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The Warsaw Voice » Society » February 25, 2011
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Contacts with business will be my priority
February 25, 2011   
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Prof. Krzysztof Jan Kurzydłowski, the newly appointed director of the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR), talks to Karolina Duszczyk.

What are your plans connected with your new post?
I would like to divide them into long-term and short-term plans. Obviously, long-term plans are more important. The fundamental objective is to achieve a significant increase in the involvement of Polish businesses in research and development projects. I would like the center to act—in terms of finance and organization—as a catalyst for change, which would see businesses becoming more involved in research and spending more money on it. This means the need to take measures in various areas, including promotion and business services. It is also necessary to identify areas that are specially important to Poland’s national interests, to our economy, or because of our social needs. Looking realistically at how much money will be available, we will not be able to finance everything that is worth financing. We will have to make choices.

Last year, the center conducted a survey to determine disciplines of strategic importance to the Polish economy and research. Will you be relying on this survey in choosing areas worth investing in?
The law governing the center’s operations clearly states that the NCBiR Council is responsible for defining strategic research areas and submitting them for approval to the minister while the director’s responsibility is to create conditions for the Council—now composed of new members and headed by Prof. Jerzy K±tcki—to be able to do so effectively. However, apart from these strategic areas, there are also programs the director may launch on his own. In this respect, I will also be asking the Council for advice, but first of all I will be relying on the opinion of business communities because it is businesses that are supposed to contribute funding for research.

In the long run, we hope we will be able to radically improve the proportion between public and private research spending. In Poland, the state spends twice as much on research as the business sector, while in countries with well-established economies it is the other way round. One may say that business spending on research should grow fourfold in our country, which is not an easy thing to do. But if this is to happen it is necessary to talk to businesspeople, ask them what they want to spend their money on and support them with public funding rather than vice versa. It does not make sense to devise a program aimed at stimulating the involvement of the business sector and then see businesspeople come and say: “No, this does not seem to be what we need.” In my view, it is not surveys, but talks with the business communities which have funds to spend for research that should play a greater role in defining the programs. One should also realize that if a firm is in financial trouble it is risky to propose that it should increase spending on research and development of its own accord, even though this method may save the firm from bankruptcy.

How could such discussions be held? Will the center be sending its people to companies, or perhaps businesspeople should find time to visit the center?
I am open to all signals from the business community. In my first week as NCBiR director, I held a meeting with the presidents and vice-presidents of two major firms and more meetings are planned. These are the first days of my work at the center so I also have many other duties. By I try to exploit every opportunity to talk to firms interested in research and development. We take part in conferences of various kind, but the door to my office is open to all businesspeople who would want to talk seriously about joint undertakings between the business and public sectors. This does not mean that the door is closed to others, especially journalists and researchers. But today’s challenges mean that contacts with business will be my priority.

What other activities are you going to undertake in the coming weeks?
I will be making efforts to ensure better cooperation with my associates and trade unions. My short-term goal is also to ensure a rational division of duties between our center and the National Science Center, which is now being established in Cracow.

Last year, the Center set aside a considerable amount of money for young scientists planning promising applied research. Can young researchers still count on assistance from the NCBiR?
As in many other areas of human activity, there is a special place for young people in research. We should take care of our young researchers, which does not mean that we should spoil them. Suitable conditions should be created for young people so that they are able to compete with each other fairly as well as with other researchers in Poland, Europe and worldwide—regardless of their age but according to their merits. It is also worth creating additional opportunities to shorten the career path of talented researchers. As a professor employed at the Warsaw University of Technology, I am in charge of many young people. I think I can understand their expectations, but I also think that age alone does not give one any rights.

Will the center be trying to make Polish researchers more knowledgeable in terms of intellectual property management?
If we want to encourage businesses to invest in research we also need to remind researchers about the requirements that have to be met for businesses to be able to invest. But to be frank, I am more worried whether there will be anything to protect. I’m less concerned that we will not manage to put something under protection.

Protection may take different forms and it is worth seeing to it, but knowledge possessed by a team that has achieved valuable results will always be the main asset.

Which of the experiences you have acquired so far will help you manage the center?
I am convinced that I am a good fit for this job. But you will recognize me by the fruit of my work, rather than declarations. I was judged to be the best of the candidates and those who made the decision to hire me trusted me. Now, I have to show they were right. All aspects of my experience will be helpful—the fact that I am still active as a scientist, or at least I was until I took this post, that I worked in the state administration sector, that I was very active in the international arena and that I was involved in community projects. I would not like to give precedence to any of these activities over others. In my research work, I deal with modern engineering materials. These are nanomaterials, which are very popular these days. My team also conducts research into conventional materials, but used in more extreme conditions.

As regards my international endeavors, I have held a two-year fellowship at a Canadian university and worked for European and American institutions for several years. I have also gained much experience working on advisory and experts’ committees of various kind. I have learned about how other countries finance scientific research and how they solve problems associated with intellectual property management. As a result, I am prepared for taking a critical look at solutions applied in Poland in the context of what has passed the test in other countries.
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