientist come back to Russia in the foreseeable future?

A:
Many will be coming back if theyre paid decent salaries here, Im sure of that. If our government is up to the job, I dont know. Dont you think that young scientists are living in the lap of luxury working abroad. A scientists starting salary will be $2,000 at best. Its not money to burn. A salary ranging from $300 to $400 looks OK for Russian conditions.

.. - NEKTO 2009.


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