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PhD study in Europe

Hot Problems of Young European Scientists It was stated in the Association of Dutch Universities annual report of 1999 that 70 to 80 percent of scientific research in medical sciences is done by PhD students. It was also argued that in physics, without the research of PhD students the output of scientific research would be five times less. These findings correspond with the support provided by the Dutch government to young scientists in Netherlands. Doctorands are classified as employees of the University or other research center with such a benefits as covering of health insurance costs and maternity leave and their salary increases every year. In many other countries (and in Slovakia is among them) the situation is not as good. Cooperation and sharing of experience is the best way to improve the conditions in individual countries as well as on the field of European science. In Europe, PhD is the highest degree awarded by a graduate school, usually to a person who has completed at least three years of graduate study and a dissertation approved by a board of professors. However, systems of PhD study in Europe differ a lot. Diversity undoubtedly has many positive features. However, in this case it does not correspond with the aim to establish European research area until 2006, which was set by the European Commission. Despite of differences in systems of the study young researchers have to solve common problems for which in some countries have already found solutions. If PhDs were able to find common voice they would more effectively communicate with European institutions and increase their contribution to European science. These questions were central for the participants of second conference of European PhD students, which took part at the beginning of February 2002 in Spanish city of Girona. Working and studying conditions A young scientist who is working on achieving his/her PhD degree is being classified as a student in most European countries. It is widely recognized that he/she is not a real worker because he/she has only been studying. His/her working conditions correspond to this conviction: he/she has a scholarship in form of a kind of subsidy, has to pay old-age, unemployment and health insurance costs and his/her social status is as high as that of other students. Actually, PhD student is a worker with a full university education, often a member of research or working team with the share on its outcomes. As Prof Vzquez Vaamonde says: It is unacceptable the argument that you are learning while you work in research to try to get your PhD. First of all, professional postgraduates and other workers always learn, more or less, when they work, this is called experience, expertise, etc. Poor working and studying conditions of young researchers in Europe clearly result in brain drain especially to the United States and Japan. These countries really have proved how much can they obtain from the perspective specialists and their support makes a clear evidence of this. Unlike the European Union where the sources for research make 1.95% GDP, in the Unites States it is 2.64% and in Japan even 3.04 % GDP. Among the member states of EU, brain drain constitutes the greatest problem in Italy and in Spain, it means in the countries, which acknowledge having the worst conditions for young scientists. It may appear that the leave of young people in order to study abroad is

connected with student and academic mobility. In fact, the escape is mostly not compensated with coming foreign students. Anyway, nobody wants to come to study or work to the country with poor conditions. Financing, supervisors and gender question In most European countries PhDs income is lower than median salary in that state and moreover, many times it is actually lower than minimal wage. For instance in Estonia the income is 115 EUR per month, in Ireland 187 EUR, in Hungary 200 EUR or in Greece 293 EUR. PhDs compensate their low earnings with part-time jobs, which naturaly inhibit their research. There are also further complications of research problems with communication with supervisor. PhDs are understood only as students and barely find mechanisms to change the supervisor when cooperation does not function well. Besides, there is no possibility for supervisor to attend special courses, which would help him/her to improve cooperation with students. Representation of women among European PhDs has recently increased. The issue is not number of women finishing their doctorate, rather small number of women working as researches or professors. Future career Another crucial matter, which makes young educated people to leave is poor perspective after finishing PhD study. In many European countries people who obtained maximal possible level of education enjoy low societal status. For instance in Italy financial evaluation of PhD title does not exist. In French private sector you will not find any recognition of the title, too. Doctors in almost all European countries (including France and Great Britain) have serious problems to find long term working contract. Most jobs are only short term, again only with a stipend. If a young scientist wants to find money for his/her own research, he/she can ask for a grant only as a member of certain institution. Doctors are young people who have spent most time of their lives developing independent critical thinking, finding innovations and often working in a team. Employment of them as managers is still really underestimated Ideal conditions Ideal set of conditions can be completed using the experience of individual countries. At first it is the consideration of the status of worker mentioned above. It involves a working contract, which guarantees all the standards conceded by ILO: maternity leave, invalidity insurance, support in illness, due salary. These statuses enjoy PhDs in Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, after two years of study obtain it doctorands in Greece and Sweden for another two years. In Estonia there is a system of loans, which provides a solution to the lack of state finances for PhDs support. There are state loans for PhDs, which are after finishing the study paid by the state, if a PhD is employed by the state institution. However, in some counties governments have already found necessary finances for PhDs not only in form of a loan. In Finland doctorands salary is about 1500 to 1800 EUR in Belgium 1450 EUR and in Germany stipend has been recently increased from 715 to1000 EUR. Supervisors in Sweden have the possibility to pass special courses in leading their students. In Netherlands a detailed plan elaborated in the first months by the young researcher and his/her supervisor helps to achieve the quality of the study and good cooperation with the

tutor. After a year they evaluate the work of each other and on the base of this evaluation working contract can be canceled for the student and for the supervisor as well. Different situation is in Germany where a doctorand is usually not registered, has to neither elaborate any preliminary reports nor absolve any courses or lectures. The supervisor at the end only evaluates him/her. (In Germany there is still strong Humboldt ideal to give maximal freedom to a student, despite of 40% of students acknowledge that they would welcome more regular control.) On the other hand, in all federal lands PhDs have the benefit of a high social prestige. Starting own research after finishing PhD helps a special state fund, which exists in Italy, Finland, Great Britain, Sweden and Hungary. From this fund young researcher is allowed to finance purchase of instruments, material, to pay salaries also for other employees. EURODOC The aim of recently established organization of European PhD students EURODOC is to improve working and studying conditions for young scientists in order to increase their commitment on European research and to improve the outcomes of European science. ( This organization offers possibility to young researchers who are preparing for or have already obtained their PhD to discuss common problems, cooperate by solving them and represents them in dialog with European institutions. Members of EURODOC are nine national organizations from France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and United Kingdom. In spite of that, also representatives of other countries declared their support for EURODOC Charter, these figure only as supporters, because only a national association can be a member of EURODOC. In Estonia, Greece and Slovakia such an association is expected to be established in near future. Being a member and working in EURODOC, Slovakia could obtain a lot. Especially to use experiences of other countries, which have been successful in finding solutions to the problems we have also been struggling with. Moreover, to share the grants EURODOC actively aims to acquire and to take a better part on international academic cooperation and mobility with certain goal to stop brain drain of the best young scientist from our country.

Gabriela Gregusov, Slovak Republic