Posted 20 февраля, 06:54

Published 20 февраля, 06:54

Modified 20 февраля, 07:01

Updated 20 февраля, 07:01

Where and why do young professionals leave science

The last of the smart ones? Why do we have so few young scientists

20 февраля 2023, 06:54

Where and why do young professionals leave science

There is no money in Russian science by world standards. But it has always been assumed that we are strong with bright heads – as they say now, with social capital. That is, human resources. But it becomes more difficult to support research solely at the expense of talented people every year.

Victoria Pavlova

In the past, NI material found out that healthy competition is the guarantee that the money allocated for science in developed countries is not squandered on senseless projects and the beautiful luxurious life of professors, but is converted into scientific discoveries and quite tangible developments. There has always been a special attitude to competition in Russia. In the USSR, they tried to create several research institutes and design bureaus with similar topics in parallel, so that there was something to choose from. But over time, forced cost savings led to a clear division by specialization. Each scientific organization does its own thing and cooks in its own juice, together with employees who have not changed for decades.

Old age is not a joy

Healthy competition between researchers led to the fact that the most significant discoveries in the world were made by scientists aged 30 to 40 years, and the average "age of genius" in the twentieth century was 39 years. The probability of making a significant discovery after 40 is greatly reduced. Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University USA and Bruce Weinberg of Ohio University came to this conclusion after analyzing data on 544 Nobel laureates and 286 internationally recognized inventors of the twentieth century.

In Russia, according to the Institute for Statistical Research and Economics of Knowledge of the Higher School of Economics, the average age of a scientist without a degree is 43 years, candidate of sciences – 51 years, Doctor of Sciences – 64 years. At the Academy of Sciences, the team is even older. At the elections of RAS members held in 2022, the composition of academicians "rejuvenated": the average age of newly elected full members of the RAS was 62 years. Prior to that, the average age of academics at the time of the election was 76 years. In the USSR, for example, the average age of academicians in the 1930s was 62 years, in the 1980s - 70 years.

According to the Director of the Center of NTI and AI of Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Doctor of Technical Sciences Vladimir Nelyub, this age is largely due to the conservative structure of Russian science. In Russia, according to the HSE IIEZ, almost a third of researchers are engaged in natural, that is, fundamental sciences:

- I think that such a Russian percentage of scientists, doctors of sciences, academicians of the Russian Academy of Sciences is associated with the sphere of scientific activity. More fundamental science - more mature scientists. New directions, such as digital materials science, AI - the younger generation of scientists, graduate students, candidates and even doctors of sciences.

The problem of the age of scientists is recognized by the CEO of M&S Decisions, the head of the Center for Mathematical Modeling in Drug Development of the Moscow State Medical University. Sechenova Kirill Peskov, because recognized scientists are not only engaged in their own research, but also often lead the process:

- Yes, this is our problem, there are many pensioners in scientific institutes. But there are real unique people aged 60 and older who still do unique things. For example, my grandfather worked until he was 87, because when he was around 40 years old, he came up with a device that measures the activity of nuclear reactors, and so far no one has been able to make an analog. And when the order for submarines, cruisers and nuclear icebreakers went, he was not allowed to retire until the age of 87, because young scientists could not assemble this device according to his drawings. But this is an exception, only confirming the general rule. In the West, it is quite clearly regulated that after a certain age you cannot take leadership positions. Please be a respected professor, direct the work of students, participate in scientific research: your expertise, knowledge is really needed. But others should organize the process.

Some rejuvenation of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a positive signal, but there are no guarantees that it will have an impact on Russian science as a whole. The leadership of the Russian Academy of Sciences does not hesitate to reprint articles on its website that the academy in its current form is only a "club of scientists united by a cash register window through which academic scholarships are issued," a scientific council to support elderly scientists who live on average 13 years longer than an ordinary Russian. We will not argue with academics.

