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Quality and experience

Special program attracts visiting professors to Unicamp from abroad

The first half of this year will see the start of the most important stage of the project to make the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) more international, the Visiting Professor Program. At least five researchers and professors who work in other countries are expected to land in Campinas during 2011 in order to teach and do research at the university for a period of one to two years. “We are reviving a Unicamp tradition of receiving experienced professionals from abroad,” declares Ronaldo Pilli, the university’s research provost. This revival refers to the university’s foundation, which came about as a result of the invitation to foreign and Brazilian professors who were working at institutions outside Brazil.

According to Pilli, the program’s main objectives are to attract Brazilian and foreign researchers with international experience to improve the evaluation of the university’s graduate courses that have not received a rating of 6 or 7 in the evaluation carried out every three years by the Coordinating Office for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), which would mean that they were of international level. Additionally, bringing in researchers from abroad would increase the chances of academic exchange programs with research institutions. However, the internationalization project is not aimed at catapulting the university up the international rankings. “Maybe that will be a natural consequence,” says Pilli.

The Visiting Professor Program got underway in 2009, with the placing of advertisements in foreign scientific journals, such as Science and Nature. The recruiting targeted professionals with at least five years of post-doctoral experience and who have clearly defined lines of research. A total of 240 CVs from all over the world were received between 2009 and 2010. “Roughly 15% of these did not meet the requirements,” explains the provost.

Good conditions
After receiving the CVs, the next stage was to forward them to the respective departments. At least 10 CVs were selected and six candidates visited Campinas last year to see the university and teach seminars. Other candidates are expected to arrive this year with all expenses paid by Unicamp. Three of the visitors have already been hired and should arrive this semester. Another two are in the process of being hired. According to the research provost, most of the visitors are 35 to 45 years old and have research and teaching experience.

The Frenchman François Artiguenave was the first candidate to pay a visit to Unicamp, in March 2010. With a PhD in genetics and molecular biology, since June 2006 he has been in charge of the Genoscope Bio-IT Laboratory of the French National Sequencing Center. He starts work at Unicamp’s Medical Sciences School in March of this year. The first person to take up a visiting professorship will be the doctor of medical physics, Mario Bernal, from Simon Bolívar University in Venezuela, where he is a professor. “I hope to be able to develop my line of research based on the excellent working conditions that I will enjoy here at Unicamp. Additionally, I think that I can add my experience in medical physics to the department’s undergraduate program and hope to be able to contribute to the development of a postgraduate program in this field,” states Bernal, who is expected to arrive at the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute in January.

Another experienced researcher who is to join the Unicamp faculty is the Trinidad and Tobago-born physiologist Alan Hazell, who is presently in charge of the Neurorescue Laboratory of the University of Montreal, in Canada. “I was particularly impressed by Unicamp’s history of academic excellence, the quality of its researchers in the medical area and the existing facilities,” says Hazell, who is studying neurodegenerative disease, which is the same line of research as he will work on in the university’s Department of Neurology.

EDUARDO CESARIn addition to the work conditions, other factors that impressed the researchers were the faculty and the commitment to the program on the part of Unicamp’s governing body. “I visited the university in August and was welcomed by the president and the research provost. This shows the importance that the university’s authorities give to research and specifically to the Visiting Professor Program,” comments Mario Bernal. “What especially caught my attention was the level of student involvement in research and the number of post-graduate students,” stated the Brazilian Paulo Martins, who has been living in the United States for the last 15 years, and who works at the Computing Institute of Chaminade University, in Hawaii.

Martins did his bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, following this up with a doctorate at the University of York, in the United Kingdom, before coming to Hawaii to work. When he saw the Unicamp advertisement in the Association for Computing Machinery journal Communications of the ACM, he thought that it was a great opportunity to return to his homeland. He arrived in Campinas in September and should be based at the Unicamp School of Technology at Limeira. An expert in real time systems and computer networks, he liked what he saw on his visit. “I visited the Barão Geraldo and Limeira campuses. I went to a number of laboratories and was very impressed with Unicamp’s statistics, which to a certain degree are comparable with those of overseas institutions. What also caught my attention, when I visited the Campinas area, was its potential as a technology center.”

A good moment
Those who answered the call were impressed both by Unicamp’s excellent reputation and by FAPESP’s financing capacity. The internationally competitive value of the grants and of the investment in research offered by the Foundation, strengthened by the real’s current exchange rate, is attractive. “Requests submitted by these visiting professors from overseas will be given the same treatment as those submitted by the regular professors,” guarantees Ronaldo Pilli. The research provost made a point of saying that access to financing for research is particularly difficult in the Northern Hemisphere as a result of the economic crisis. Additionally, the region has fewer job opportunities in the academic area. Therefore, it is an especially good time to attract researchers with potential.

Initiatives such as this have already drawn the attention of the international press. In a report published on January 6, the magazine The Economist highlighted the opportunities offered to researchers in Brazil, particularly in the State of São Paulo. The investments by FAPESP and the São Paulo State universities are seen by the British publication as the main attraction for foreign researchers. Another advantage highlighted is the potential for professional growth.

At the end of their visit, the new arrivals will be given the chance to sit the civil service exam required for a permanent teaching position. There will be no need to master Portuguese, because both the lectures and the exams for hiring faculty members will be offered in English as well as in Portuguese. Another factor is that the university’s postgraduate students will have the chance to improve their English thanks to the constant interaction with these researchers, along with courses to be offered by Unicamp itself.

“On the one hand, the experience will give me the chance to become familiar with the research environment in Brazil. On the other hand, it gives me the chance to apply for a full professorship, which I think is vitally important for my family and me. Additionally, the financing situation is excellent and will enable me to step up my research with the help of students as well as state-of-the-art equipment,” declares René Rosenbaum, who is from Germany. The most recent arrival at the university, Rosenbaum is an associate researcher at the University of California’s Institute of Data Analysis and Visualization in the city of Davis.

Two-way street
Unicamp also wants to send members of its teaching staff to spend some time in other countries. The incentive will come in the form of grants for those who want to do their post-doctoral studies abroad. Those who receive financing from development agencies to do post-doctoral internships abroad will be given funds from Unicamp’s Research Support Fund – to be used in their laboratories when they return. Their students will not be negatively affected during this period. “We’re going to offer places to temporary staff to take over their classes,” states Pilli. He points out that it is necessary to send professors abroad for them to get some international academic experience at the start of their careers. “We have a faculty of 1,800 university professors. Roughly 70% of them have at least six months research experience abroad.” The internationalization of the university’s human resources will be Unicamp’s main investment in 2011. “On average, the university hires 50 faculty members each year. With the Visiting Professor Program we hope to add at least another ten faculty members every year.”