Professor Żylicz: Independence through shared responsibility
Financing science from various sources, including social funds or 1% tax donations, is the foundation of independence - believes Prof. Maciej Żylicz, President of the Foundation for Polish Science. The foundation encourages supporting researchers at the beginning of their scientific career.
"Independence is extremely important in science, just like in art. It is a healthy situation when the scientist is guided by the curiosity of the surrounding world, and a state or private grant agency either agrees to award money for his search or not. Otherwise, it would not be science, only a commissioned expert opinion" - says Prof. Maciej Żylicz.
In his opinion, the state administration may, for example, select combating cancer or travel to another planet as a goal, but the researcher must make a decision - firstly, whether he or she wants to go in the suggested direction, and secondly - how he or she wants to get there. The professor encourages people with different views, expectations and interests to support young scientists.
TIMELESS PROBLEMS AT THE START
Young people need decent money to be able to concentrate on scientific work, and at the same time "launch" their life - home, family, health and education of children. In addition to salaries, motivation is also an important factor.
"Unfortunately, the culture of quality is not common. If someone stands above mediocrity, such a person is often pushed down instead of getting support. You can not be sure that an important scientific achievement will help a young person advance - sometimes it is just the opposite. It happens that a humble researcher is promoted, and a more capable person who has no luck with a scientific supervisor is standing still with no chance of development" - regrets Prof. Żylicz.
He adds that the average age of professors and science managers in Poland is very high. It is difficult to break into these fossilized structures. Getting a job at a university after doctorate or after returning from a scientific fellowship can be extremely difficult.
According to the professor, each young person with a PhD should travel and see how science is done abroad. It would be optimal if that person returned to a different centre than the one where he or she used to work.
"The problem with our system is that more than 95 percent people return to their `nests` and stay there. But even in their `own` centres, setting up their own team is a huge problem for young people. Too much depends on the faculty councils or scientific councils that make sure that young people do not get `too much and too easily`" - says Prof. Żylicz.
In his opinion, habilitation is not a qualitative threshold in researcher`s work. "It`s goal is for the young persons to bow their heads and ask the professors for permission to continue their career".
"By awarding START scholarships, we show that what young scientists do is important and necessary, that we see a point in their hard work and that we do not expect results right now" - Żylicz explains. He emphasizes that scholarships are awarded directly to young scientists, but their number is also a determinant of quality for Polish universities and research institutes.
The START programme of the Foundation for Polish Science has over twenty five years of history. Its laureates have achieved international success in the course of their further careers. Scholarships are available to everyone, including students and PhD students at non-public universities. Only the quality and originality of the candidate`s scientific achievements are important. The winners are selected by experts in relevant fields in two stages of evaluation.
GOOD SCIENCE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PROMISING
"We think that there is no point in dividing science into basic and applied one, we can only talk about good and bad science. The good one will certainly have its consequences - be it social or tangible, in the form of implemented products. We are stepping away from the division used in the previous century, and simply support good science" - declares President of the Foundation for Polish Science.
In his opinion, the grant system is based on a certain manipulation. Grants are obtained for naming future practical applications of research results. While it is easy to talk about translating scientific results into social and economic benefits in areas such as medicine or engineering, in many areas there is no such direct translation. "We must not force researchers to feed us promises" - emphasises the professor. He explains that the foundation simply finances people who conduct good research, believing that their work will have an effect - not necessarily in a year or five.
According to Żylicz`s estimates, the foundations scholarship holders are only one percent of researchers in Poland. On average, one in four candidates receives support. Experts reject applications only for substantive reasons, without looking at whether they come from a small or large research centre and if the applicant`s academic supervisor is a well-known promoter. Researchers confident of their goals and quality of research, even if they fail, can always apply for funding again.
JOINT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUNG SCIENTISTS
"Private money is important to us. It gives us the freedom to work for the benefit of the scientific community in Poland, which we are a part of" - admits Prof. Żylicz. According to him, younger colleagues can receive support from researchers who once received similar help themselves. They can also be supported by scholars who care about the development of their discipline. This has already happened in the past.
"Physicist Prof. Adam Sobiczewski donated a significant amount to the highest scoring START scholarship holders who specialise in theoretical physics, mathematics and astrophysics - his own interests. In turn, the late Professor Barbara Skarga donated the compensation she received for the time spent in Soviet gulags. Professor Leszek Kołakowski scholarship fund for young philosophers has also been created" - says Prof. Żylicz.
According to Żylicz, it is also an opportunity for companies to support future employees. The list of START program winners may be the best reference for them.
"I am far from promising anyone that our joint efforts will result in a breakthrough in the fight against a specific disease tomorrow - it does not work like that. The foundation simply gives each of us a chance to contribute to the development of science and civilization progress" - concludes Prof. Żylicz.
PAP - Science in Poland, Karolina Duszczyk
kol/ agt/ kap/