[Letter to the editor]Create a research-friendly environment

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[Letter to the editor]Create a research-friendly environment

A few days ago, I read in the newspaper that President-elect Lee Myung-bak announced he would establish a “business-friendly government.” I was impressed because it was a refreshing change and I’ve been anticipating that the president-elect’s next announcement would be about both science and engineering. However, there have been few signs of his policies in this field, although he had clearly stated his views about many other fields. As an engineering student who is worried about the poor research environment in Korea and its negative influence on the economy, I hope that President-elect Lee Myung-bak also considers developing a “research-friendly government.”
I have too much work to do on many things. I have no time for research. These are what I am told by my peers who are studying at graduate schools in Korea. Is this just a common complaint, made even though they actually do have enough time? Or is this the usual environment for conducting research here?
My answer to both questions is no. Even though they are under pressure to create new things in competitive research fields, my peers are forced to spend much more time doing additional work, such as making out financial documents or doing errands for professors’ personal purposes, rather than conducting research. Another matter that discourages students is the treatment of people in their field: “What rewards will I have for pursuing a life in research, in comparison with doctors, dentists, lawyers, or government officials?” This question covers various aspects such as remuneration, job tenure and social status. While people say that passion is very important in deciding one’s career, they also believe that their occupation should earn them a good reputation and decent compensation. Therefore, these essential points need to be considered to solve the country’s problems effectively.
Past administrations and the National Assembly did not solve this situation, but made it worse over the past several years. The law for the prevention of illegal exchanges of information regarding industrial technology is a typical example. This law restrains researchers from providing confidential information to companies. In fact, it is thought this law forces researchers to stay in one place of employment because it limits their right to move to other institutions or companies freely and negotiate their salaries. Due to these unreasonable and disadvantageous conditions, many students have given up their goal of becoming a researcher in Korea and other engineering students want to go to other countries to study and get jobs there. As a result, only outdated technology may end up remaining in Korea! This is like burning one’s house to get rid of the mice.
This restrictive way that’s only worried about outflow of knowledge is not an effective solution for our problems. The president-elect should realize the strong attraction that draws so many top talents to science and engineering in the United States: the U.S. embraces researchers and provides them with good conditions for working.
The new government should establish an environment that helps researchers concentrate on research by, for example, seeing to it that every lab employ assistants in proportion to the number of researchers so that researchers do not have to worry about doing miscellaneous tasks. In addition, the government should open the door for qualified researchers and allow them to be free by amending relevant laws to balance demand and supply and improve the working conditions to attract the talented.
Many excellent students in science and engineering are ambivalent about preparing for the Medical Education Eligibility Test/Dental Education Eligibility Test; some think perhaps they should seek other jobs rather than keeping their dreams in research. Placating researchers by appealing to their patriotism worked in the past, in the 1960-1990s, but does not work anymore. New practical solutions are necessary, and these should be future-oriented and open-minded. I was told that many professors in science and engineering are participating in Lee Myung-bak’s brain trust. I expect that the strong will of the president-elect and the effective work of this brain trust will create a competitive research environment for the continued development of Korea.
Kenny Park, Seoul
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