The situation of public research in France comes up against a problem that completely escapes the governing bodies: the attractiveness of research professions. We rightly underline the lack of resources for French research, which invests much less than many European countries as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP). But, we neglect this crying fact that the most talented young people no longer want to do this job in France given the personal conditions that await them.
A researcher is recruited in France at Inserm (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) or at CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) at around 35 years of age. Applicants often come from a major school or faculty, have a doctoral thesis in science and have spent at least five years post-doctoral abroad. They will only be recruited if they have successfully published important papers in a major international journal.
Bac + 15 and 2,000 euros per month
The entry salary of a researcher recruited at bac +15 is around 2,000 euros per month, or roughly half the salary of researchers in the 53 largest OECD countries. He will end his career at 3,500 euros per month with the possibility of earning up to 5,000 euros at the end of his career if he has an exceptional career and attains world fame.
Recently, officials complained in a petition that, depending on the grid to which they were attached, the salary gaps were gigantic, the highest of them being able to exceed 15,000 euros net per month. By what type of reasoning can we think that a 50-55-year-old researcher leading a team of 20 to 30 people in a large research institute and engaged in a fierce international competition could find it normal to earn a quarter of the salary of these privileged?
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Of course, researchers are inhabited by their passion and some will find it vulgar to have salary demands when one has the chance to be touched by the grace of a vocation. However, there is a slight problem: our amphitheatres are increasingly deserted. If, the brightest and the most motivated of our students all the same take this path, they usually stay in the country where they did their postdoctoral fellowship and where they can consider pursuing their careers. and a pleasant personal life.
The German example
Germany under Angela Merkel has invested billions in basic research, but both in the functioning of the laboratories and in the recruitment of young researchers and in the years to come we will watch again in amazement how far it will distance us on economically.
Today, foreign private companies have managed to develop a vaccine against Covid19 in record time. However, this was only possible thanks to the discoveries made upstream in molecular biology, in particular in French public fundamental research laboratories.
How can a “start-up nation” at the forefront of modernity and innovation, as our leaders aim for, accept that its research in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology can slowly be brought up to the level of that of an underdeveloped country?
Is it necessary to add that the major patents in biology resulting from fundamental research, such as PCR, which has become so familiar to us by measuring the presence of Covid, or hybridomas, which are the source of all antibodies used in cancer diagnosis or immunotherapy, represent hundreds of billions of revenues and are able to change the trade balance of a country?
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When I evoke this heartbreaking observation with the great figures of French research, they generally answer me that they have been explaining this for decades without triggering the slightest reaction. I still have the hope, naive surely, that things can change!