Wetenschap - 1 juni 1995

Changes in Russia and Russian Scientists

Changes in Russia and Russian Scientists

Martha Matvienko is a Russian molecular biologist. She summarizes her work as, Looking at the symbiosis between leguminous plants, rhizobia bacteria and atmospheric fixation of nitrogen."


This work brought Martha Matvienko to Wageningen in 1991 for postdoctoral research. When she left the Institute of Agriculture and Microbiology, the city was still called Leningrad and the Soviet Union still existed. Many changes have taken place since then, which may very well influence how she and her family plan their future. She reflects, Things were a lot better about 10-15 years ago. Where I was working before, well there was money to keep the sciences going. You weren't getting much salary but there was money to afford the equipment or service it. You could pursue a profession. The experiments which we do in microbiology are very expensive. Nowadays, there is no money to upgrade equipment or do experiments. Every single scientific researcher knows the name George Soros. He is an American billionaire who funds Russian science. I don't think that there is any scientist or researcher who doesn't try to get some kind of outside funding. You cannot be a scie
ntist and really survive in Russia on that salary alone. Most of my friends work at some commercial kiosk on the side to survive. They do the science almost as a hobby on the side because it is their passion, and they have a need to be in a stimulating social layer."

Yulia Kuleshova listens attentively to her fellow Russian. As a Sandwich PhD student, Yulia will spend six months in Wageningen and then return to Russia for three years of field research. She will spend a last six months in the Netherlands. She explains a dilemma which this structure poses in her situation, I did my graduate work at the University of Moscow. Through the sandwich arrangement, my field work is supposed to be financed through that same university, but now they do not have any money left - even for my field work. Wageningen is enthusiastic about joint projects, but the problem is that there is little money on the other side. I am busy saving money from my allowance while I am here so that I can finance the coming three years of my field work. This is a real problem for me." Yulia's project, concerning land use effects on soil structure functioning, has fallen victim to the situation which scientific research throughout the former Soviet Union is now facing.

When talking about her own future, Martha is hesitant, I don't really know what we are going to do when this work is finished. I will try to look for something else, but something outside Russia. For us it is a more personal thing. Not everybody decides to permanently stay outside Russia. It is normal to want to be in a the place of your culture and language. I just don't want to lose my qualifications. It would be like a step backwards for me."

But both women are hesitant to paint a totally negative picture of their homeland. The difficulties forced upon them by the recent changes towards the market economy have led them both to really question the direction which (scientific) progress is being forced to take. Yulia admits, You need a long time and lots of energy to make change. What we are seeing though is a very sudden transformation, and in the process Russia might lose its best brains."

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