Special project 10:38 10 Nov 2023

"We will simply lose them": how a scientist unites Ukrainian scholars abroad

According to the preliminary assessment of the Ministry of Education and Science, there are currently more than five thousand scientists abroad who left Ukraine after the full-scale invasion of Russia. International projects and scholarship programs help them continue their research activities, thanks to which, particularly, Ukrainian scientists have access to modern laboratories. How Ukrainian scientists integrate into the scientific community abroad and how their experience will be helpful in Ukraine, Rubryka learned from Yevheniia Polishchuk, co-founder of the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora.

What is the problem?
"We hoped then that it would last two to three weeks"

She taught at the university's corporate finance and control department, researched small and medium-sized businesses and their innovations in Ukraine, and was the deputy head of the International Direction Council at the Council of Young Scientists under the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Such was the activity of Yevheniia Polishchuk, a doctor of economics and a professor at Vadym Hetman Kyiv National University of Economics, before the full-scale war. She met the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Krakow, Poland. Polishchuk moved there from Kyiv with her family: "Since my husband worked for a foreign company that had the experience of doing business in a war zone, they asked for employees to be relocated to another country just in case. And so we left for Krakow three days before the war," Polishchuk shares with Rubryka.

Since then, the professor often returned to Kyiv on business. She recalls how heavily the capital was shelled in May during one of her homecomings.

"I don't know how to get used to war, and I didn't react to shelling as calmly as some of my friends. Everything that is happening in Ukraine now is a horror. God had mercy, and my child did not see this. I really sympathize with our fellow scientists and heard a lot from them," Polishchuk says.

Thanks to her membership in the Council of Young Scientists under the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, Polishchuk had valuable contacts with international partners who, after the start of a full-scale war, were ready to assist Ukrainian scientists: "We were constantly approached by foreign partners and asked what scientists needed. We did not understand what was needed and hoped it would last two or three weeks. This was probably the most difficult period of my life in terms of intensity because it was constant communication with international colleagues. It was tiring, of course, but the fact that many people wanted to help encouraged me."

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Co-founder of the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora, professor at the Vadym Hetman Kyiv National University of Economics, Fulbright scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Doctor of Economic Sciences Yevheniia Polishchuk. Photo of the heroine from the Facebook page

After February 24, the attention of international partners to Ukrainian scientists has noticeably increased, according to Polishchuk. She recalls that a table with more than 2,000 proposals was circulated among scientists, where STEAM education prevailed, many programs and scholarships for Ukrainians appeared, and some projects were recommended to be included in the consortium (statutory associations for the implementation of large projects, — ed.) specifically by the Ukrainian scientists. However, even with such a rich choice, Ukrainian researchers were not always able to participate because they did not know English.

"If a scientist knows English, they will be able to get a job in almost any laboratory in the world," Polishchuk explains.

There were also difficulties in understanding the specific needs of scientists abroad. That is why the scientist, together with other colleagues from the University of Warsaw, the Polish Academy of Sciences, and SGH Warsaw School of Economics, conducted a study, "Professional challenges, preferences and plans of Ukrainian researchers abroad."

"After conducting research, we highlighted the problems faced by Ukrainian scientists. We presented our results as analytics for international partners," Polishchuk shares with Rubryka.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Research page on obstacles during proposals to support Ukrainian scientists abroad. These are the lack of offers in the relevant disciplines (46.4%), insufficient experience in applying (42.6%), and the language barrier (39.7%). Complex application processes (27.2%) and short deadlines (19.6%) were less problematic.

What is the solution?
Create a platform for Ukrainian scientists

In the study, half of the 619 surveyed Ukrainian scientists abroad said that they are not ready to return to Ukraine at the moment. However, at the same time, they are ready to participate in the country's reconstruction. This led to the idea of creating a digital platform, Ukrainian Science Diaspora, explains Polishchuk, who became its co-founder. The platform aims to unite scientists abroad, help them integrate into other countries, and involve their efforts in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.

"The calamity that happened and continues to happen to Ukraine will have consequences that the usual traditional methods cannot overcome. Involvement of scientists in reconstruction will be a good solution, as they demonstrate primacy in innovation," explains the Ukrainian professor.

