From Hugo Fernandes
The spotlight that is thrown at us in the pandemic cannot be in vain
“My daughter is with you and now she wants to become a scientist!” The mask hides my smile, but I don’t think the eyes do. I get off the elevator and am happy to ask him to take the girl to my lab when the pandemic is over.
The urgency of the Covid-19 pandemic has put many of us scientists in the spotlight. Fear of explaining complex results to the population drew academics to programs on television, radio, life, magazines, and newspapers. Some went from anonymity to celebrity status, others who were already famous in the scientific bubble became public figures, while many others increased the volume of the already small noise. I’m on that last team I think. Dozens of interviews and thousands of followers as a result made me bring this girl’s inspiration to me.
But what should I say to the neighbor’s daughter in a few years when she comes to university and finds veterans and graduate students suffering from the lack of market and career prospects? How am I supposed to explain that she has to get by with a scholarship equivalent to today’s R $ 1500 that was frozen seven years ago? And that requires full dedication, since the companion is forbidden to carry out any other activity? And that the possibility of having a job and studying at the same time hardly ever coincides with the time to develop cutting-edge research?
To explain the situation, I thought of an analogy: “Suppose your father made 5,000 a month and his salary was cut every year until he reached 1,000 reais, which would be enough to pay the rent. In addition, the monthly value of the food voucher for your whole family is now only five reais. “
The comparison would be relatively fair. In 2014, the country’s main research funding agency, CNPq, had a budget of over 13 billion reais, adjusted for inflation. Last year it was just under 4 billion. Most of the money, however, is used to pay employees, especially PhD students who carry most of Brazil’s scientific production on their backs. The amount reserved for the promotion of research, the amount used for equipping laboratories, buying reagents, paying daily fees and feeding Brazilian science is only 22 million more than a single for 2021 Laboratory at a middle university in the United States.
No, I am not going to frustrate the girl. Throughout her life, a love for science brings far greater benefits than the frustrations she may or may not suffer if she really wants to pursue an academic career. However, we must have the moral responsibility to exert pressure, to lead and, if necessary, to kick, so that political actors take responsibility not only for this girl’s dream, but above all for the only way to overcome the crisis and make fair progress : invest heavily in research and development.
However, kicking is of little use if almost none of those who theoretically represent us as citizens do not represent us as scientists. Where are the scientists in Congress? Who of the political class was elected to support this agenda? Who among the researchers is ready for this?
A lot of people don’t know, but it hasn’t always been that way. There is no way to mention the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science without emphasizing its importance in the speech democratization process in the country, thanks to the strong political performance of several national researchers.
May these spotlights acquired at such a tragic moment illuminate a future mirrored in this past. After all, 2022 is just around the corner. The twinkle in our eyes that makes youth fall in love with science cannot be accompanied by the knife between our teeth to keep it from being scrapped.
Hugo Fernandes is a biologist, professor at the State University of Ceará and a disseminator of science.
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