What is the use of studying at the university?

Published in El Pais, 19 May 2018.

These days I was a Jury member for the qualification of post-doctoral candidates of (public) universities in the Netherlands. This experience taught me many things and I would like to share this with my readers.

First, for Europeans it is very important that a professional focusses on his future and is acting consistent with his actions. One of the points to qualify this is whether he received honors or awards during his career, the number of international publications and to what extend these publications were related to his research topic for the postdoctoral period; and if he received funds or scholarships for his studies or research. All to evaluate his capacity to obtain financing and his academic capacity as a researcher. And, to see if with each funding or scholarship there was a publication that shows his contribution to science.

A second point was to qualify the number and duration of extracurricular and extra-academic activities relevant to the research topic. This was to assess whether the professional was using his knowledge for the benefit of the society. It made me think, how important is it to return to society what we have learned at the university and make it useful to improve our environment. How important it is to dedicate yourself to something that you like because these activities shall not last a month but more, often years of work to achieve the improvements expected in a society. As a professional, it takes years to internalize the skills and theoretical knowledge acquired at the university; and if we do not practice them, we forget this theory and mistakenly think “what we learn in the university does not work for our professional life”.

Another point to qualify was the quality of the research proposal, its originality, and its relationship with potential impacts on legislation or the field of study. Here we had to see if the methodology to be used is original or not. While reviewing this point, I saw that the applicant had a very interesting proposal with methods that had never been applied. I thought how different it is in Bolivia where we repeat the same research with the same methods, researcher after researcher and we even repeat those interventions in the community that have proven to be unefficient. Maybe we do it because it’s simpler, but repeating unefficient actions does not help anybody neither gets positive outcomes.

Finally, the training plan had to be evaluated. At this point the applicant did not mention the university courses (which he obviously will do) but did mention the extra work he will do to gain skills in the area and to disseminate the results, including feedback and criticism from those who would benefit from the research. The progress of the topic would be closely followed by the companies in the sector that he intended to improve and then be implemented. Once proven to be effective, present it as scientific evidence to be inserted in the legislation of The Netherlands. This would be the maximum result of the postdoctoral student. For this reason, it shows how important it is to make research topics of real problems in our environment. Crucial and urgent matters that serve the sector, society and government, and not only for the applicant to be qualified for their diploma to just finalize the thesis.

Much to reflect on our education, its approach and usefulness to society.

About Kathya Cordova-Pozo 94 Articles
PhD. in Economics and International politics. Works in health and economics research.

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