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Prominent Brazilian Neuroscientist Cites Inflexibility As She Leaves for the USA

05/05/2016 - 10h36

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REINALDO JOSÉ LOPES
COLLABORATION FOR FOLHA

It is no longer possible to conduct cutting edge scientific research in Brazil, according to the neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who is about to leave the Institute of Biomedical Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) for Vanderbilt University in Nashville (USA).

An author of several bestselling books on neuroscience and influential studies on how the human brain developed, Herculano-Houzel spoke to Folha.

Folha: Have you ever felt tempted to reconsider your decision to leave Brazil?
Suzana Herculano-Houzel: Look, if I was working in an American university and I was unhappy for any reason, there would be ways for me to talk to the university administrators and negotiate. Here, on the other hand, I receive the same treatment as everyone else, in terms of salary, benefits and working conditions.

Thinking in the long term, what was the main factor in your decision?
In a word, inflexibility. Abroad, there are incentives for good work, and even to stimulate future generations. But on the other hand, there are assessments and risks that I am subject to if my work is not up to scratch.
In our institute we tried to implement quality assessment of the classes by the students, and assessment of research conducted by scientists, but as far as I know these initiatives came to nothing. Do you think you'll be able to remove an ineffective professor from their laboratory? It's impossible.
Sometimes I would have to ask "please buy $10,000 worth of this antibody", and I would have to obtain letters from the manufacturer stating that they were the only ones who produce it. It takes at least three months of work, plus ridiculous taxes, more bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, our competitors - because science is competitive, yes - can pick up the phone, call the company, and the product will be on their table the next day. I'm not exaggerating.

Without the current economic crisis, do you think you would have left Brazil anyway?
I think the crisis was a factor that helped negotiations on the American side.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

Read the article in the original language

Ricardo Borges/Folhapress
Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel
Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel

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