University researchers who have won grants provided by the Saint Petersburg Committee on Science and Higher Education (CSHE) talk about their academic projects and share their opinions about why undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral fellows of St Petersburg University should apply for government grants.

Ekaterina Akimovich, Senior Lecturer at St Petersburg University (Department of Public Relations in Business)

Have many of your colleagues have applied for grants from the Saint Petersburg Committee on Science and Higher Education?

Two of my colleagues applied to take part in a CSHE contest this year, but, unfortunately, neither of them came up winners.  In my opinion, Committee contests are attractive to young scholars since they offer an opportunity to receive financial support for their project, to publish in academic journals and to obtain equipment for further research.  On the other hand, young people can be put off by the rather extensive list of documents they need to fill out in order to apply. If it were possible to simplify the application process, then the number of participants would significantly increase.  Given the chronic lack of time in our lives, this is a really important point.

Ekaterina Akimovich submitted a research project entitled “Critical Lines of Communication of Public Authorities in Situations of Social Unrest over Solid Waste Landfills”.

My objective was to come up with a theoretical and methodological background for effective lines of communication for government agencies in a time of crisis and to elaborate practical recommendations for the government of Saint Petersburg to deal with such crises.  My findings can be used to prepare a course of lectures on a variety of subjects. The conclusions that I arrived at within the scope of my work might also be useful for crisis managers and public authorities in providing and/or improving the work of special units involved in public lines of communication of government departments in social media.

Ekaterina Maksimova, Research Assistant at St Petersburg University (Department of Applied Ecology)

Why do you think that relatively few young researchers are applying to compete for grants?

The main reason is that most of the guys simply don’t know about such an opportunity.  First of all, the assistance of academic advisors is needed, and after that the young scholars themselves will find information about contests, grants and prizes.  As a rule, the application deadlines to apply for Committee awards are strictly regulated, and information about them doesn’t always make its way to the target audience on time, and they don’t manage to fill out an application before it’s too late. It should be pointed out that it is rather simple to fill out applications and reports for Committee awards, and this is a definite plus.  The consideration and sensitivity shown towards applicants while they are filing and filling out reports is also quite impressive. In any case, if you don’t sign up for a contest, a prize or a grant, then there’s no way you will receive anything. Any opportunities open up only when whoever is seeking them is prepared to do something and to be persistent.

Ekaterina Maksimova submitted a research project entitled “Sunken Timber in the Rivers of Saint Petersburg and the Leningrad Region:  Its Influence on the Aquatic Ecosystems, Its Harm to Aquatic Bio-resources and the Development of Approaches to Rehabilitation”.

Logging along rivers, or timber rafting, is practiced in many European countries, including Russia.  In the course of this process, much of the timber is lost, comes to a standstill on shoals and on the river banks or sinks, causing extensive damage to the surrounding environment, and the impact is felt many years later.  When rivers used for logging become clogged up, it damages the ecology of the river basins, leads to a disturbance of the hydrologic balance and creates emergencies on navigable waterways and at hydroelectric power stations.  Sunken timber, along with exuding resin, tanning substances and detrimental compounds, as it slowly decays, takes in oxygen and gives off phenolic and other harmful substances, fouling the water and causing damage to the fishing industry.  

Self-regeneration of the ecosystems in the rivers of Saint Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, after the impact of timber rafting, is downright impossible.  To salvage and restore the biome requires cleaning up the river beds, the effectiveness of which is determined to a large extent by whether or not it is properly planned and carried out.  This calls for scientifically up-to-date guidelines for restoration of the rivers’ ecosystems. There are no such guidelines at the moment, nor have there ever been, and so that is what became the impetus behind my project.

Maria Chumakova, Research Assistant at St Petersburg University (The Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Research of Human Development)

What do you think?  In what way might it be beneficial for young scholars to take part in the SPbCSHE contests?

Vying for Committee grants is, in my opinion, a very valuable experience in terms of shaping your ideas, your research plans and your project into the format of the application for financial assistance.  Any scholar needs not only to be competent in the field of their own research but also good at communicating with the institutions whose financial support provides an opportunity for them to carry out that research.  It is obvious that in most cases young researchers are not ready to go after “large”, “adult” grants. But competing for a CSHE grant can provide a “training ground” on which a researcher can check to see if they are able to justify their project and receive funding for it.  Another important benefit of competing for such awards is that you get feedback about how good your project is. And in this context, any result, whether favorable or not, becomes a benchmark of professional growth and development.

Maria Chumakova submitted a research project entitled “A Mathematical-Statistical Analysis of How Politico-Economic Factors Influence the Trends for the Number of Orphaned Children in the Russian Provinces for the Period of 2012-2017 (applying the method of computer-assisted learning to statistics provided by Rosstat – the Russian Federal State Statistics Service).

As a result of the statistical analysis that was carried out, it was established that, from 2008 through 2016, there was a hefty increase in the number of orphaned children who were being brought up in foster families.  This bears witness to the success of government programs aimed at reducing the number of children who are institutionalized. This trend is characteristic of the provinces as a whole, and also of the megalopolises.

While analyzing the statistics related to nervous and behavioral disorders, it was found that the increase in the number of adolescents diagnosed as suffering from alcohol and drug abuse in the provinces is not associated with the number of orphaned children being brought up in foster families.  We succeeded in making it clear that the growth rate in the number of families wishing to bring up an orphan is not associated with the number of disabled children with nervous disorders in the provinces. It is possible that the availability of these disease statistics is a minus that scares away potential foster parents.  This result calls for additional verification, but it can be assumed that the development of special programs to support families who take care of children with such diagnoses might contribute to an upward trend in adoptions.

Nikolay Gulitsky, Senior Lecturer at St Petersburg University (Department of High Energy and Elementary Particles Physics)

Have you ever applied for a Committee grant, and would you advise others to do so?

Yes, I have, and I have won more than one.  I would definitely advise students and postgraduates to at least give it a try to test the waters.  It will allow them to gain an understanding of what a contest is and what a project should look like – and also to realize that even if a person has a good project, they don’t always win.  In the end, it’s a chance to receive additional funding equivalent to something like a half-year scholarship.

I would also recommend that young specialists take part in CSHE contests, but with one caveat – assistants and junior research workers have far more responsibilities (and chances of winning) than students and postgraduates.  So, here you need to allocate your time and effort wisely, but if you’re full of enthusiasm, then why not give it a try!

Nikolay Gulitsky submitted a research project entitled “Compound Computation in Stochastic Models of Turbulence:  Second-Order Correction in Navier-Stokes Equations with an Allowance for Compressibility”.

This project is dedicated to the application of quantum field theory methods to problems of statistical physics, more specifically to research into Navier-Stokes equations with allowance for fluid compressibility.  Some of these methods, initially developed to describe particle interaction – functional integration, the Feynman diagrams and the renormalization group – turn out to be successfully applicable to the problems of statistical physics.  In particular, they might be useful when studying the transitions between stages (the so-called Phi^4 model) and also the turbulence system, which is what I am involved in.

It turns out that the Navier-Stokes equation, describing the motion of liquids, has yet to be resolved in general terms.  And the movement is, at the same time, very intricate – the liquid may be in both the lamellate phase (a tranquil lake / a slow-moving river) and in the turbulent phase (a mountain stream / the wake of a moving vessel).  It has waves in it, and indeed the overall picture looks quite complicated. But you don’t have to look into the whole system all at once; you can concentrate on a part of it. In my case, it is the turbulent conditions. And here statistical physics comes to the rescue, allowing me to state the problem, along with quantum field theory, with its mathematical tools that make it possible to do all of the calculations that are needed.