“The fact that the missiles are falling, due to the position of scientists” – what dreams astrophysicist in Russia

Torn between Moscow and Boston, not Russian, not American, and the scientist, the devotee of science, fellow of the Smithsonian astrophysical Observatory (USA) and leading researcher at the State astronomical Institute named after P. K. Sternberg (Sternberg astronomical Institute) – how to survive a scientist in Russia and why in the years of the Russian science “fell” all who can.

Igor Chilingaryan. Photo: VK

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In 2010 Igor Chilingaryan defended his doctoral dissertation and became the youngest in the country – only 30-year-old doctor of Sciences in astrophysics. Long before that, in 1996, the eleventh-grader from Moscow with a gold medal at the international astronomy Olympiad in the hands wanted to enter the physics Department of Moscow state University and working on a six-meter telescope in Karachay-Cherkessia. And then, a student of Department of physics, Igor went on a trip to the University of Lyon and the first day decided that in Karachay-Cherkessia, and in Russia in General to do science will not.

There respect you, and here you are bespectacled and nerdy

– Why did you decide to go abroad?

– I didn’t plan to leave until I was in University, and never even traveled outside of the country, but in the fourth year I began a research collaboration with people from Lyon, one of the joint projects of Russia and France. In 2002 they invited me with a short visit to Lyon, and I was struck by how there better relate to people in General and scientists in particular. Scientists there have authority not only among his colleagues and in society in General. When I looked, I realized that in Russia I will not run. To the decision to implement, it took another couple of years, because it is not as easy as it seems – administrative, political difficulties.

I enrolled in graduate school at MSU, I have been joint with the University of Lyon. By the way, this was the first together with France, defended his thesis, the first case at MSU. I remember when I came to the international Department of the physics faculty, and I said, “That you yourself have organised themselves now and deal with all the paperwork”. Here I understood.

After graduation I got an offer to work in France, in Lyon, worked in Strasbourg, then went to a conference in the States, in Boston, a month and a half I wrote of the Harvard-Smithsonian center, it is the largest astrophysics Institute in the world. Since I work there.

– You said about the difference in attitude to the scientist. And in what way?

– There are people with advanced degrees, especially in the natural Sciences, is well respected. It is believed that the elite of society. And here, when you look at a person with a degree, what do you think? Bespectacled, nerd. Dismissive attitude. Here, like the bandits and security forces, and there the doctors and scientists are at a premium.

– Of course, the salary and opportunities?

– I must say that salaries in the scientific sector are not comparable. At MSU, and in other academic institutions the situation is that if the employee does not have an apartment in Moscow, he has virtually no chance to work. To remove the money it is impossible, or it will be somewhere in the far suburbs. A mortgage to buy also impossible, because it is more expensive.

We have, for example, in the Observatory wages are low in comparison with Harvard, but they correspond to the salaries of Federal officials, those people who work in the White house, the FBI, the CIA, in Congress, and correspond to such a level that you can buy an apartment on credit, and the credit is not under 12% here and 3% a year.

There is access to large telescopes, which is not in Russia. In particular, our Institute owns a share in the project 6.5-meter telescope Magellan in Chile and the MMT in Arizona.

The Magellan Clay telescope and the milky Way. Photo: Igor Chilingarian

The people who work in our Institute, it is possible to obtain observing time and, accordingly, Supervisory data, which have no analogues, with which it is possible to do real serious science. This is not to astronomers in Russia. They are unable to obtain observing time on these telescopes because they are not included in the consortium. There are those who gave money for the construction. But my students and I regularly drive in both Chile and Arizona for observation.

6.5-meter MMT telescope. Photo: Igor Chilingarian

– Why did you decide to maintain scientific ties with Russia?

– Russia has the opportunity to work with students, and in the States to have a student, you need to pay for it Harvard, and a lot of 70 thousand dollars a year. Student in America is expensive, and here the student cost next to nothing – free and highly motivated workforce, – Igor laughs. But really the problem is just motivation. If you compare the students here and there, here they are more capable but less motivated, but on the contrary there is less able, but more motivated.

