Farouk Allouche: «Promoting responsible research and innovation through the promotion of research integrity and open science are one major area of collaboration.»

Farouk Allouche is a French-Lebanese junior researcher in life sciences with a PhD in immunology living and working in Strasbourg, France. He is highly involved in higher education and research policies in France and Europe with a particular interest for European collaboration. He founded and chaired the Association of International Researchers of Strasbourg and he acted as administrator in several NGOs including Eurodoc that he represents at the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. He is also the president of the gender equality task force of the conference of INGOs of the council of Europe and the Lifelong learning working group. Currently, he is coordinating an international master in immunology that involves students from the European campus (Strasbourg-Basel-Freiburg).

1. Tell us where have you been studying and how did you decide to devote your life to science and education? What made you join the Association of Young Scientists of your country and Europe?

After finishing my school in Lebanon, I decided to move to France to study life sciences. Indeed, a career in research in Life Sciences was my target since the high school. Even though other disciplines were and are still of a high interest for me, I wanted to have a career in which I can help improving our living conditions. At that time, gene therapy and gene engineering emerged as new therapeutic strategies and approach and I wanted to participate to the scientific effort through it.

I joined the university Francois Rabelais of Tours where I obtained my Bachelor in Life Sciences and then a master in Genetics from the university Victor Segalen of Bordeaux. Then I obtained another master in physiopathology from the university of Strasbourg where I also did a PhD in immunology. My research concern was and remain understanding lymphomas in order to better treat them. It is both a personal commitment and a scientific choice that could be clearly identified through my curriculum. Today, immunotherapies are considered as innovative and up-to-date approach of biotherapies.

During my first year of PhD, I was part of the international PhD program of the university of Strasbourg (former European PhD program). This program is a unique structure in France that permits to follow a training on European policy and European institutions. In parallel, I realized that my university does not have an association dedicated to international young scientists while half of PhD candidates are not French. So, as a French-Lebanese young researcher, I took the initiative to found StrasAIR, an association that addresses issues related to international researchers, and the different aspect of their scientific, social and professional life. During the first year, having been elected to the research council of my university, I quickly identified the importance of working together with other organizations in France and Europe in order to exchange expertise and increase our impacts, and furthermore, to build connection with our colleagues across the continent and beyond. Hence, we decided to join CJC and so Eurodoc. In the same year, I showed high interest to attend Eurodoc annual meeting in Oslo since the natural space of my association, the international working environment at my lab and university and my personal interest are more oriented to European collaboration as the main vector of French and European research. Today, I am convinced that our actions should be built on local/national/European axis in which the three levels are of a crucial importance.

2. What is the current situation in France in respect to young scientists’ status? Are there any particular issues that your Association of Young Scientists has successfully lobbied? What is the attitude towards scientists in society?

The current situation in France is quite complex. Even though the French National Code of education defines PhD as a professional experience and a training to research by performing research, and that a ministerial decree established the doctoral contract and so the employee status for PhD candidates, a large minority of PhD candidates do not have a doctoral contract and then are working for free. For international PhD candidates, this affect their status as researcher toward the French administration. Indeed, PhD candidates who do not have a doctoral contract receive a student’s resident permit while their colleagues who have a doctoral contract are eligible for a “Researcher-scientist” permit. Moreover, PhD candidates without a working contract face a serious program when they ensure “vacation”, a teaching contract with the university. Not only their payment is underrated, but the payment is not performed on monthly but so often on yearly basis. Even though a ministerial decision tried to fix the periodicity issue, its application is still relatively non-satisfactory.

