The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Tomsk IEEE Chapter & Student Branch
of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Tomsk IEEE Chapter

Ten years after changes in governments, members in Eastern Europe still feeling effects

By Kathy Kowalenko

Editor, The Institute

It has been nearly a decade since the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and the change in governments in other Eastern European countries. That period ended one era for IEEE members and began another. The Institute recently asked some members from those countries to reflect on the effect of this phenomenal change on their lives and careers during the past 10 years.

For some, conditions have improved. There are more freedoms such as the ability to publish and travel abroad. New areas of research and career opportunities have opened for them.

"As an engineer, I can research and develop anything if I can get money for it," said Zbynek Skvor, associate professor at the Czech Technical University, Czech Republic, where he teaches and conducts research. "There are no silly ideological problems. In our country, cybernetics used to be a kind of bourgeoisie pseudoscience, forbidden for some time," explained Skvor. "I can use products from all over the world to compose my circuits where before I could get products from only some countries."

Region 8, join the IEEE!Others say new career opportunities have been one of the best outcomes. "There is an opportunity for foreign contacts and possibilities to work abroad," said Oleg Stoukatch, Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics, Tomsk, Russia. According to Stoukatch, there is much more freedom in accessing information, and more opportunities in earning money and making contacts with scientists from other countries. "The present time is a time of decentralization of control. But it has no relation to 'quality of control'," he notes. "Our life depends not on how we work, but how it is controlled by us."

Svetlana Rau, National R&D Institute for Microtechnology at IMT-Bucuresti, Bucharest, Romania, says the ability for engineers to travel abroad though has caused a "brain drain" in her country. "After 1989, with the opening of the market, the Romanian electronic components and equipment fields started a continuous depreciation," she explained. "Many young Romanian specialists were drawn to the United States, Canada, South Africa and even Australia. Specialists who hadn't left the country remained working in small and medium start-up companies and research institutes or for IBM's and Motorola's newly opened Romanian centers."

For Alexander Gridchin, Novosibirsk State Technical University, Novosibirsk, Russia, being an IEEE student branch counselor has given him a different kind of opportunity. "I've received the excellent experience of planning, managing and holding various scientific, technical and social meetings," said Gridchin. "I've established warm personal connections with some colleagues worldwide that I hope will be useful to a new generation of researchers in our university."

The change in government also has brought difficult economic and working conditions for many IEEE members. "Any janitor, porter or cabby in Moscow is now in the best position with salaries compared to engineers or university teachers," said Dimitry Sazonov, a professor at Moscow Power Engineering Institute-Technical University, Russia. "Many engineers and university teachers are forced to take overtime jobs in another profession. An engineer is the most non-prestigious profession in Russia now."

According to Stoukatch, the situation in Russia has caused a ten-fold decrease in scientific research incomes compared to 1999. "However, we have acquired a necessary measure of stability, and this helps us to overcome temporary difficulties," he said. Rau says working conditions have deteriorated in Romania's state companies because of the lack of investments and the financial market. "In private companies, mostly in the field of developing software for computers or computer-assisted design, there are powerful PCs and the newest computer software," she said. "But conditions have deteriorated for all inland industries. In electronics, after 1989 a lot of well-known Western or Far Eastern companies now compete with the local industry, which is falling down!"

Most of those interviewed have access to the Internet and e-mail through their university's network although it is slow and expensive.

For Sazonov, the Moscow Chapter of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society and the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society provides financial support to offset the US$300 yearly cost of these services.

According to Stoukatch though, the majority of IEEE member benefits connected with the Internet are not available for Siberian members. "As a rule, e-lines are bad everywhere but it's especially difficult and practically impossible to enter the IEEE site," noted Stoukatch. "Frequently, reports for conferences or symposiums that are 'hanging in the Internet' for a year become known only after publication in journals when the deadlines have already passed."

Other technologies are not easily accessible either. "Free access to technology has not improved and is difficult," said Gridchin. "It's expensive for me to subscribe to the necessary scientific journals in my scientific direction. Even IEEE membership doesn't provide free access to all journals that are of interest to me. On the other hand, it's difficult to promote my own scientific production into the marketplace. It requires financial support. Who should provide it? I suppose universities, governments or industry -- all these sources are weak in Russia now."

For Skvor, the conditions that have improved the most have nothing to do with his career, the economy or technology. "I am not afraid to be imprisoned because of my religion and ideas," explained Skvor. "I was not allowed to study for some time. Now I know that my children can study despite of what I or my relatives think about our government. I am allowed to have my private business and to earn more money if I decide to do so. Freedom is the most important thing. That is the main difference, not only for engineers."
(2000-October 31)

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