– Bad motivation what is connected?

– Basically if you look at the success of the Russian scientific astronomy, they are not impressive in comparison with other countries. Perhaps it extinguishes motivation. Many swamps, routine.

Now the famous “brain drain” is still a relevant concept for our science?

– Now it is much more important than in the early 2000s, when I left, which is associated with the crackdown.

Scientists don’t like when they are under pressure, so everyone who can will fall down and you will see it in 5-6 years. I judge by how many students went to graduate school in the West. In our time, these were exceptional cases, and not every year, and now the departure took on a mass order.

There is still the problem with research funding. Salaries are very low, but the salary can get a bonus at the expense of grants.

Unlike the Western system, which has a serious importance to the scientific level of the project, in Russia operates on the principle that everyone should be given a slice, smear with a thin layer.

In America there are people who actually live in the grants themselves of them pay themselves a salary, but they have to constantly write projects, to avoid holes in the funding. Here and in the Fund of the RSF are limitations: a person cannot lead more than one project. Or presidential grants: the grant allowed for two years, and re can be obtained only through the year, simply because a lot of wishing, all can not give, but also don’t want to offend anyone. Imagine a person has a family, children, and here he was two years salary of 60-70 thousand rubles, and then became 30. What to do?

I know how hard it is not to, namely that to get a grant in Russia. Since 2012, I have a fairly stable grant funding in Russia, which I knocked out, to have me here, researchers and students with not suffocated to death.

Igor Chilingaryan. Photo: VK

The fact that the missiles are falling, due to the position of scientists

– You are insulting that the cashiers in the store sometimes you get more than scientists? You have asked yourself the question, why?

– I gave an interview in 2013, which was called “Why the bus driver gets more than a scientist.” Since then, the situation has not changed. Or rather changed places. Accurate reliable information, but according to rumors, in the universities of type HSE professors are paid quite a lot compared to MSU. We have the same at University naked rate professors – about 50 thousand a month, and that Professor, PhD. Why this happens I don’t know. Apparently, the leadership of the University has other priorities.

As I remember, it was year 2004, I was in graduate school at the physics Department, and a scholarship of 2000 rubles, paid in cash. I came, the cashier was busy with something, gave me a list of statements that I myself found and signed. Here I leaf through this list, suddenly I come across the statement of the Dean’s office, and I find that younger Secretary receives 30 thousand, and the Dean – 180 thousand, i.e. 6 thousand dollars at the time, while professors earn 15-20 thousand rubles.

I’m not the first person who drew attention to the situation with salaries in General and MSU in particular. Was a mathematician, quite honored teacher, he had something like an open letter, after the rector has announced the average salary in the University. He wrote: “What can I do to get average salary?!”

I must admit, that I myself, the money is not particularly interested in. When working abroad, they are sufficient, but here – Igor showed the door that leads into the hallway SAI, takes on a patterned carpet on the dusty street beyond the heavy doors of the ten faculties of the University of Moscow – here is talking about this constantly because it is a matter of survival.

Igor Chilingaryan. Photo: td.lpi.ru

– You know history, when talented people leave science because of this question of survival?

– Of course, tons of stories like that among my friends. Very talented people not even considered as a possibility to go to work in science, because it is not what will be there, and if there is no apartment, still no place to live. Naked rate researcher, Moscow state University, a person with a doctoral degree – 16-17 thousand rubles. There are some allowances, but they are very unstable situation, it is impossible to predict even three months, about how many years of your mortgage it. And you can go to trade a chicken. In the 90 years I have heard stories where people left jambs, a talented astronomers, budding, all gone. Who has not gone to trade chicken grill, went abroad or went into IT, in banks, everywhere.

Is the position of a scientist in Russia has something to do with the fact that we have now the rockets are falling?

– What rockets are falling, due to the position of scientists. Missiles do not fly because they do bad. It is not only scientists, mostly engineers, but in General there’s fallout, it’s just in science they are felt immediately. The collapse of the system will be felt later, in a decade.

