Czech science is experiencing interesting times. There’s a new head of the country’s biggest scientific institution and on the 10th anniversary of the existence of one of Europe’s biggest research funds, there’s been criticism of the country’s poor performance in pumping those resources and conducting top level science.
Eva Zažímalová this week took the helm as the president of the Czech Academy of Science, the biggest scientific institution in the country. She immediately outlined her priorities as sourcing more funds for science and helping young Czech scientists and researchers who are often tempted abroad.
Some confirmation of the critical situation of science in the country came a day after Zažímalová took up the new post. On the 10th anniversary of the creation of the European Research Council, one of the continent’s main sources of funding, Czech research council member Tomáš Jungwirth criticised the poor Czech performance in applying for and winning research cash. The country had a success rate of around 5.0 percent. I asked Eva Zažímalová if she shared in the criticism.
ʺIt is a very complex situation because there is still the heritage from the past regime where people had very limited mobility and that means there is limited international experience which is one of the conditions for such prestigious grants. So this is one of the reasons. The other one is that especially in experimental science you need to have good equipment to do experiments. Also in this respect, let’s say, there are more reduced conditions with respect to the West. Basically, perhaps these are the major problems. I think it needs time to change it. We, I mean not only the Academy of Science but also grant agencies and universities, are trying to establish some programmes to support young scientists with the capacity to prepare competitive proposals for such institutions as the ERC."
And you think you can make a change fairly quickly or is this a change that will take five years or 10 years and more funding maybe from the Czech government?
ʺI think that all things like this need some time. I am not able to guess exactly but I would say that in around five years it might change. It is a challenge especially for young people because the old people cannot compete. I will give you an example, there are some prerequisites to be able to ask for ERC advance grants. When I considered it for myself whether to apply or not. I just met those demands but I have two children, an one of them was ill, so I have a gap in publications for 10 years or something like this. Moreover, I was always limited under the previous regime to travel. So I was not able to show any mobility. There might be a similar situation for other people of my generation. Now I think the world is open for young people and there are some very cleaver young people. What is necessary is to encourage them more to do this. This is a question of finances, a question of the education of young people to be as mobile and creative as possible and as independent as possible."