Brazilian researchers have lived months of instability. After a pandemic-marked 2020 with delays in signing proposals and validating research projects, scholarship payments were delayed by more than five days for the first month of 2021, which is usually by the fifth working day of the month.
Worse still, scientists now don’t know if they can pay the rent next month as the contracts, which are usually signed by the 15th of the month, have not yet been signed.
The situation relates to what is known as the PCI (Institutional Training Program), the main incentive for young researchers, usually newer doctors, to join a research laboratory, participate in a project and receive research funding for up to five years, e.g. opening it of job offers through public tenders.
National research units associated with the Ministry of Science and Technology are the main centers affected by these delays.
PCI scholarships are not synonymous with postgraduate scholarships, which are aimed at Masters and PhD students developing research projects at universities and public laboratories in the country. However, they are paid by the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), which is also affiliated with MCTI, supports graduate schools in the country.
In general, institutions get the annual budget with how many PCI grants they will receive, and from there they go through the selection process to select the projects, which can take up to six years.
The scholarships are divided into categories based on the level of the researcher: PhD students or postdocs are listed for higher levels, and the lowest scores include undergraduate and graduate students. But even after graduation, they are often selected for the lower categories due to the lack of better opportunities and higher qualifications.
The biologist and researcher at the National Institute of the Atlantic Forest (INMA), Thais Condez, made a selection and conducted a research project in July 2019, the penultimate one in the country, to assess the diversity of amphibians and reptiles in rocky environments in the Atlantic forest . After renewed renovation work in 2020, there is so far no definition of whether the scholarship will continue in 2021. The project was approved until 2023.
After completing two postdocs, the herpetologist looked for opportunities abroad. “I am extremely qualified and am receiving a research grant in the country which the government does not believe is relevant. Unfortunately, this is the reality of many doctors and post office doctors in the country unemployed looking for what they can and even receiving low value grants like R $ 1,000 to join a laboratory. “
Since there are only two officials in the entire institute, INMA’s research staff consists almost entirely of PCI fellows. “We’re 30 researchers who worked in a variety of research areas in 2019, from conservation and conservation of endangered species to projects focused on the Rio Doce Basin that have been badly affected by recent disasters in the area,” says Condez .
The situation is repeated in other research units in various fields of knowledge, such as the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, a world reference in the research and collection of biological diversity in the Amazon region; Inpe (National Institute for Space Research), whose research focuses on satellite surveillance of the destroyed areas of the Amazon rainforest and research related to weather and atmospheric forecasts; and MAST, Museum of Astronomy and Allied Sciences, whose studies focus primarily on developing practices to popularize and disseminate science, as well as maintaining and indexing the most important collection of scientific instruments in the country.
In an open letter posted on Facebook last Tuesday (16), PCI scholars reported the potential interruption of the program. The main reason for this was the government’s lack of commitment to maintaining commitment to the research carried out in the units.
“PCI emerged in 1997 as an alternative offered by MCTI to address the shortage of qualified professionals to conduct research and academic expansion activities in UPs of this department. In this way, it is obvious that the PCI exists because it is impossible to put together a roster of just researchers and technologists competing in these institutions, ”read an excerpt from the letter.
“The work carried out by the UPs follows plans that address strategic issues of national sovereignty in a very strict way (…) and produce knowledge in areas such as nuclear science, aerospace engineering, computer science, astronomy, dissemination and popularization of science and knowledge Technology, mineral exploration, theoretical and applied physics, human and social sciences, and biology. “
Another problem, the researchers said in the letter, besides the lack of continuity in the program, would be the loss of public funds already invested in ongoing research, which can lead to irreparable damage to scientific and technological knowledge. “The country is in one of the worst economic and health crises in its history and we affirm that the abolition of research funding programs will lead to delays vis-à-vis other countries. Investing in S&T means investing in the future of the country and in its sovereignty, ”they conclude.
Wanted, CNPq and MCTI did not respond to reporting requests until the time of the article was published. The report also tried multiple phone contacts with the folder, to no avail.