December 3, 2012
When I started considering a PhD, almost two years ago, I had no clear line of sight on what exactly my PhD will be about, nor where it will take me. Two years is a long time. It’s a long time to refine some ideas, to jump from one theme to another, as a direct consequence of accumulating more information, and deepening one’s experience with the subject. Besides the obvious theoretical and subject related inquires, I also had to pursue alternatives and opportunities in terms of where and who will lead and guide my research. I have to find a mentor.
My initial move was to go back to the University that granted me my degree in the first place. I had my doubts but I decide to try nonetheless. The result was the one I expected but would not admit to myself – we are not interested in your theme, and there is no one here that can take up this topic. I can understand that to a certain point, but it was not the rejection that bothered me, as was the implied things that never got said – that I am wasting my time on a theme that is not so important for most.
I proceeded to asking around, questioning all my friends who graduated from other Universities that could accommodate the subject, and was always given 1 of 2 responses: they will never accept your theme or there is only one guy that could take this up and there is a waiting list for him of more than 4 years. This did not exactly stop me from writing emails and explaining my overall theme and interests. Most never answered, some politely declined. That’s OK I said to myself, each University pursues its own lines of research and that is the way it should be.
So I broadened my search to include European nations. Surely there must be a couple of people out there, within the Academia, interested in this topic – a Federal Europe. I have a theory, but I need time and guidance to refine and determine whether it can work or not. Some Universities match my options, and in the past 6 months I’ve managed to narrow it down.
But now I find myself in front of different questions and issues. The past year has seen a rise of right wing extremism all across Europe. Euro-skepticism and a very bad country image don’t help my cause either. Just a few days ago a Scotsman was telling me of his anxiety regarding the influx of Romanian and Bulgarian emigrants in 2014, when work related restrictions in the UK are going to be lifted. I saw and had friends unwittingly involved in French riots and riot related incidents in ’06 and ’07. I have fears regarding my safety. They might be exaggerated, and they are not a deterrent to me, but I can’t stop thinking that if I consider these issues and find them a little bit scary, what about my less committed peers?
Adding up to all these issues, I have to be frank and call on the financial issue as well. For example, in my professional line my average annual income is 4 to 5 times lower than my counterparts in Western Europe, of which I would say 80% go to ensuring my existence (food, rent, clothes, bills, etc.). It’s OK, I manage. But taking up 3 or 4 years of study will doubtfully mean that I have to find other financial sources. My day-job takes 8-10 hours daily, and some days that exceed 14. I can’t see any way in which I would be able to keep my day job and go through a PhD, without cheating. There are options – scholarships, loans, maybe seeking part time employment with the University if that is an option. I’m not that concerned about this aspect.
I ran down all these personal ideas and point of view because for the past month or so, looking at debates on the future of Europe, and investment in innovation, the Erasmus issue, etc. I couldn’t help but stop and ask myself this: to what degree, or percentage, is the EU missing out on innovation because it has not been able to implement an innovation and research program that could finance and support development of new ideas, technologies etc. Sure there are programs; I’ve seen a few, more for post-PhD rather than for PhD level.
So I ask myself – why should my peers seek opportunities to develop their ideas here, when they could go elsewhere and attempt at more?
I might be off, and my ideas could be quite easily dismantled. But how much innovation is the EU missing out on a daily basis? And to further this question, how much innovation that could come from Eastern countries is lost along the way?
I fear not for myself. I have my objectives, and my skills, and I have a good healthy ambition. I make do with what I got and attempt at more all the time. I might not be the brightest of the bunch, but you can be sure it’s not going to stop me. I would just like to know how many others, which are not like me, which have issues that affect their ability to pursue their ideas, are out there?
How much innovation could € 100 billion support?
I think that allowing for a bigger chunk of the up and coming EU budget for 2014-2020 for innovation could really push development. New ideas, new technologies, create resources for economical growth.
Ideas are valuable, because it’s ideas that change the world. That’s how it starts – from an idea. Entrepreneurial wise there are a plethora of programs and funding available to pursue ideas – and that is one way that innovation is done. On the other hand, we need to invest more in theoretical research, because the entrepreneurs will need this theoretical work to empower further development of their product, service, etc. Norway has increased it’s commitment to supporting innovation and aims at becoming the most innovative country in Europe. Why can’t we do that? Why do we restrict our innovative spirit to policy papers, and then cut funding in practice to support the economy, without really succeeding at that one either? A recent article I read in Strategy+Business discussing innovative tech poles being developed around the world, noted that the 4 actors involved to insure innovation are academics, entrepreneurs, local authorities and civil society. This is a 4 leaf clover – cutting any of it’s leafs down turns it unlucky!
I was not sure if I wanted to write this, but then i saw a video on MIT Architecture, and a professor there used this line : “we can now change the building industry by the kind of experiments that we do in school”. This is truly what it means to innovate. Can we?Horatiu Ferchiu