DIY Science

I started my scientific adventures a quarter of a century ago. I am not very old, but I am not young either. When I started, I was full of dreams, ambitions, plans for the future. Some of them have come true, some others not, some others had to be adjusted as time went by and maturity kicked in. But my passion for science-studying, making and disseminating have played all central roles in what one could call an academic career after all this time.

In this exciting trip I’ve had several mishaps, several failures, many major and minor disappointments. I’ve lost friends and colleagues, I’ve earned others. For sure I found great mentors that shed bright lights on the tough road ahead and made me feel comfortably about myself and science. I am deeply thankful for all the guidance and training and education they gave me.

This coming Wednesday is my anniversary No. 7 at the University of Athens as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Physics. For those who do not know me, what I do for living (and fun!) is related to studying the fundamental constituents of matter, the ones forming the very big and very small bodies we see in the universe. Nuclear Physics it is. Two years ago I got my precious tenure, essentially having next-to-none financial support by the university or the Greek state to form a group, build an instrument or travel abroad to collaborate with foreign colleagues in big labs. Luckily enough, some mobility money from EU have helped a lot to keep in touch with current trends, participate in international collaborations and important experiments.

Promotion to the next academic rank in Greece is so much more political than other places I know. You can leave a large portion of your scientific life in what I call “an isomeric state of rank” if you disturb ierarchy or accidentally get in the center of internal political turbulence (oh, it can get nasty if you have the unfortunate luck to have big egos fighting big egos around here). But what bothers me most is that you have no means to prove yourself in the real field that should matter and could boost your career: research.

I am sick and tired with the conditions I try to do research here. I have dug out all kind of boxes in the stockroom with small detectors, old NIM units, bad cables, broken magnets and power supplies (I even found an old HPGe detector) being abandonded literally for decades to rot, I have taken them out, tested them, repaired them, upgraded them and put them in operation. I am proud of this DIY way of doing science, educating young guys, motivating them to put their hands into greese and dirt and get blood on their fingers and finally do something with that damn thing. But i am really sick and tired. This is not research of the future, this is not the way to drive the scientific potential of the best Physics Dept in the country to new endeavors, this is unfair for them and for me.

Last week, I finished writing  and submitted my first proposal to a Greek funding agency. I have spent my Christmas vacation to write the whole thing up, do the math in money, plan the proper activities, all for just the possibility to have 40k EUR for a few small detectors and a magnet. Not even close for what I really need, but it is the only chance that has been given to me and the rest of the scientific community in Greece since 2010, after the crisis has started. The first Open Call for Proposals offered by the Greek State. I, we, hope it won’t be the last for another 8-10 years. Whatever the chances to get through evaluation, I see this as my last opportunity to build something new from scratch, something completely mine. Before I call it quits and fly off from this rotten, pathetic system and do something useful for myself and the society. 

All this sounds weird: I used to love the DIY way of doing things…

(anyone hiring out there?)