E. Petríková: Research does not have to bring quick profit, it should be principally innovative

01. 08. 2016

The informal meeting of Ministers responsible for competitiveness (COMPET) in the area of research, which took place on Tuesday 19 July in Bratislava, was exceptionally a combination of politicians with researchers. The Bratislava Declaration (for the support) of Young Researchers has been officially presented after the meeting. A successful young scientist Emília Petríková has also attended the meeting. In the interview, she explained problems in contemporary research and proposed solutions.

V strede minister školstva P. Plavčan a E. Petríková na Neformálnom zasadnutí ministrov pre konkurencieschopnosť

Commissioner Carlos Moedas said that the discussion at the informal meeting with you – young researchers – was one of the most interesting he has ever attended. In your opinion, what was the greatest benefit of a joint discussion of politicians and young researchers?

Truly exceptional was that the ministers did not only discuss about young researchers, but directly with them. As a result, the communication was more relevant and more direct. For me, the most important outcome of the talks were the personal discussions with ministers, who have expressed interest in further cooperation. The form of such cooperation is currently under discussion. I am therefore grateful that the Slovak Presidency has provided this opportunity.

What needs to change first for the scientific career to be more attractive and the environment more innovative?

The Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers, which was officially presented after talks in Bratislava, first and foremost asks for the ability to do research based on our interest in the outside world and our effort to examine it. That is to say that in today’s system, there is a lack of freedom in terms of the research orientation and people pursue short-term financial revenues from research. Scientists have to write dozens of pages on the potential consequences of their research, which is hard to foresee in advance, instead of doing real science. We therefore propose more grants to support innovative research ideas of young scientists, which would be a powerful stimulus for creativity and the attractiveness of scientific career. The question of scientific career’s conditions is, however, very complex. It needs to be dealt with on multiple levels. Primary school students need to be shown what science is, and thus be motivated to pursue this path. Opportunities and incentives for the development and acquisition of knowledge in the form of internships, competitions and courses need to be offered to students. Doctoral students need supervisors of high quality, further development and also access to social security – parental leave and pension savings. In case of post-doctoral staff, there is need for stability of contracts and financial conditions, which would not lag behind the private sector. There is a lack of freedom in terms of the research orientation in the present system and much attention is paid to short-term financial returns from research. Scientists have to write dozens of pages on the potential consequences of their research, which is hard to foresee in advance, instead of doing real science.

Could you briefly talk about the most important points of the Bratislava Declaration (for the support) of Young Researchers, which will be presented at the COMPET Council meeting in Brussels in November?

The Bratislava Declaration (for the support) of Young Researchers is a summary of ambitions, problems and their solutions in the field of research from secondary school to post-doctoral positions. There are four aspirations: support for great people and ideas; stable and transparent career paths; good and varied conditions of the research environments for all scientists; and a healthy balance between work and private life. There are eleven proposed fundamental solutions below these aspirations. For instance, the introduction of individual grants for researchers based on their innovative ideas; the possibility of mobility between the private and the public sectors; a charter for equal conditions for all researchers; as well as ensuring more stable job positions. We presented this Declaration to the Ministers of the EU and to the public on 19 July. Currently, we continue working towards its dissemination, as well as the implementation of the proposals.

Have you learned something that surprised you or gave you a new perspective on the current issues in science at the meeting?

Different Member States have different strategies for supporting researchers. It would be beneficial to analyse them more deeply and make suggestions for the implementation or enhancement. Furthermore, in case of mobile researchers, the lack of a transnational strategy can be an impediment. Within the scope of the Declaration, we also propose the establishment of clear terms of career prospects for researchers, who would then have a better employment perspective.

Concerning the increased representation of women in research, can you tell us about the strategies within the EU, which have proved to be successful?

In my opinion, it is essential that all researchers have equal conditions and opportunities. It has been proven that the most significant career delay of women researchers is due to starting a family. Appropriate tools for improving the situation are a shared parental leave, a nursery at scientific institutions, or allowance for child care during a conference related business trip. The low representation of women in science is not applicable for all areas – there is significantly more female molecular biologists than male ones. On the other hand, there is relatively low representation of women in physics. Women should be encouraged not to be afraid to study technical sciences. We should not tell little girls: “This or that is not suitable for a girl.” In work, there is also often a problem at the social level, whereas men are accustomed to sharper and more factual way of communication since childhood. The realization of this fact, as well as social skills training for both sexes will help the cooperation. Personally, I am not a supporter of quotas. What I need as a woman in terms of profession is both sexes being considered equal.

Could you reveal for us something from ‘behind the scene’ of the Declaration’s preparation?

The writing process was interesting. In March, some fifteen researchers of different nationalities, age and expertise met in Brussels for the first time and we needed to write down the notes for the first draft of the document from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. We then worked online, through written communication and video conferencing, until we have finished the document on the basis of the second meeting in June. We have created a great team. It’s fascinating, how much is possible if one wants – and there is a set deadline.

Emília Petríková

Profile: Emília Petríková

21-year-old Emília is a student at the Second Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University in Prague. She is dedicated to the research of treatment options for cancer using immunotherapy, as well as improving the options for treatment monitoring. She has won many international awards, such as the silver medal at the International Young Inventors Project Olympiad, or Special prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists associated with the representation of the EU at the world’s largest contest for young scientific projects. She has experience as a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in the US, the University of Heidelberg in Germany and at the International Clinical Research Center in the Czech Republic.

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Published by: MB

women in science, science, research

Natural sciences