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Cuts in science and technology expel researchers from Brazil

por Felipe Betim

Cuts in science and technology drive researchers and students abroad. They are looking for better conditions to develop their research. These are your stories.

"For me, cutting the money from science is a very big administrative misconduct. If I'm going to stay in Brazil unhappy ... I've already lived in Germany for five years and I'd have no problem going out again," says Rodrigo Nunes da Fonseca. Researcher at UFRJ in the area of ​​Biology, he works with vectors of tropical diseases such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Zika and dengue transmitter, or barber Rhodnius prolixus, vector of Chagas' disease. But today he is in Holland with an international scholarship of three months.
Fonseca's laboratory, as well as other research centers in Brazil, find themselves without the money to play new and old projects. "The country invested millions in first-world equipment, but I do not have the money to buy a plastic tub." After this brief season in Europe, he will return to Brazil and decide whether to stay in the country or leave it permanently.

The brain drain is one of the most immediate and visible impacts of cuts in the science and technology budget promoted by the Federal Government in recent years, something that has been freezing research and scholarships and threatening to close laboratories.

Only in 2017, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC), responsible for dozens of research units, university laboratories and scholarships provided by the CNPQ, suffered a 44% cut of the budget that was planned for this year . The forecast was 5.8 billion reais, but only 3.3 billion were released by the government of Michel Temer (PMDB).

The outlook is that in 2018 there will be a cut of another 25%. In 2010, when the communications portfolio was not yet incorporated into the ministry, the budget had a peak of approximately 8.6 billion reais - corrected for inflation, the equivalent of 10 billion reais today.

"They are getting in touch with our scientists and offering opportunities out there, I get an offer every two months, we have a lot of frequency, we always lose researchers abroad, but now, with the lack of perspective, we are losing much more" , explains João Fernandes Gomes de Oliveira, vice-president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC).

For him, the biggest impact is "stop doing activities and put a mass of people in a stand by position." This is because fixed researchers from federal research centers are insolvent and therefore can not be fired. "You create a culture where you pay a salary but can not afford to do research," Oliveira says. "It's a horrible thing to do. It's like opening a restaurant, hiring the best cook, and not giving him the ingredients."

Ronald Cintra Shellard, director of Brazilian Center for Physical Research (CBPF), believes that cuts in science are "stupid" for a very simple reason: "If we stop producing, as many of us are servants we continue to receive wages. "The investment is not only in money, but in intelligence," he says.

But the scientific body is not only composed of servers, but also by outsourced researchers and those with only a master's, doctorate or postdoctoral fellowship. Without the stability and salary of the functionalism and without the prospect of improvement, many are attracted more immediately by the offers of employment abroad and by the facilities of countries like the United States and Germany, less bureaucratic and with a lot of public funding for research basic.

"The brain drain is something secondary to the scar that will stay in the Brazilian science system with this funding gap. And now we still have a spending ceiling," Oliveira laments. "The search results last for five or ten years. In a year we do not realize it, but in 10 years we are going to lose a lot."

"My interest has always been to stay"

Vinícius Alves is 28 years old and has an extensive academic curriculum. He earned his undergraduate degree in Pharmacy, his MA in Pharmaceutical Sciences and his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Innovations. In this last stage, he specialized in the area of ​​chemioinformatics, an area of ​​chemistry that uses data science tools and artificial intelligence to solve chemistry problems. "I have been working to develop computational methods that can be used to evaluate chemical molecules in computers. During my doctorate, I worked to develop a computational model that could identify whether chemical compounds are toxic or not when they come into contact with the skin," explains Alves.

"The standard method for this analysis involves the use of animals.Today there are alternative methods, but several of them are expensive and unfeasible to be carried out in Brazil due to the bureaucracy associated with the importation of the material. which is inexpensive, is fast and highly efficient, and can contribute to decreasing the use of animals in the laboratory, "he adds.

His work was published in the journal Green Chemistry last year, a publication that reports works that report sustainable and non-toxic technologies to living things and the environment. Today he says he is interested in applying these computational methods to find promising molecules in the treatment of rare diseases, "which reach a very small number of people and therefore have little interest in large pharmaceutical industries," he says.

But his research will continue to be conducted in North Carolina, United States, starting in March 2018. "I had no prospect of fixing anything here. There is no competition and the stock market cut was very large," he says. In recent months, since completing his doctorate, he has been consulting for an industry in São Paulo and for an American company.

Alves also participated in selective processes in Germany and Sweden. It was approved in all. Due to the professional plans of his wife ended up opting for the USA. There, you will earn salary, have the right to vacation and go back to work with research. "My interest has always been to stay, I always said that I wanted to consolidate myself as a researcher in Brazil, I have a feeling that I can contribute to the Brazilian science in here, the government has invested a lot in me and I have the conditions to give back to society," he explains.

"But we have our hands tied ... Now, having an opportunity, improving things ... I think about returning after the postdoctoral. But it is not enough to get a job as a researcher, you have to have a resource for research as well."

"The frustration is too great"

Rodrigo Nunes da Fonseca started at UFRJ as a graduate student in Biological Sciences. He did a master's degree in biochemistry at the same institution, but then decided to go to Germany to do doctoral and postdoctoral studies. There he stayed for five years. Until in 2009, "when Brazil was having a lot of money in science and expanding public universities with Reuni", decided to return. He went to the campus of UFRJ in Macaé, in the interior of the State of Rio, to continue working with biology in the field of evolutionary developmental biology, a new area that uses concepts of genetics, evolution and ecology.

Contestant, he helped to set up, along with 30 other teachers, the Ecology and Socio-environmental Development Center of Macaé, of which he is currently director. But you are frustrated and you think to drop everything. "With this crisis, we have the equipment stopped, I have projects approved since 2014 that has not yet been released, only FAPERJ has a million to receive," he explains. "As things were going well, we had two master's and doctoral programs, and we were in a very good expansion process, this year I still published an article with money from old projects, but now it's over."

His research focuses on the vectors of tropical diseases such as the mosquito Aedes aegypti (Zika and dengue) or barber Rhodnius prolixus (chagas disease). "Our great question is how molecules (genes, proteins, sugars, etc.) make for the formation of a swimming larva from a single cell. This is important because the inside phase of the egg is the only one in the egg. life of the insect that it can not disperse (fly, swim), "he explains. He says his laboratory has already identified several genes that are essential for the life of the mosquito's egg and the barber. "That is, if we take away some of these genes, the embryo does not turn into a larva, and so the life cycle is not complete. mosquitoes or adult barbers, then we would not have the vectors of the disease, at least not in large numbers, "he adds.

This year saw an opportunity to spend three months in Holland with an international scholarship. He took the opportunity to visit the laboratory of his former counselor in Germany and already plans to resign his post in Brazil. But you still have not hit the hammer. "What I really wanted was to do research in Brazil, to contribute to the country. Maybe I'll hold another year," he says.

His permanent position at UFRJ and his salary are factors that hold Fonseca in Brazil. "But public employment is a trap. We have a salary, but anyone who does science, who likes to be in the laboratory and in the field, feels very frustrated. "It's really what drives us, but it's a shame. I've had two students who have gone on to do doctorates," he adds. And he concludes: "When I was in Germany, my counselor told me to go back to Brazil because it was the country of the future, and I was hoping that we would be one of the great powers in the area. I believe in the country, despite all the problems."


Source: El Pais

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