CJC successfully lobbied several crucial issues :

1- The CJC worked since its foundation for the recognition of PhD candidates as employees and obtained this status a decade ago, and so the creation of the doctoral contract.
2- The CJC is also highly involved in defending international PhD candidates in France, it obtained the delivery of “Scientist/Researcher” resident permits instead of “student” permit for non-EU PhD candidates. This status provides PhD candidates having signed a doctoral contract with several privileges that could not be obtained with a “student” permit. Very recently, CJC has been highly implicated in the actions against the governmental plan that wanted to set up differential registration fees at the university for non-EU PhD candidates (10-fold higher than EU citizens). With other syndicates, we obtained the cancellation of the decree by the State council.
3- The CJC obtained the publication of the RNCP (the equivalent of the European Professional Qualification Register) for PhD. This huge step permits for the first time to set a register that defines the professional qualifications related to PhD as a diploma. The CJC played an important role to keep the same qualification for the 22 registers related to 22 different job families and so highlighting the uniqueness of PhD as a diploma independently of the discipline of origin.

Scientists are well considered in society in general. During the Covid-19 epidemic, several scientific figures emerged as key speakers on TV shows and became public figures like Pr. Didier Raoult. The crisis permitted a certain exposure of the scientific council that advises the president on how to deal with Corona. Moreover, several other scientists are daily exposed including Nobel Prizes and prominent scientists who do not necessarily share the same approach. One dynamic figure of the French parliament and a serious candidate running for the mayor of Paris position is also a researcher in Mathematics, the 2010 Field medalist Cédric Villani. Citizen science is also flourishing in France (Jardins des Sciences as an example) showing the interest of the population to science and the respectability of scientists.

3. How is the Association of Young Scientists organized in France? Do regional centers exist?

The French Confederation of Young Researchers acts through its member organizations. It has an NGO status toward the French administration is fully independent from the government. It has member organizations covering the French national territory. Hence, we are a bottom-up organization where local associations nominate delegates to the federation (one vote per organization), and those delegates form the administrative council of the organization. So all organization are equally responsible of decision making when they are called to vote.

4. Do young scientists influence France politics? Which areas are of main priority to promote constructive values and ideas?

The influence of young scientists is not constant. It highly depends on the government and its priorities. In France, a national advisory council for education, higher education and research (CNESER) exists and is formed of 100 members. Unfortunately, while seats are allocated to confirmed researchers and students, no such seats are yet allocated for PhD candidates and a core organ of the ministry of education, higher education and research lacks the presence of young scientists’ input. Hopefully, the official approach is evolving on this issue.

Several areas are of a crucial importance for young scientists. Promoting responsible research and innovation through the promotion of research integrity and open science are one major area of collaboration. The valorization of PhD as a professional experience and the recognition of the added value of a PhD through the advertisement of the related skills especially at the private sector level. The improvement of working conditions and mental health for Early-Career Researchers is also crucial issue. The openness of research environment to researcher from various backgrounds away from any discrimination based on ethnicity, philosophical or religious opinion, nationality, gender orientation,…

5. What are the main achievements of the Association of Young Scientists of France and of Eurodoc, which have made the field of science better?

CJC, a founding member of Eurodoc, endorsed the European Charter and Code for Researchers as a core document for a good research. Both Eurodoc and CJC encourages responsible research practices and open science. Both organizations are working on the defense of diversity, equal chances and fair working conditions for researchers in order to keep science equal and tolerant. Both organizations are aware of the role of scientists in their societies and actively advocating for an evidence-based and rational society. Both organizations are also highly implicated in the defense of the independence of research from political institutions and namely for academic freedom.

6. Which are the most urgent problems young scientists need to address now?

Several urgent issues are facing young scientists that we can divide into those concerning young scientists in their current situation (so as young scientists) and in their future as confirmed researchers (and so research as a whole).

1- For young scientists in the current situation:
a- The contractualization of young scientists as soon as possible in order to defend their right to be paid as employees of research.
b- The valorization of PhD is an ongoing process, if the government and certain private companies are aware of its importance, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve this goal and replace our community as leaders in the elaboration of public policies and at decision-making positions in private companies.
c- The protection of PhD as diploma from false diplomas and thus, a review of accreditation systems in European countries to avoid such cases.

