Tuesday, June 18, 2019
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"Cuts science resources is to let the future of poor children, as I have been, stay behind" | Brazil

Hundreds of students marched through Avenida Paulista on Wednesday afternoon against the financial asphyxiation generated at public universities by the cutbacks announced by President Jair Bolsonaro. They walked slowly, willing to stop and talk to people on the street about their research-and the practical impact they can have on society, even if it is not so short-term. They tried to sensitize the population about the serious effects of budget cuts, which should affect from the payment of water and energy in institutions to even assistance programs for poor students.

On the same day that they sought popular support for science investment in Brazil, they were surprised by new information that puts the country's research in the spotlight: the Bolsonaro Government blocked, in a generalized manner, masters and doctorate scholarships offered by Capes (Coordination Improvement of Higher Level Personnel). The cut reaches not only the human sciences – an area that the Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, has said not to be a priority in its management – but also the sciences. Faced with serious cuts, students from different courses show their faces and open their stories to EL PAÍS, waging a struggle to reverse decisions that may not only affect their professional future but the production of knowledge in the country.

"Cutting out resources from basic education and science is enabling the future of children like me to be left behind"

Ágatha Ribeiro da Silva, 25 years old, MSc in Medicine at USP

Ágatha Ribeiro da Silva holds a Master's degree in Medicine at USP.
Ágatha Ribeiro da Silva holds a Master's degree in Medicine at USP.

I am the first person in my family to enter the public university, to be able to speak English and to leave the country. My mother had only Elementary School. When my brother and I were grown up, she was able to go back to the EJA (Youth and Adult Education). Then he entered Prouni (University for All Program) and was able to do Systems Analysis. My father is an engineering technologist. I've always dreamed of being a scientist since I was a child. I grew up in a neighborhood on the outskirts of São Paulo, in Jardim Capelinha. When I was 11, I asked my schoolteacher if she thought it was possible for me to get into USP. She was very fond of me, but seeing the situation of school dropout and basic education without quality, she looked at me a little sad and said that if I tried hard, I would. And it's been a battle ever since.

I was able to win when I entered the Biomedical Sciences course at USP. Then I went to do an exchange in the United States. I went through the Science Without Borders Program, spent a year studying there and doing research in a laboratory on autism. And in this trajectory all I most want is that other children can have this opportunity that I had. Cutting out resources from basic education and science is to allow the future of children like me to stay behind. Today I do masters. My group studies cardiovascular diseases, which kill the most in the world. Everyone knows someone who died of myocardial infarction, but the main treatment for this today is transplantation, and people are on average two years in the waiting line. Our laboratory produces stem cells, which can become anything. We are trying to develop a heart therapy with stem cells. We hope someday we can save several lives from it.

"The problem is that you try to dedicate yourself, but the system that exists for teaching does not seem to be on your side"

Serenna Perugia, 18 years old, student of Metereologia at USP

Serenna Perugia attends the first semester of Meteorology at USP.
Serenna Perugia attends the first semester of Meteorology at USP.

I come from a simple family. My mother did not make it to college, and my father got a degree in Administration. I studied most of my life in public school, so it was a bit complicated. My parents are divorced. Either I helped at home or studied, so it was complicated, but it was also motivating. It was very complicated because I have always helped my mother at home working in a bakery. It was me and my mother to put money in a five-person house. This business of studying and working has never been easy. In the third year, I worked in the morning, studied at night and got up early studying. It was very tense. But I really needed to study because I had to get into a public university. The problem is that you try to dedicate yourself, but the system that exists for teaching does not seem to be on your side. It's you by yourself. I had the support of a friend who lent me the books from the school, I think I only got through it. There are people who look at me and say, "Oh, but you're black, you got quota." I might even have it, but that's not all. There's a lot in the back.

I think the Government's support for us is fundamental. What moves the world is science, it can not be just cutting what apparently is not making a profit. When I entered college and saw the size of USP, I felt a thud. Then I looked at the resources and said, "Wow, this could be better." And then we realize that there are a lot of things missing and that we have to go after them. There is a room with computers, but there is no processor for all that. Guys, what's going on? Brazil has to wake up to life. Since I was a child, I wanted to work with a storm. But I went in and saw that there is a lot to study. Meteorology is a much broader field than everyone thinks, it is not Maju in the News speaking of the weather forecast. I want to study storms and lightning, to know how those shocks are formed up there.

"I hope people know that what we do at university is useful"

Vitória Carvalho, 20, student of Meteorology at USP

Vitória Carvalho studies Meteorology at USP.
Vitória Carvalho studies Meteorology at USP.

I went to private school, but I had my first anxiety crisis during school, so it was not easy to get into college. Meteorology is not known and was my second choice because I actually wanted to do astronomy, but I fell in love with the course. I found that basic education, both private and public, is not enough to follow a course like that at USP. My anxiety attacks intensified, but at the same time I am where I want to go about my life, I want to be a researcher. And I want to graduate even with all the difficulties. I want to be a researcher since I was a child. The simple fact of discovering something new or understanding how something works enchants me in a way that I can not even explain. My mother made it to fourth grade, and my father made it to the fifth grade. My uncles never entered university, those who started to enter were my cousins. My mother is from home and my father is master of works. I do not think they even understand what it means to be at USP. They feel very proud, but do not have much understanding of what it is.

I am from Mogi das Cruzes (62 kilometers from São Paulo) and I live in Butantã because it is so far to be coming every day. I'm in a public university. My father is still working, even retired, and he can keep me here (in São Paulo) to study. Except that he is always afraid of losing his job, I will not be able to continue here. Being a researcher in Brazil is not easy, imagine cutting the little investment that we have. I hope people know that what we do at university is useful. As much as it may seem that a study of a physicist inside the lab is stupid or does not work when an astronomer studies a star, all of this has applications at some point. And everyone will enjoy these studies at some point. If (the British physicist) Maxwell had not developed electromagnetism, we would not have things like cellphone and the Internet.

"The basic sciences do not have an immediate return, but without investing in them we will never develop technology at all"

Lucas Degi, 22, an Astronomy student at USP

Lucas Degi is in the fifth semester of Astronomy at USP.
Lucas Degi is in the fifth semester of Astronomy at USP.

I found in Astronomy something that fascinated me, and went to study even knowing that the career would be more complicated. Since I entered university, I have contact with Brazilian and foreign researchers who encouraged me to pursue scientific initiation, to seek the frontier of knowledge. Science is to identify what we know and try to go further. From the beginning, the whole structure of the University encouraged this to the students. I am the first of the family to enter a public university because my parents have graduated from private colleges. This year, my brother also entered a public. Back at home, we are very aware that Brazilian science is in danger today.

Nowadays, I really like the scientific divulgation, which is not strictly academic, but consists of bringing the academy to the general public. We do that a lot in the university itself. Every week, we receive students from public schools, who attend lectures on astronomy and observe with the telescope. It's a little bit of the work I do, in a project of IAG (Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences of USP) that has existed for more than a decade. I, in particular, try to show a little of my fascination with Astronomy and show that such research has a purpose. The basic sciences do not have an immediate return, but without investing in them we will never develop technology at all. We try to get out of the ivory tower, as we say, to show people what science is. The academic career is very well paid when you are at the top, but the way to get there is not. I get a scholarship of 400 reais per month.

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