And there was no one. Loud echo of the 90s

Experts associate gerontocracy in science with the legacy of the 90s of the last century, when everyone was trying to make fast money, and the state was unable to keep thousands of research institutes afloat. This opinion is shared by Olga Martynova, Head of the Laboratory of Higher Nervous Activity of the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences:

- A lot of people went abroad in the 90s, and it turns out that the distribution at universities in the early noughties was such – people 60+ and students. There was practically no middle age. Again, in the hard 90s, they either changed careers to earn money, or went abroad - and there is still this age gap. In the noughties, the situation has already begun to improve, at least in many institutes there are already young scientists under 30 and up to 40 years old, but it takes time to restore this gap and compensate for the damage that the 90s caused to science.

Anatoly Petrukovich, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also agrees with her:

- The age profile of scientists in Russia is now obtained from a fairly large number of young people and older scientists whose careers began in the USSR. In the middle is a failure created by those who left science in the 90s of the last century. Only time can fix this.

But the 90s ended 23 years ago, a whole generation has already changed. How much time should it take to patch up the personnel holes? According to the HSE ISIEZ, in the period from 2000 to 2019, the number of researchers in Russia decreased by 18.3% - to 348 thousand people. And taking into account technicians and support staff, the reduction amounted to 205.2 thousand people (or 23%). During this time, the number of research institutes has decreased by 40% – by 2019 there are only 1,618 of them left. This all happened during the period of stability and "well-fed" years of the beginning of the XXI century. The trend does not change: in 2021, the number of researchers decreased by another 2.4%. Are you sure it's still an echo of the 90s?

Where do young scientists go?

The rejuvenation of the staff of research institutes is complicated by the fact that many young scientists very quickly leave either the profession or Russia. According to the RAS, 2-2.5% of university graduates enter graduate school, and 50% finish it. And about 30-50% of young people leave science for "more profitable areas of the economy." Some successful scientists go abroad and lose touch with domestic science. Olga Martynova explains that even now there are a lot of reasons why specialists leave science:

- The salaries of researchers are very different. In fact, many people leave because they understand that there is not much money to be made here, or they leave because they understand: it's not theirs. It is quite difficult to conduct research all the time, it is a creative process, it does not suit everyone, and also because many studies do not immediately bring obvious concrete results, but they can bring them in the future. The event horizon may be 20 years. And this does not suit some, because people want to see a specific result of their activities in the near future.

Vladimir Nelyub also believes that the possibility of self-realization, the opportunity to see the results of their activities is extremely important for young scientists. In the meantime, people see that a lot of "unparalleled" developments carried out over the past 30 years have remained on paper. Take, for example, Roscosmos with its endless projects of new rockets and interplanetary programs that do not find embodiment in metal:

- There should be grants and subsidies, with a simple and transparent application form for such grants. They still exist, but they need to be actively advertised and talked about. Next — the guarantee of the implementation of the development. Young people should understand that their developments can really be implemented. Scientific results should not go to the table, it is demotivating. When implementing a grant, a young scientist should be sure that two or three years of life will not pass for the sake of 150-200 sheets of paper, but will lead to the commercial implementation of the development, the results of the research

Artem Kosorukov, head of the Yandex Q Community "Political Science", a political scientist, senior lecturer at Lomonosov Moscow State University, says that conditions have not been created in Russia for clear career growth and material support for scientists:

- Young scientists in the long-term planning of their scientific career are faced with an opaque mechanism for career advancement in established research teams, regulated mechanisms for selecting applications for state funding and grant support, unresolved housing issues for young scientists in most subjects of the federation, the availability of vacant jobs in the corporate sector, the conditions of which differ favorably from employment in the public sector. In other words, the main problem of personnel renewal of Russian science is the lack of a well-thought-out model of comprehensive support and promotion of young scientists in scientific organizations.

It turns out that the state is now simply driving science into a dead end. The nationalization of science leads to a loss of competition and excessive bureaucratic control over research. The advanced age of people in science hinders the introduction of new research methods and management of these processes. And the reduction in funding does not allow either to conduct expensive research, or to make the profession of a scientist attractive to young people. Now we are talking about the heavy legacy of the 90s, but soon we will have to talk about the heavy legacy of the 2000s…