At the end of 2017, the results of the research project financed by SPbU-DFG will be announced.

SPbU’s Vice-Rector for Research Sergei Aplonov has told about how we are going to develop our collaboration with DFG.

In 2016, SPbU and DFG announced the results of the joint competition, with nine projects that won. Are there any results of implementing the research projects?

For a start, our collaboration with the DFG, the biggest research foundation in Germany and worldwide, is a unique experience for Russian science. SPbU is the only university in the East semisphere to collaborate with it directly.

In 2015, we signed an agreement to hold a research competition to finance Russia-Germany research projects. The expert committee, which comprised the world’s leading experts, chose nine projects in the following areas:

  • Materials Science
  • Biochemistry
  • Experimental Condensed-Matter Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Elementary Particle Physics
  • Geology
  • Non-Organic Chemistry

Our scientists are carrying out joint research projects in these areas. All in all, the research comprises about 100 scientists.

By late2017 – early 2018, we can draw some preliminary conclusions, and we are expecting joint publications. Importantly, the results of the research carried out this year will have effect on the finance schemes next year, at least for the Russian scientists. I know that there are some interesting results, but we can be more precise next year.

Now all I have to say is one of the results of the competition is that we can gain over 140 mln rubles  for research and we are expecting adequate results.

Apart from financing the research projects, what are other opportunities SPbU-DFG collaboration can provide?

First, the fact that we signed an agreement with the DFG means that it recognizes and appreciates the competition schemes at the University. It is absolutely necessary as the Russian scientific community has little trust in the selection procedures. SPbU is the first university in Russia to have held open competitions where researchers from other universities can participate. We are increasing the quality of the selection procedures as we attract lots of external experts, make expert evaluation reports publically available, make our application forms simple and concise.  Before we could sign the agreement, the German part had evaluated how we organized selection procedures at SPbU. It took about a year. If we have a direct agreement with the DFG, it means that we are increasing the level of quality of our selection procedures.

Besides, each year SPbU and DFG hold seminars on the expert evaluation of the research projects. By doing so, SPbU gains an experience from its German colleagues. Importantly, DFG never pays for reviewing applications and projects. Quite the opposite: it is a great honour for scientists to do the job for the DFG.

Finally, we regularly have meetings with the DFG. In June, we met the delegation with its Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek. Later, during the summer traditional reception of the research foundation in Moscow, we reached a consensus on continuing joint projects. Our current agreement allows us to open a competition at any time.  The main thing is to get an initiative from Russian or German colleagues.

What are the events SPbU and DFG are going to hold in the nearest future?

Apart from our regular meetings, we are planning to discuss the preliminary results of the nine projects by the summer of 2018. Russian-German groups will present their results gained during the last a year and a half.

During one of your meetings, we were discussing opportunities of opening a joint programme to gain a doctoral degree. How are you going to implement this project? 

The thing is that we are announcing a DFG open competition, and the institution-participants will outline the research areas they are ready to prepare doctorate students and choose their scientific supervisors. All students will be engaged in the DFG’s projects. So, SPbU’s scientists can supervise German students, while German scientists our students. The topics for theses will be based on the research areas developed by the DFG.

Such initiative is an effective tool to engage doctorate students in financially supported international research projects. We have already initiated a negotiation process with the RFBR.

At our nearest meeting, we are planning to discuss fair research practices. In the academic community, there are several approaches how to define the concept. What issues will be discussed by SPbU and DFG in this sphere?

Primarily, it is about how project evaluation is effective. Unlike in Europe, we didn’t have a tradition to get grants as a financial source in science so far. It was introduced by the RGNF in the mid-90s. St Petersburg University played a role in this process by introducing a competition of the research projects in 2011. Our experience and selecting methodology obviously have a positive effect on the competition ethics in financing science in Russia.

Still, we have a long way to go and gain experience from our European colleagues. The way how we review research projects in Russia is far from being perfect, in particular evaluation of interdisciplinary research projects. DFG and other European research foundation are far more effective.

Obviously, the theory of fair practices focuses not only on adequate evaluation of projects. In the academic community, there is a concept of research reputation, and, in my opinion, it is not fully recognized in Russia. It depends on a number of factors decisions: from choosing a postdoc to affiliation. It is all about corporate ethics, and we have to cultivate it.