Let’s do it together, the 3rd edition of the Conference with Polonia

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More than 400 Polish academics registered for the third edition of the ‘Conference with Polonia’. As befits the 21st century, only 20 per cent of participants have chosen to attend in person; the rest joined us online, connecting from more than 50 countries. The conference tool place on site at the Łukasiewicz headquarters and was opened by President Andrzej Dybczyński, and the opening lecture was given by world-renowned quantum physicist and cryptology specialist, Prof. Artur Ekert.

In the early afternoon of Wednesday 20 December, participants of the third edition of the ‘Conference with Polonia’, who had chosen to take part on a stationary basis, began to arrive at Łukasiewicz’s Warsaw headquarters. We had about 80 visitors, so it would be fair to say that the conference was small, if it were not for the fact that they accounted for only 20 % of the registered participants, and most of the Polish academics joined us via the Internet, as did several of the speakers. In total, participants from more than 50 countries took part, including Brazil, the USA, Israel, Colombia, France and even New Zealand, among others. It is also a sign of the times that participants also joined together from war-torn Ukraine.

I do not believe in local science, only in international science

The conference was opened by Łukasiewicz’s president, Andrzej Dybczyński, who not only introduced the operations of the Łukasiewicz Research Network to those who may not yet know us, but also shared his thoughts on the need to internationalise science in general and Łukasiewicz in particular. Speaking of internationalisation, Andrzej Dybczyński defined it as an increase in the number and value of international projects which Łukasiewicz’s teams participate in and the maximum saturation of our teams with scientists from abroad. At the same time, and once again emphasised by our President, foreign scientists are both scientists who are citizens of other countries and have previously worked abroad, as well as scientists of Polish origin, having worked abroad for at least five years in the last six years prior to their employment. Our goal is to reach a level of 5% of the research division’s employees being such ‘foreign scientists’ within four years, and within 10 years the saturation of teams with foreign scientists is to reach 30% of the research division.

The President stressed that he did not believe in locally practised science and stated emphatically that if Łukasiewicz did not have serious exposure to the international environment, it would wilt. For Łukasiewicz is not only to be the largest Polish R&D network, but is to become an international organisation. Because only by working in close contact with scientists from other top research centres around the world will we be able to conduct world-class research.

A pillar of Łukasiewicz's development is internationalisation. I don't believe in local science. It is impossible to do science locally. If Łukasiewicz does not have serious exposure to the international environment, it will wilt

The President also shared a glimpse of possible new areas of Łukasiewicz’s business. Introducing the entire Research Network, Łukasiewicz said that in total, 22 institutes are conducting research in dozens of areas. But if a participant were to find that the research he or she is doing is not currently recognised at Łukasiewicz, then – if it makes economic sense – we are prepared to create a new research area. Because the most important thing is to choose the right people. As it turned out, an identical approach was presented by our keynote speaker, Prof. Artur Ekert.

Ekert: people-ideas-money is a universal sequence

The opening lecture of the ‘Conference with Polonia’ was given by an exceptional scholar, Prof. Artur Ekert. He is not only an eminent specialist in quantum physics and an internationally recognised authority in cryptography. He is also a practitioner in the field of science organisation. Our guest speaker referred to – as far as we know completely without consultation – recognising new research areas and new teams, which President Dybczyński had signalled moments earlier in his speech.

Arthur Ekert is Professor of Quantum Physics at the Institute of Mathematics, University of Oxford, UK, a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and Honorary Professor at the National University of Singapore. He is also the founder and director of the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. Sharing his many years of experience of working in a variety of environments, often a veritable melting pot of nationalities, religions, beliefs and characters, the professor said that a particular ‘organisational sequence’, which consists successively of people, ideas and money, has worked.

Specific people are the foundation of research teams and only the right foundation build success. It is therefore crucial to find, or rather recognise, people who will form a good foundation for the research project. He stressed the importance of many people working on the project, citing an experiment by the brilliant Polish mathematician Stefan Banach with a bottle of wine. The legendary mathematician from the University of Lviv, co-founder of the Lviv school of mathematics, seems to hold a special place in the heart of Prof. Ekert. We encourage you to search for information on the ideas and jokes of prof. Banach on the internet – it really is worth it.

Our guest emphasised specifically that the right people in research teams are the first step to project success and without making sure the right team is built, no further steps can be made. The derivatives of this step are ideas and money, but again, as the speaker emphasised, each of these elements is important and each must remain in its rightful place: first the people, then the ideas, and thirdly – the budget.

