Thursday, 5 May 2011

Wojciech Bierza "I see a lack of cooperation between academic centers and even between faculties within the same university"

I met Wojtek in Germany, more precisely in Borstel (Schleswig-Holstein) when admitted to a Marie Curie Early Stage Research Training Scheme in the Research Centre Borstel –Leibniz Centre for Medicine and Biosciences - Division of Structural Biochemistry. In between the 1st of February and the 30th of June 2010 I had the immense privilege of sharing my thoughts, my time and life with an incredible human being that not only proved himself to me as a great friend, but also as a very talented individual. Wojtek was by then undergoing his second masters degree, but the most incredible quality I could immediately spot on in  this scientist-to-be was his humble nature, when he was clearly a very gifted member of the staff, with great initiative, constant control of all the tasks he had to manage and an unexpected tendency for easy/loud laughter, a King and a Joker. 

Together, we caused fuss inside the spirits of all those who came across us as a group, after leaving the project we longed for that same natural and lively team spirit (composed of several nationalities);  people to whom I honestly wish all the best. The constant gathering in Wojtek's apartment with a renown russian/canadian scientist for sharing some bottles of wine, a few slices of cheese, crazy acoustic  stand-up singing and the certainty that science strengthens ties by sharing knowledge in a comfortable accessible atmosphere, and not by spitting incomprehensible dogmas and concepts that will ultimately put people off. 

I invited this very talented PhD student, with two master degrees, for sharing his perspectives with all of us and prove that some economically modest countries are still producing extremely intelligent and capable brains; it is up to the local governments and local companies to give these people an opportunity in order to demonstrate the great things they can help the country achieve. 

I hope you enjoy this interview, the second conducted by The Toxicologist Today.

1) Can you give us a little taste of your personal, academic and professional profile?

I was born in a small  village in the south of Poland. This region is one of the most urbanized areas in Europe, which later turned out affecting my research interests. Currently, I am  a PhD student in the Department of Ecology in the University of Silesia. In 2009, I obtained a masters degree in Ecology, and in 2010 in Microbiology. The focus of my research studies is on the effects of human impact on the environment and natural ways to counteract the negative effects of human activities (bioremediation). 

2) How did you end up choosing the scientific area you are in at the moment?

I live in Upper Silesia, a highly industrialized and polluted region in Poland. Hence, I think, the natural interest in the impact of anthropogenic pollution problems, in particular heavy metals in the environment, mechanisms responsible for the detoxification of trace elements by plants and bacteria, and remediation of contaminated sites.

3) What was the greatest personality/event influencing you towards science?

Being a scientist has always been my dream, and there was not much of a person or event that would confirm me on this. Of course, I have my authorities in the field of science. The most important is definitely Charles Darwin.

4) How do you see academic life these days, what would you change and what would you reinforce?

I can comment only on the Polish reality. Unfortunately, I see fewer and fewer positives. Tuition is [going to] a lower level. Also, students who are beginning studies represent a lower level than before, they have lack of motivation and they often choose the direction fortuitously. Finally, I see a lack of cooperation between academic centers and even between faculties within the same university.

5) How do you think the world can promote a better living when science is becoming a victim of the profit fallacy, i.e., industries promote research, therefore, research must pay back when the final product comes to life (and to shelves)?

I believe that in today's world, in times of crisis, when government spending on science is insufficient, supporting science by industry is inevitable. In this way, research conducted at academic centers are more "useful". However, the need to seek the right balance in these, accounts that science does not become hostage of industry.

6) In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges science will face in the coming years?

In this regard, I will not be original. I think the most important tasks facing science are still searching for new solutions in the fight against cancer and the search for alternative energy sources. In my area of research, I think that it is developing new, more efficient methods of bioremediation, which would be involving specifically selected microorganisms.

7) Tell us a funny science story where you've been involved and how you managed to survive to it?

I had a couple of funny science stories, but none of them are suitable to reporting on the pages of this blog...hahahaha.

8) Where is Poland when considering the Global Scientific Panorama?

Unfortunately, the Polish realities do not allow Polish science to compete with more wealthy European countries, USA, and Japan. Although in my opinion, Polish scientists have enormous potential, are creative, competent and hard working, but this small financial resources do not allow their full self-realization. That is why many Polish scientists are choosing to work in foreign research units.

9) Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I plan to work in a company dealing with bioremediation of land degraded by [wrong] human activity, and thus help shape a new image of my region.

10) What would you consider to be a breakthrough in your scientific area in the coming years?

I believe that research conducted at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) will bring answers to important questions raised by scientists around the world, both at the microscopic and the cosmological scale. These seemingly detached from reality testing in the future could affect the daily life of every human being.

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