Work on the Ukrainian Science Diaspora platform began three months after the start of the full-scale war. One of the first stages was the search for the Ukrainian Science diaspora. The team began to look for centers of the Ukrainian diaspora, especially the Science Diaspora. "We found the cells in Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, France, Brazil, Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal and Luxembourg. These were formal and informal associations, such as Facebook or Telegram groups. They could be more or less active, receive grants or not," Polishchuk recalls the beginning of the project.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Presentation of the Ukrainian Science Diaspora in Poland at the Focus on Ukraine Conference. Photo: Viktoriia Gurochkina

Currently, the Ukrainian Science Diaspora is focused on expanding the network of contacts of Ukrainian scientists abroad since each country has its own unique scientific culture and rules. Because of this, there is no universal recommendation for researcher integration, Polishchuk explains. Therefore, scientists need to have centers and networking that will allow for the exchange of experience. Also, thanks to the platform, international partners will be able to involve Ukrainian scientists in their projects.

The initiative Ukrainian Science Diaspora is important because it is designed to combine two seemingly incompatible goals. On the one hand, it is to help Ukrainian scientists to better integrate into the scientific life of the countries where they are, and on the other hand, to promote the preservation and expansion of connections of these diasporas with scientific institutions in Ukraine to stimulate the aspirations of diaspora scientists to support Ukraine. And, in the end, turn brain drain into brain circulation, explains Ihor Lyman, co-founder of the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Svitlana Krasynska (MIT), Ihor Lyman, and Yevheniia Polishchuk during the discussion of the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora in Krakow in June. Photo: Ihor Lyman

It was possible to implement this project thanks to the Scientist Support Office and the Council of Young Scientists under the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, as well as the MIT-Ukraine program, where students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology together with students and colleagues from the National Technical University Dniprovska Polytechnic led by Iryna Udovyk developed the platform. Sponsors and partners were the Ukrainian Twinning Initiative and the Cormack Consultancy Group. Ukraine's Ministry of Education and Science placed the Ukrainian Science Diaspora platform on its domain.

How does it work?

The digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora has several sections and three leading directions:

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Areas of activity of the Ukrainian Science Diaspora. Screenshot from the platform

  • Scientific diplomacy consists of the fact that Ukrainians can present themselves as scientists at scientific events and tell foreign colleagues about Ukraine, its history, achievements, and war. In addition, it is an exchange of experience and the possibility of involvement in joint projects based on foreign laboratories.

For example, Russians bombed a laboratory in Kharkiv, where research related to nuclear energy was carried out. Although it is not the only one in Ukraine, the war continues, and funding for scientific laboratories is often limited. Now, Ukrainian scientists abroad have the opportunity to work in laboratories, gain experience, and learn how to find funds to continue their project in Ukraine, explains the professor and co-founder of the digital platform.

  • Mentoring is an essential part of supporting and integrating a scientist into the scientific space of other countries. Scientists who left before February 24 will share their knowledge and recommendations here. The direction provides individual sessions where mentors will talk about valuable cases from their experience and give practical advice on implementing their research and cooperation with international partners.

"As a mentor, I will be able to share my experience on how to prepare an application for the Fulbright program. A scientist from the University of Michigan can tell how and where it is better to submit one's work. That is, it is a very individual and different level of needs that we want to satisfy," says Polishchuk.

  • Stories — here, scientists talk about their experiences at the start of a full-scale war and their time abroad, where they continue to fulfill themselves as scientists. In particular, in this section, researchers share their successes and thank international partners for their support.

"Here, you can also read what they did and what they thank their partners for publicly. This is a way to thank for the help provided to scientists," Polishchuk shared with Rubryka.

The digital platform also has a map with the location of Ukrainian scientists. On it, you can choose a country and a city and get a short reference about the scientist: data, field of research, time and place of departure from Ukraine, and e-mail address.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Map of Ukrainian scholars abroad. Screenshot from the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora

Currently, Polishchuk's activities are more focused on coordinating the activities of communities of Ukrainian scientists abroad and expanding the network.

"If we do not involve scientists abroad in projects, we will lose them. If they are willing to work and contribute to society, why not give them that opportunity?" Polishchuk says.