2- For the future of young scientists and their career development (and so research in its globality):
a- The place of basic research as a long-term investment for our societies away from rapid economic impact.
b- The employment conditions in public sector especially the tendency to end the lifelong positions and its impact on the quality of research and its attractivity
c- The reconsideration of the transformation of ERA and EHEA based on market needs and its impact on the quality of research.

7. The concept of lobbying: how do you see it? Is it normal practice or mainly the area for corruption?

Lobbying should be regulated by strict rules that ensure transparency and prevent corruption. In this case, lobbying is a good practice that provides organizations with the opportunity to present their point of view in front of policy makers with consistent argumentation and to have a confrontation of ideas to promote what they are fighting for. Today, monitoring the transparency of lobbying process is still perfectible both at national and European levels. In France, the parliament is working on regulating lobbying because for decades, lobbying has been associated with corruption, but the approach is currently changing and taking into consideration the reality. However, the real issue remains: how to efficiently control?

8. Lobbying the interests of young scientists: what should we pay attention for while developing strategies? Which activities should be avoided? How to build a scientist’s persona (public image)? How to promote scientists’ interests in a way that works?

Concerning lobbying strategies, I would like to highlight first a major issue that we face, as young scientists, when we lobby for our community is the quick turnover of persons following the relatively short time we pass as young scientists. One direct consequence is the time that a young scientist needs in order to understand the environment in which he is lobbying. I still remember when I was nominated as official representative of Eurodoc at the Council of Europe, an old person came to me and said: “it took me 15 years to understand the functioning of the Council”. It is something I heard from many people and that clearly shows the long time we need to be efficient. Hence, I would first recommend an efficient an extensive transfer of knowledge between representatives. Another issue is to have a schematic representation and realistic understanding of political institutions. It helps identifying the key stakeholders. Another point is building a personal contact, because we all have a tendency to privilege someone, we know for an interview than any other random person but we should avoid to make it too personal that the person is not replaceable. It is also important not to neglect people working in the back, who usually have much more influence in political decision than members of parliaments. Then it is also important to avoid illegal approaches and to preserve transparency.

Building scientist’s persona or public image is today quite close to build any other public image. In addition to publishing scientific papers and valorizing its research through scientific conferences, science popularization and social media are two powerful means. The major recommendation for me would be to ask ourselves each time we communicate whether the communication (even a tweet) serves or not the image we are building.

Promoting scientists’ interest in a way that works passes by the adaptation of the delivered message to the interlocutor. More than using the adapted vocabulary or popularizing complex concept, it is important to highlight the aspects that are concordant with the interlocutor interests and values. It is also important to show the ability to be precise and to fit the philosophy of the institution.

9. In your opinion, what are the main points to build a good team? In particular, a team of young scientists.

I would resume main points to build a good team in: mutual confidence and cohesion, concordant clear view and project, a person with a natural leadership, capacity of adaption of members to quick changes and the secret ingredient for me remains the positive attitude.

10. What are, in your opinion, the main features of a scientist, thought leader?

As you may know, Eurodoc published a diagram with transverse skills for PhD holders. CJC in France did the same and advocated for years the recognition of the added value of a PhD. The community of doctors has a real added value following the experience and skills acquired during a PhD.
As leaders, PhD holders are innovative people, able to manage and conduct projects from conception to realization and then evacuation, with communication and human resources management skills. A PhD is presented by our association like a swiss knife: we are a joker in any organization. Whether a project is related or not to our field of expertise, our capacity of adaptation, integration and procession of new information is relatively high following the nature of a PhD experience.

Interviewers:

– Olga Romanenko, Ph.D., associate professor of Kyiv National University of Trade and Economics, coordinator of the Association of Young Scientists in Kiev, member of the Presidium of Young Scientists Council at the Ministry of Education and Science.

 

 

 

– Artur Pohorilenko, PhD student (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv), associate member of the Young Scientists Council at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.

Interview for scientific-analytical journal «Our Perspective» №34/2020 (Ukraine)

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