Successful returns to the country

Łukasiewicz makes no secret of the fact that not only do we want to build international consortia and international research teams with scientific institutions from all over the world, but that we also encourage people to work in Poland, at Łukasiewicz. Our offer is particularly relevant for Polish scientists who have gone abroad, but also for foreigners who would like to continue their scientific career in Poland.

Am I against the brain drain? Absolutely not - brain drain is an excellent practice, which Łukasiewicz supports with its possibilities and Dybczyński with his heart, on one condition only: that we are the ones draining and attracting scientists from abroad, and not being drained ourselves

The subject of returns to Poland was widely discussed at this year’s ‘Conference with Polonia’. The panel discussion ‘Poland as the home for scientists from abroad – success stories’ focused on what attracts foreigners to Poland and why they choose to make a career in our country, as well as what encourages Polish people to return to Poland and what barriers Polish scientists face. The discussion included Marek Cygan (University of Warsaw), Juan Carlos Colmenares Quintero (Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences), Ewa Wierzbicka (Military Academy of Technology) and Emerson Coy (University of Adam Mickiewicz).

The block concluded with a presentation performed by Dawid Kostecki, director of the National Agency for Academic Exchange, on the support NAWA provides to Polish scientists who would like to return to the country and continue their careers here. It is worth mentioning that Ewa Wierzbicka, currently working at the Military University of Technology, took up NAWA’s offer herself and, after working abroad for several years, returned to Poland.

Let’s talk about how others do it

Internationally recognised scientists took part in the following panel, entitled “Internationalisation – how do others do it?” – our Vice President for International Cooperation, Marcin Kraska, conducted a discussion on international good practice, where Polish academics were represented by prof. Artur Dubrawski (Carnegie Melon University), prof. Jolanta Swiatowska (Institut de Recherche de Chimie Paris), Paweł Puczkarski (University of Oxford) and Mariusz Cieplik (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, TNO).

Talking about science over (virtual) coffee

Immediately after the panel ‘Internationalisation – how do others do it?’ we smoothly moved on to the activation of all participants in a workshop entitled ‘World Café – frankly about the internationalisation of science in Poland’. Online participants were invited to a ‘virtual coffee’ by the session leader, Prof. Rafał Łukasik, while stationary participants were able to enjoy real coffee in the workshop. The aim was to talk about problems and barriers to be eliminated and positive solutions to be encouraged.

Fifty-two people worked in Rafal Lukasik’s virtual room and as many as ten teams took part in the discussion in the stationary room. They were all looking for answers to four questions: how to effectively convince foreign scientists to work or intern in Poland, how to encourage Polish scientists to go abroad for internships, what conditions are optimal for conducting research and development activities, and what innovative and beneficial initiatives or existing solutions should be strengthened to foster international cooperation. The discussions concluded with presentations of the work in small groups, which was moderated by the presenter.

Let us stop for a moment at the person running the ‘World Café’ – apparently, prof. Łukasik was a participant in the two previous editions of the ‘Conference with Polonia’. Prior to that, he spent almost two decades developing his scientific career outside Poland, and this year joined the Łukasiewicz team to form the Department of International Cooperation. He is therefore a living advertisement for the effectiveness of the ‘Conference with Polonia’, as are the numerous projects that have initiated previous editions.

Matchmaking, or strike while the iron is hot

At the end of the conference, we held as many as nine matchmaking sessions, acting on the adage to strike while the iron is hot. During the sessions, which were moderated by Justyna Duszyńska-Cichy, Director of Łukasiewicz’s European Cooperation Department, the researchers took part in discussions on their selected fields. Matchmaking, although it is the last point of our conference, is very important for us, as it serves to get to know each other more closely, as people working in different institutions and even in different countries, thus facilitating the initiation of international projects. ‘Conference with Polonia’ has quite a list of such successful matchmaking.

Let’s do it together, thus, international Łukasiewicz

A recurring theme at this year’s conference was the question “how do others do it?” asked in the context of developing international cooperation. Speakers, panellists and workshop participants discussed and shared experiences. The goal is to establish contacts, create research teams and joint projects, and for us – for the Łukasiewicz Research Network – to increasingly internationalise our teams. Because, as our president stressed – modern science cannot be practised effectively locally, only internationally. That is why the title of this edition was ‘International Łukasiewicz – let’s do it together’. We hope, seeing once again the likes of prof. Artur Dubrawski and other scientists who returned to our conference that the 3rd edition also became a moment to initiate further international projects. We will write about this next year, on the occasion of the fourth edition of the ‘Conference with Polonia’.

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