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Lab's Days

March 31 2014 , Written by Wing-Fai Thi

I was recently attending a retreat of my current institute at a very nice location in Annecy. The aim of the retreat was to summarize the main results obtained the last five years but also the successes and problems that occurred. Each team showed their scientific highlights, their budgets, their human resources, but also issues. Importantly, each team presented the ideas that arose from a brainstorming about future projects.

Scientific research is performed by human beings and what I was missing was a deeper focus on the human aspects. Statistics on human resources are essential but the discussion was becoming abstract. Who are the researchers, the technical staff? The institute is small enough such that everyone should be able to talk to each other and know what the colleague is doing, researching, or teaching. It seems (dixit the external chairman of the discussions) that it is not the case and that most problems arise from a lack of communication.

I was also quite disappointed by the small mention of the role of two important actors of scientific research in many presentations: the PhD students and the Post-Docs. To be fair, there were a few statements about them and there were two splinter-sessions about their life at the institute.  

The weight in the scientific output in France of these two categories of non-permanent researchers will only increase. Whether it is good or bad depends on how good are the job prospects in research or outside it after the PhD or post-doc tenure. For the institute, one of the only ways to grow for a foreseeable future is to maintain or even increase the number of PhD students or post-docs since the number of newly appointed permanent staffs is shrinking.

Each team was proposing their Graal for the next five years. For many teams, it is to get a permanent researcher in their team. For non-permanent researchers, it is to get a permanent job, best in their home country.   Unfortunately, positions are scarce and logically expertise will be lost.

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