The co-founder of the project, Ihor Lyman, says that it is crucial for the newly created platform to be a tool for all Ukrainian scientists and to unite them regardless of their location. Polishchuk is a representative of the Ukrainian Science Diaspora, first in Poland, now in the US, while Lyman remains in Ukraine. Therefore, their very statuses are a certain guarantee that there will be no distortion in the promotion and defense of the interests of any of the parties. Being abroad, Polishchuk constantly popularizes the initiative, resulting in the interest shown in it by numerous respected international institutions and foreign universities.

Scientists plan to further develop the platform and cooperate with governments and international organizations of other countries. This will make it possible to expand the network of scientists and involve them in various projects, particularly the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

The first meeting of the Ukrainian diaspora at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Photo: Yevheniia Polishchuk

Not one nation with the Russians and the struggle for values

A culture of scientific conferences and events is developed abroad. In particular, the Ukrainian Science Diaspora often initiates online workshops and offline meetings such as scientific picnics. Polishchuk also attends various events for scientists from around the world, where participants with different positions on Ukraine topic meet. For example, some consider Ukrainians and Russians to be one people and Ukraine to be a tool of the United States.

The Ukrainian professor already has prepared answers to such questions. She begins to explain what Ukraine is fighting for, that Ukrainians and Russians are not one people, and talks about the European path that Ukraine has chosen and its rejection of nuclear weapons, with which Russia is now scaring the whole world.

Sometimes, it seems that explanations for similarly minded foreigners are perceived as throwing peas against the wall, admits the scientist. But they have no right to devalue Ukrainians: "Our mission as Ukrainian scientists is to spread our values and culture. Do not be ashamed of your origin. I always have something yellow and blue in my bag, and it is my amulet against communication with unwelcome Russians."

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Yevheniia Polishchuk with a yellow-blue sticker on her bag. Photo from the heroine's archive

For the most part, Polishchuk's experience communicating with foreigners is still pleasant. The heroine mentions a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, students from India asked her whether the war in Ukraine was still ongoing. Although they hear and know little about it, they still express sympathy, the scholar notes: "Then they will tell their friends about meeting me, and this information will spread to a wider circle of people in India. Maybe one of them will be interested in Ukrainian culture and history."

Scholarship in the US and implementation of studies in Ukraine

Currently, Polishchuk has temporarily stopped teaching, as she has become a Fulbright scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She moved to Boston from Poland: "I am involved in the Fulbright Visiting Scholar program as a guest researcher. Within its limits, I can use the facilities of the laboratories for my research in the field of the digital economy."

Within the program's framework, the professor also has the opportunity to meet with other innovative researchers in the digital economy. She wants to further implement her studies and practices from the US in Ukraine to overcome corruption.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Yevehniia Polishchuk near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo from the heroine's archive

It is important for Ukrainian scientists who get into such programs to implement the acquired knowledge and not just to report formally, explains Polishchuk. It is crucial that Ukrainian scientists then join large-scale projects since such programs for scientists require considerable funds: "I was involved as a consultant in the development of a four-month program for five scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My on-campus apartment costs $2,400, more than half of my scholarship. Program participants will need $2,500-$3,000 for accommodation. The total amount is about $50,000. Plus a stipend of at least two thousand, which is necessary for life. And this is not counting the payment of staff who will take care of the participants. That's how much the stay of scientists in modern laboratories in the US costs."

After completing her scientific work in Boston, Polishchuk plans to further develop her scientific potential and is considering returning to teaching. She aims to continue to develop the digital platform Ukrainian Science Diaspora to help as many Ukrainian scientists as possible integrate into the scientific space abroad and later to involve their efforts in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.

Платформа Українська наукова діаспора

Yevheniia Polishchuk with Nobel laureate in economics Robert Merton at the Myron Scholes lecture. Photo from the heroine's archive

Після завершення наукової роботи в Бостоні Євгенія планує й надалі розвивати свій науковий потенціал та роздумує про повернення до викладання. А ще націлена продовжувати розвивати цифрову платформу "Українська наукова діаспора", щоб допомогти якомога більшій кількості українських вчених інтегруватися в науковий простір за кордоном, а згодом залучити їхні зусилля й до післявоєнної відбудови України.


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