30 Jul Research Careers: Our Perspectives
Danilo Bertagna (ESR6) & Marina Gutiérrez (ESR11)
Hi! We are Danilo Bertagna (ESR6) and Marina Gutiérrez (ESR11). In this joint blog, we would like to talk about the scientific career prospective in our countries of origin, Brazil and Spain, while working in the Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Technology of the University of Zagreb and the University of Ferrara, respectively.
BRAIN DRAIN – Brazil
My generation heard through all of our lives that education is the key to a better life. Chances are that most of our parents had to make huge sacrifices to provide us quality education, so we could broaden our horizons and be the owners of our own future.
In Brazil, high-quality universities are public and free. However, admission is conditioned by performance in an entrance exam (called “vestibular”) in which students coming from private schools typically have a considerable advantage since public education before University is shabby. The result is an invisible barrier disguised as “meritocracy” limiting poor people’s access to knowledge, college diplomas, and better-paid careers.
But nowadays, even an academic degree cannot guarantee a decent job for a living in Brazil. A process of deindustrialization has been accelerating since 2015, making most of the young engineers a redundant workforce who need to resort to other ways to earn a living. The situation of young scientists and researchers is just as worrisome. In the last two years, the government cut 30% of education and technology funding, which led to massive losses for the country. Most MSc and PhD students had to drop out of their courses since their scholarships and salaries were cancelled. Unfortunately, the average public does not understand that these students are providing a crucial service for the country’s technological development and should be paid accordingly.
This results in a massive brain drain: Brazil’s most educated young people leave the country because they see no prospects of a decent life there. While their workforce is being attracted to developed nations with an already established technological park, Brazil remains like a huge 19th-century plantation, acting as a low-value commodities exporter.
To overcome these challenges a scientist in Brazil has little option except going abroad; which certainly provides lots of experiences but also prives you from others. The scientific career can be very unpredictable and take you to places you never thought could go, but depends on short-term funding, contracts, grants and even the approval of the higher ranks of the (sometimes) archaich hierarichy present in Universisities. Nowadays I find myself in a well-funded program which allows me to learn a grow a lot both personally and professionally. However, there’s always that uncertainty of what is going to happen once the project ends. The tile of a doctorate should be the beginning of one’s scientific carreer, not the ending. But I feel that if I go back to Brazil, my value as a qualified worker will be underestimated because at this moment Brazil underestimates science as a whole, unfortunately.
The scenario is very sad because a highly educated and skilled workforce is a key aspect of a country intending to improve and grow. By repulsing and disillusioning its most talented and capable citizens, Brazil remains forever underdeveloped.
IS THERE LIFE AFTER THE PhD? – Spain
The researcher’s career in Spain is difficult, underrated, and has plenty of uncertainties. The lack of a marketplace in the public system and low interest for researchers in the public sector worry every young researcher in Spain. Many researchers consider that the effort put into their professional careers doesn’t assure a stable position in the following years.
After finishing high school, students in Spain must pass a process called EvAU (Evaluation for the Access to the University). It consists of three days of exams based on the main subjects studied in the last two years of high school. It is slightly different for every region, and it turns out to be very competitive for highly demanded Bachelors. Indeed, the qualification for admission depends on the qualification of the students admitted in the previous year. In some cases, it is almost impossible to enter in highly demanded Bachelor’s, and students must decide whether to try EvAU next year or to study a less demanded Bachelor.
Although most of the universities in Spain are public, there are some costs and taxes to pay for the enrollment, ranging from 600€ to 3,000€ approximately, depending on the Bachelor’s degree and University. However, regional and national governments offer many grants to help students depending on their economic status.
Obtaining an academic degree in Spain, as in the case of Brazil, doesn’t assure a decent job for graduated students, which feel forced to enroll in one (or even two!) Master’s degree for a competitive curriculum. In this context, a PhD seems to be a good option to acquire expertise and competitiveness in the job market.
In 2019, the number of doctoral graduates for 1,000 inhabitants was 1.1, a very close value to the mean of 1.2 per 1,000 inhabitants of the EU1. Spain is a country that produces high-skilled PhD students, even when national funding for research is low, and research groups make great efforts to perform high-quality research with low investment. Many PhD graduates work in the public sector since the number of researchers hired by the private sector is low.
Unfortunately, highly qualified PhD professionals are not hired since the R&D investment in Spain is less than 2% of GDP. In order to find a job, many young professionals end up leaving the country or changing their professional perspectives. There’s an imperative need for both public and private sectors to invest in young researchers, increasing their capacity to perform and develop innovative activities.
In the case of going abroad, there are some European initiatives that support research mobilities and career development (e.g..Euraxess). Indeed, this platform helped me and many other ESRs to find out about Nowelties project. While joining Nowelties is a good opportunity to contribute to our work careers and improve many skills, once a researcher would like to come back to their home country, options are very limited. Coming back to Spain with the gained expecience doesn’t assure a stable position once returned. Many scientists look for government grants for postdoc positions, but the limited number of grants and demanding requirements lead to many scientists to continue abroad for an undetermined period of time.
As many other scientists, we will continue our journey abroad for a while. While Danilo thinks less about coming back to Brazil, Marina expects to find someday a good opportunity to go back to Spain. Altought there are many uncertainties regarding our future research career, we consider that wastewater treatment and micropollutants’ pollution is a relevant topic for the future, and we are willing to continue contributing to it with our research.