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Irregular work, tiny wages for Latvia's young scientists

Following the planning period in August, scientists' access to EU funds will be cut at least until next year. During this time, many young scientists leave for other countries while others spend the time living on unemployment benefits. A number cite the inadequately small government funding to be responsible for professionals looking for work abroad or choosing another profession. 

For example, Laura Vīķele, a doctorate student working on recyclable cardboard wrapping at the Institute of Wood Chemistry, said that the state funding is about 46,000 euros a month for the 70 people working at the institute.

Minus expenses, it allows for a salary of about 200 euro a month for each employee. Rather than trying to make ends meet with this sum (the average salary in Latvia is about EUR 600), Laura plans to move to the country house of her father and live on unemployment benefits. She thinks she'll spend a year out of work in total.

Sometimes the employees are forced to go on unpaid vacations due to lack of funding.

Others look for work elsewhere. Kristaps Jaudzems, a leading researcher at the Institute of Organic Synthesis, had foreseen the funding troubles when the EU funds run out, so he'll go to work in France where he'll research the structures of virus molecules. 

Jaudzems will try to return if he gets a chance, but he criticizes the Education Ministry for the lack of a clear policy on how to develop the hard sciences and create career opportunities here in Latvia.

"I think the most talented [scientists] who can find a place for themselves abroad will use the opportunity. They don't think they owe something to here [Latvia], because this situation shows that no one needs them here," said Jaudzems. 

A number of projects have worked to return some professionals to their native country, but they face the same troubles all over again when the EU funding is interrupted.

While the situation is grave, the head of the Association of Latvian Young Scientists Egils Stalidzāns is sure that the wiggly cash flow will not destroy scientific research in Latvia. 

However, he laments that the unstable material situation scares away the most pragmatic of the young scientists. Those who could work in manufacture. 

Although they have shown great promise and could compete on an international level, at one point they say: "You know, Egīls, although what we did was great, we don't want to live like you do. We want a family and stability. Science, at least here in Latvia, cannot give us that." 

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