Pros and cons to be a scientist in Chile

Usually, I write post about a specific topic. A paper, news from somewhere. But I have been a little busy and distracted to write something that specific. Today I have the need to talk about scientist’s life here, in Chile. Why? I am living a vocational crisis, or so. See, to be a scientist here has its disadvantages. For example, I really hate the buildings. As you may know, with so many earthquakes, and also because of a bad culture regarding constructions, the buildings are pretty ugly. I went once to US and I became crazy with the beauty of the universities. Here I have some reasons to why you shouldn’t be interested in making science in Chile.

Reasons to why I am not happy being a Scientist in Chile

a) Infrastructure: it is evident that a first disadvantage of making science, at least in the lab, is the lack of a proper and extensive infrastructure. Buildings are small, and I have witnessed some deadly fights for a small lab between colleagues. This problem is a real concern, because the scientific population in Chile is growing and the Facilities and Buildings are not growing at all. And I’m not talking about the lack of beauty and comfort of our facilities.

b) Equipment: also, the lack of cutting-edge equipment is discouraging. Even if you have a good Research grant, buying an equipment here costs several times more than in US. Hey, we are at the end of the world: we are exactly at the opposite point compared to China, and we are located at the other end compared to US and Europe. That really makes everything more expensive, including Taq Polymerase.

c) Distance: the location of Chile has another difficulty: it makes expensive to attend meetings, courses and events in US or Europe. Also, making an internship has the same obstacle.

d) Government Grants: the money that Chile expend in R&D is small, compared even with other countries of South America. Accordingly, there is a lack of good grants, and they are not enough for the scientific community in Chile.

In summary: there is few money to make science; the existing money is not enough to buy good equipment and reagents, because we are far from the producers of those reagents and equipments, and also we are not allowed to attend meetings and courses because travel expenses are huge. And you have to deal with it in your ugly building, with only one coffee shop (if you’re lucky; don’t even dream about having a Starbucks nearby).

Of course, it can’t be that bad. So when I am crying about all this stuff, I remember that being a scientist in Chile can be also very exciting and funny.

Reasons why, after all, I am very happy to be a Scientist in Chile

a) The scientists: Chile has a great number of good scientists. The PhD programs are competitive, and the Chilean meetings have a  very good level. The creativity allow us, usually, to have important guests attending the meetings in Chile, facilitating great talks and in a very nice environment (see the photo for an example). The classes are good, and in general, the formation on the PhD programs is very good.

A place called “Ojos del Caburgua” (Eyes of Caburgua), close to the town where is held the Annual Meeting of the Chilean Society of Cell Biology.

b) Publications: closely linked to the previous point. The number and level of the publications is good, specially when you compare the productivity in Chile with other countries in South America or even with other countries of similar characteristics. I am making my PhD Research Project in a lab that has publications in Nature Cell Biology, Development, Developmental Biology and Genome Biology in the last years, which is a very competitive job considering our reality.

c) The challenges: being in a country like Chile makes things harder. You have no cutting-edge equipment to make that great experiment. So you have to go back to the basics. One of our professors always ask: how would you do this experiments, if you were back in the sixties? And it really helps sometimes.

d) Chile itself: You will be working in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Once, I worked in a side-project in an Evolutionary Biology Lab. The people went to the Atacama Desert one week, to study the reproduction of some species, and two weeks later, they went to the rain forest in the south, and so on. If you are a geologist or an astronomist, for example, you will be delighted with the beauty of our land. Also the variety of landscapes and species opens a lot of opportunities in research.

These years as a scientist have been very exciting. Sometimes I get sad about some specific issue (usually, a scientific discussion with my advisor, or the lack of a reagent to make a new experiment, or the high price of a reagent to buy it), but at the end of the day, I go happy to home.

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