Fabien Maussion bio photo

Fabien Maussion

Climate, glaciers, and scientific programming.

In a wonderfully ironic post (in French), the journalist Sylvestre Huet describes the life and career of Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who recently won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage studied chemistry in Strasbourg, wrote his PhD thesis in Strasbourg, after which he obtained a permanent position in… Strasbourg, where he stayed until his retirement in 2009. This is a disastrous career according to today’s standards: he didn’t go to the US for a PostDoc, and he chose to follow his intuition and worked on the same topic for decades.

Stability, freedom in research, and job security are essential ingredients for new discoveries and scientific success. Although many politicians are really quick in congratulating “their” scientists when they are successful, they are very slow in understanding that the current funding policy in most European countries is based on the exact opposite principles: mobility, job precarity, competitivity. All this is leading to fraudulent, quick n’ dirty research at the origin of the many scientific scandals in the recent years.

A brilliant example of this contra-productive policy is the Austrian “Kettenvertragsregelung”, or the regulation of “chained” contracts. Originally written in order to protect the university employees, this law constrains the universities to hire the researchers which have been employed on soft money for more than six years. In practice, the university won’t accept to sign any new contract based on external grants with a person who might exceed this six years limit. Many brilliant people are put under terrible pressure because of this regulation and eventually see themselves forced to leave Austria and look for job elsewhere (why not in Brexit Britain, I’ve heard there are plenty of opportunities on the island).

I wonder if Jean-Pierre Sauvage would have had the same career today as he had 40 years ago.

I doubt it.