STARS helps our PhD programes turn international
1) Could you briefly explain what STARS program is? What led your faculty to create this program? What are its objectives?
The STARS program was established in 2011 with the aim of bringing talented and motivated young researchers to the doctoral study program of the Faculty of Science. Each year top research teams at the faculty announce a range of interesting topics that are awarded through a competition to perspective doctoral candidates from both here and abroad. From the very beginning of their studies, these students are then given better funding beyond the scope of their doctoral stipend. The contest is international, and the talented foreign students we acquire naturally contribute to the international character of the university and its research teams.
2) What kind of scope are we talking about here? Can you give us some numbers with respect to the STARS program?
Each year several dozen projects are proposed (30-50), and the extra funding for recipients lasts for the standard duration of their doctoral studies (4 years). At the present time roughly 140 projects are underway. From the very beginning of their studies, students are members of research teams. This means they have a conducive environment for intensively dedicating themselves to their research project and, as a result, generally successfully complete their doctoral studies within the standard period of 4 years.
3) What do you consider to be the greatest success in the history of this program?
We believe a key aspect of STARS has been the international dimension it has given our doctoral study program. The integration of talented foreign doctoral candidates with prior experience at quality universities into the daily work of research teams has positively stimulated the environment here. In addition to direct impacts in the form of new findings and research results, perhaps more important are the secondary effects, increased openness, greater contact with foreign research facilities and the more natural communication of teams in English.
During their doctoral studies, STARS students publish professional articles in prestigious professional journals, receive awards for their professional work, and for many, doctoral studies at the CU Faculty of Science has provided a springboard to launch a scientific career at leading foreign research facilities.
4) Does this program have any competition in Central Europe?
Because of scientific cooperation, the research environment in Europe is naturally integrated, the competition for talented young researchers has an international dimension and most European universities systematically seek out new talent all over the continent. The CU Faculty of Science is naturally vying for top young European researchers. Today, talented graduates can choose from institutions based on the conditions offered for professional development, facilities and equipment, and study requirements. Since our faculty has internationally renowned teams, individuals and quality facilities, it is able to offer perspective candidates an attractive environment and conditions comparable to universities in Western Europe, as evidenced by the considerable number of candidates coming from these countries.
5) What makes this program interesting for candidates from abroad? Is it also attractive for Czech candidates?
The most interesting topics from the currently most successful areas of science and research at the Faculty of Science are selected for the STARS program. The research teams that announce STARS projects are international and are led by renowned figures, while the project topics address current issues that are relevant to contemporary science. I should also mention that some of our departments such as geology or geography have an outstanding tradition and current reputation that is unrivalled in the CR. Our Geography Department is the only one in Central Europe that is regularly ranked in the top one hundred in the world. In conjunction with the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Biology Department recently opened the state-of-the-art BIOCEV research centre, while the Chemistry Department opened the CUCAM centre of excellence (Charles University Centre of Advanced Materials: Design, Synthesis and Applications). If a master’s graduate is interested in topics in these areas, then the STARS program is attractive.
6) Where do you see this program in five years?
We consider the STARS program to be an important part of the development strategy of the Faculty of Science and therefore it is a long-term program that will certainly be around in five years. Considering the rapid transformation of the R&D environment and external conditions for funding, it is likely that this program will gradually see some changes. Nevertheless, the original objective of supporting young research talent will remain a priority for the CU Faculty of Science in the future.
7) In your opinion, what is the greatest problem in attracting top doctoral candidates?
If we focus on the Czech Republic, the main problem here is competition from other institutions in Prague and the rest of the country, as well as regional development grants from the European Union. But generally speaking, the Czech Republic is a small country and if a student is interested in a particular area, then during their master’s studies they can find the institution that is doing the best work in that field and do their doctoral work there. Compared to competition abroad, the biggest problem is funding.
8) The last question is a little more general and perhaps a bit provocative... Does it seem to you that the number of doctorates being awarded recently is inflated?
The natural sciences might be different in this regard, but I have not noticed any such trend. There has been a gradual increase in the number of PhD students, but this is more a reflection of the overall expansion of Czech science in the post-revolution period, and the development of fields and research teams. In the natural sciences, however, there really isn’t much room for inflation in terms of quantity or quality. In fields with high demands for experimental or field work, the number of students is always limited by the capacity of the team and department resources. Unlike undergraduate and master’s degrees which are more or less necessary today to get a decent job, the desire to get a doctorate is not driven by similar financial motivation. Doctoral studies are more about choosing a specific field of scientific study, and this does not always have any direct or immediate financial correlation. For young people to forego starting their own company or a business career to pursue research that may or may not yield results, they must be genuinely interested, motivated and passionate. There are not many people like that; they are exceptional, which is why we try to seek them out and support their development.
For more informations see: http://www.stars-natur.cz/