Wednesday, May 29, 2024

To be a researcher today in CNRS sciences in France

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
"Subtly charming problem solver. Extreme tv enthusiast. Web scholar. Evil beer expert. Music nerd. Food junkie."

Is it more difficult to be a young researcher today?

Two main points can be mentioned. The first is the difficulties young researchers and teams face in obtaining funding, to be paid at the end of the month. The Minister of Research asked me one day why young people were less attracted to research. “Is it because the general public no longer trusts science? He asked me. I replied that I feel no general distrust of scientists at all. Perhaps things have changed recently, but at the time I did not feel that way. Simply put, research is an obstacle course for a young man of his age. 30 years or older, responsible for their family, still not having a permanent position and therefore no guaranteed salary.

This has evolved and hardened further over time. Sauvadet’s law, which was a disaster, is also an item to take into account which is not found abroad. When young researchers can no longer stay in laboratories due to exhaustion of fixed-term funding sources and the impossibility of obtaining a permanent contract or legal position with a research organization, they travel abroad. They still have to find host labs there. If not, they should review their career plan. This situation is particularly dangerous in France.

And when the young researchers were finally able to secure a legal position, between the ages of 30 and 35, There is a gap between the level of their low salaries and the salaries of workers in the private sector or in the administration. It makes you smile wistfully, especially since the working hours needed to be able to compete internationally can’t be counted.

I am also amazed to see young people today trying to respect the 35 hours, because that does not make it possible to be an internationally competitive scholar. Legislation in France is an obstacle to the development of the research profession. In the past, I’ve been reprimanded by HR for allowing postdocs and legal researchers on my team to work after 9 p.m., or until 10 p.m. if necessary. But how do you explain to associations and patient representatives that we received patient samples late, and that we had to dispose of them because we were not authorized to work on these samples after a certain schedule?

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These few examples of situations encountered by the researcher are unacceptable and discourage young people. In the past, a young researcher, if he had to, could work until midnight, even whole nights… I slept in the lab because I had to supervise experiments, and there was only an hour or two between each sample. Today, this would not be possible according to the legislation. In the United States, for example, younger people often work late in the evenings or on weekends in laboratories.

The other problem is a problem Administrative file. Research management in France is incredibly incomprehensible and cumbersome. We have to apply for credits and reports on the contracts we’ve taken and activity reports – our reports, as researchers – but we also have to supervise the younger ones so that they learn to make their own reports on the activity.

Fortunately, these individual activity reports, which were annual, are now generally written every two years. This differs for contract reports, which are often for a maximum period of three years, and which often include an interim progress report in addition to an end of contract report. But it is impossible to have only one contract, because this is a rather modest financing. So it is necessary to multiply them to make the lab live, and the more we multiply contracts, the more we multiply requests, the more we multiply the reports… It is a sad fact in the daily life of researchers.. .

It is inconceivable that in France it is not possible to standardize the forms of reports between research organizations. The same report cannot be used for two organizations or funding agencies, because the required forms are not the same. You have to start from scratch every time. All this time spent writing “paperwork” cannot be spent on the “tabletop,” nor can it be devoted to scientific thinking. In the United States, research contracts involve much larger amounts, and can extend over three years for periods of five years or more.

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There is still a topic of research evaluation. When I chaired the Higher Education and Research Conference in 2012, representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Finance brought up the idea that researchers were too wasteful and that the question of their use of this research funding arose…so they seemed to ignore all levels of research evaluation including contract reports, researchers activity reports, and entity evaluation research every five years The Higher Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCéres), etc. During this Hcéres assessment, researchers must then ask themselves fully, and write a strategic report and analysis in the perspective of the next five years. Then a group of national and international experts give their opinion. I see that having these foreign researchers is a very good thing, because it allows for more objectivity. These experts give their opinion, which must then be answered. I don’t think there are many levels of evaluation for workers in the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Nor is the evaluation coordinated between research organizations. For example, for a researcher who reports to National Research Center (CNRS) and Institut Pasteur, evaluations of the two bodies are not always done at the same time. There are more consultations today, but every organization still often demands that it be represented in the Hcéres assessment, and that this be validated before its scientific board. France’s research department lacks coordination. Its complexity is detrimental to international vision French research.

Do you think we can talk about a decline in French research?

Yes, there is a decline in French research, and it is only in its infancy in my opinion. The number of young people desiring to enter a scientific profession, which is an underappreciated profession, is declining. Everyone agrees that university doctorates should be recognized in the major French administrations. It still hasn’t happened. For entering ministries or large departments, a PhD in the state is not well recognized, unlike courses in large schools.

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In the UK, country doctors are better integrated, but this is not the case in France. C’est un handicap pour l’avenir, parce que cela limite aussi les envies d’engager une carrière scientifique pour les jeunes, sachant que le nombre de postes est très limité et que les ouvertures vers les’ grandes ouis administration pan A little bit. I feel very good because there are fewer and fewer young people who want to take this course, and I understand them.

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