I can not think of any Russian or American scientist

– What is the status of science popularization in our country? Whether it becomes more interesting to a wide audience?

– As for astronomy, there is a promotion all right. There are a few people whose names are on everyone’s lips – Sergey Popov, Vladimir Surdin. They go to the cities “on tour” and give lectures, for them it is also an opportunity to earn extra money. Lectures read in the framework of festivals, for example, “Science”, which has recently opened.

Much worse situation than in America, if you compare a popular science program on television. Here any turbidity as Ren with their little green men, above the roof, and good educational programs is not enough. 99% of what I see on TV and scientific-popular and sensible * show with Discovery, National Geographic.

And as you know, people believe the TV, if this does not show, then do not. How many people will go to popular science lecture as you watch the video on YouTube and how many on the Federal channel?

The audience is huge, but there is better I will show a series about cops and their dogs.

Igor Chilingaryan. Photo: VK

– One of the first decrees of the Minister Olga Vasilyeva was the decree to return to school astronomy. But several generations of Russian students it was not. Do you think we need it in the school curriculum?

– In the 90s in Soviet times, astronomy was only in the 11th grade, and the Olympics started with 7-8. Who would want and wondering they were going in circles, and circles, nothing happened, they are all the time functioning. Therefore, I believe, the return of astronomy in the school curriculum – useful thing from the point of view of education. To let people know that astrology is bullshit on a moonlit night, you need to talk about it at school. But it is, return, is unlikely to have any effect on the fact that we have a strong mass astronomers.

– Education generally in our country that, in your opinion, is happening?

– It falls apart. I judge though, because, as the year falls the level of literacy among students, and it all has the same roots. I recently read a post by one of the teachers leading schools in Moscow. He just spent the statistics. In the astronomical problem was the Russian word with non-obvious spelling. Statistically people who incorrectly solved the task was more among those who made a mistake in this word. As theoretical physicists make statistical conclusions about election fraud, he also concluded that knowledge of the Russian language shows the General level of education.

– What now the students do? Who goes into science astronomy: romantics, dreamers, geniuses?

– Just yesterday we discussed this with the staff. The last few years, the trend is that astronomers are people with astronomical Olympiad backgrounds. They have developed the contest parties, which in our time was not, and they’re coming here to be a get-together and desire to do science they do not. But there are always exceptions. We try to find students who are motivated and who have an interest in science, and no interest to solve the contest puzzles.

– To what kind of future you are preparing them: to leave, to stay, to do something for science in Russia?

– And you ask them – at the Department, where the interview, the computers are two of the student Igor Chilingaryan. – Zhenya, you’re defending a diploma in six months. What are you going to do?

– Going to look for a position in graduate school there, where I’m interested in the topic at the proper level.

– That is abroad? – smiles Igor.

– Yes, because in Russia it’s not very developed.

– And he still two-and-a-half years to study in Russia, – Igor shows for another student, Kirill. – Can he also ask.

– What I do, I ought to bring pleasure and not to deliver the financial problems. Want to be more or less secured, so as not to bother dealing with everyday problems. So I want to look for positions where feasible.

– It is also abroad?

– Well, maybe the situation will change in two years, – jokes Cyril.

Yeah, maybe the border will close in two years, and you will not go anywhere, – laughs Igor Vladimirovich. – But seriously, my students a slightly different experience, because we are their first and second course export abroad, we have with France a close collaboration until now, joint projects, joint laboratories. My students have something to compare.

Igor Chilingaryan. Photo: VK

– What is your dream Russian astronomer?

I do not know.

Well, you at least consider themselves Russian scientists?

– Any Russian or American scientist, I do not consider myself. National identity is the least of my worries. I work for the benefit of science, much as politicians do…I think the majority of Russian astronomers dream should be Russia’s accession to the European southern Observatory, and getting access to their tools, to the entire infrastructure. But this is unlikely to happen now for political reasons. In 2012, almost passed the decision, but squabbles between the academics is not allowed. Now the political situation has deteriorated, so to even think about it not worth it.

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