Southern European scientists become activists as recession bites

A line of people in white coat queuing in front of Valencia’s train station is quite an unusual sight. Yet, this scene was not part of a movie rehearsal. Rather, it was reported in prime time news on Spanish television, on 19th December 2013. This action was part of a scientists’ protest taking place in 20 cities in Spain.This reflect how scientists are increasingly deploying activists’ techniques to fight back the effects of the recession on research.

Portugal: Filling up a glass that is already half-full

Early this year, the news hit the Portuguese scientific community as a cold blow: the national agency for science and technology FCT was unable to fund all of the research projects rated as excellent. Needless to say, this unprecedented event immediately caused uproar among researchers across all disciplines. But as often happens, where some scream outrage, others see a ray of sunshine.

Spain: Uninformed wishful thinking as R&D policy shunts public research support

“Reason for your visit?” – the immigration officer asks sharply. “I’m looking for a job. I’m coming for some interviews”. “But you used to live here…” he points out, looking carefully at an expired visa. “For more than a decade” I answer. He looks at the front page of my worn-out passport. “Spain…things are not good over there, are they?” I nod. “Good luck,” he says, letting us go through.

Portugal: science friendly despite relative research immaturity

In Portugal, science friendly policies continue in current times of severe financial restrictions. Indeed, public budgets were preferentially spared and re-directed to the essentials. And a more efficient spending has brought more money to the system than in previous years. The decision of Pedro Passos Coelho, the Portuguese Prime Minister, to create and chair a new advisory body: the National Council for Science and Technology, in 2012 brought another positive initiative to support science in Portugal.

Greece: Innovation born from austerity

After 2008, the global crisis had hit the Greek economy for good and affected academia and its funding. My attempts to fund my R&D work through EU and National projects, or via outside collaborations, were unsuccessful. Despite these setbacks, Greek artificial intelligence scientist Nikolas Nanas decided to turn his PhD work on adaptive information filtering into a real world application that became the NOOWIT magazine platform.

Scientists can’t network and other myths

Recently, a newly minted science doctorate asked me for some help finding a job. He had applied for hundreds of advertised openings, both postdoc and non-academic positions, but to no avail. So I asked him about his networking strategy. “What networking strategy?” he replied, clueless to what I was referring. I spent the next hour emphasising the importance of networking in finding hidden job opportunities and communicating your value to decision-makers. I outlined for him a customised networking plan which would enable him to meet and interact with professionals who have the power to hire him for the jobs he so desperately wanted. When our meeting concluded, I asked for feedback on the career consulting session – “Did you find our discussion helpful?” I inquired, thinking I was up for a major pat on the back. “No,” he said instantly. “You didn’t tell me where I can apply for a job or places where there are more advertisements for jobs.”