Ninetto studies Siberian scientists
She chose a small Siberian village for language study and ended up with a dissertation topic.
Photo by Stephanie Gross.
Looking for a Russian language program, Amy Ninetto (GSAS, Anthropology) chose a small town in Siberia, reasoning that “it would be more interesting than studying in a place like Moscow.”
Once in the town, best known for its high concentration of scientific institutions, Ninetto found more than language. She realized that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for scientific research had vanished. “The scientists in the town faced a major dilemma,” Ninetto said. “They could either stay in Russia and leave science or they could continue to do research abroad.” That realization has led her to write her dissertation on the plight of Russian scientists.
“Many of the scientists today are temporary migrants — they conduct research in the United States, Europe and Japan, then they return to Russia for a month or two.”
On a second trip to Siberia for her research, Ninetto interviewed scientists who had worked abroad and returned, but mostly she spent her time interacting with people and learning more about the difficulties scientists face.
She found that although there is economic opportunity in the United States, Russian scientists want to stay in Russia and avoid becoming a scientific colony of the West. However, “it wasn’t just the collapse of state socialism that caused the deterioration of Russia’s scientific communities. Global changes really affected the local communities, and global shifts continue to affect the ideas about the role of scientists in a society.”
“The research community will continue to exist on a much smaller scale,” Ninetto predicted. “It will continue to survive in a different form, now that the town combines state support with foreign grants and private corporations.” But knowing of the meager salaries of scientists — averaging less than $100 a month — Russian youths are not pursuing scientific careers, and thus Ninetto wonders: “What will happen to the science program in Russia as the current generation of scientists starts to retire?”