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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 40 - February 2004   
 Taking the pollution out of health care
 Ice seasons
 The class of 2003
 Researchers on the high seas
 Protecting the 'whistle-blowers'
 The Prigogine legacy
 The sounds of Ethiopia

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LETTERS Printable version

Reflections on the researcher's lot

Reading your issue on the job of the researcher led me to reflect on a number of points. First, there is the effect, no doubt poorly anticipated by the powers that be, of the further internationalisation of research structures. These are now largely organised as networks, especially at European level. This leads to management difficulties, in particular because the traditional hierarchical structure loses its authority.

Another development in research that is not without consequences for its organisation is its tendency to become increasingly multidisciplinary. New forms of dialogue are needed between people from different backgrounds. This can be very fruitful, but it is also a 'centrifugal' force which is difficult to manage at a time of budgetary restrictions. The arrival of archaeology in a crystallography laboratory, for example, is a source of exciting new avenues of inquiry, but also of new conflict. The mandarin, the former 'ayatollah' in his field, loses his scientific authority. He or she must adapt to the interdisciplinarity which implies more collective decisions.

You also raise the question of the relationships between university and industry. For a number of years already, the Rhône-Alpes region where I work has developed financing programmes involving researchers and companies. Practices have developed which function perfectly well, at least in certain fields, such as supraconductivity. It is difficult, however, to launch initiatives in new fields and to depart from this 'club' of contractual relations.

It would be useful to introduce meetings between senior researchers and industrialists with the aim of establishing new links. Although there are such contacts among PhDs and at the level of the scientific supervisory bodies (such as the ministry and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), it is harder to do this at the level of senior researchers working in the field. At this level, there are few opportunities for contacts outside of the major conferences, where one only meets colleagues working in the same area. As to the learned societies, which could play a key role in this connection, they are often too attached to outmoded notions of academia.

In the current context of the clear disengagement of the public sector, with reduced research funds as one of the consequences, it is vital to open up new avenues of financing, such as from the private sector, while ensuring that this support is not directed entirely at final research. This would have the advantage of promoting the practice of explorative research in French and European companies.

Philippe Odier,

Director of research, CNRS Grenoble (FR)