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FOM monday evening

I was in Veldhoven yesterday evening to take part in a traditional annual gathering of the leaders of our physical community. Most if not all research in physics is financed by FOM, our splendind foundation whose single goal is to investigate the Matter. This is why this is the FOM Monday evening.

The event combines socializing, reasonably good dinner, and bureaucratical games. For me, the first is a challenge, while the second and third is enteraining, so I like to go there though a trip to Veldhoven always takes more time than expected. They usually offer a good collection of cheap end wines conform to my taste. I enjoyed white wine, rather dry, almost green in taste, I enjoyed it so much that even on Tuesday morning my brain was dry and a bit green.

The main topic was the (mean) duration of Ph.D. research. An expected time of Ph.D. is 48 months in this country, at least the salaries are planned for this time period. It turns out, however, that the mean duration is 55 months. And in addition there is a long tail of the distribution to longer durations. Till recently, the FOM paid this extra salary with no question asked. Yet money is scarce nowadays. The foundation has asked us to consider the reduction of these overdues. It supplied the request with a lot of statistics meant to reveal “bad” and “good” practices in this respect.

I don’t know. I did my Ph.D. in 34 months. 48 seems me a lot. I don’t understand why a student that requires the prolongation of this term should not feel like a looser not able to prepare for examination on time. Even if he/she is such a looser, the feeling is pretty bad to start an actual carreer with. Believe me or not but none of my students did it longer than 48.

Yet a tradition is the tradition. All group leaders I saw around have displayed a polite but firm resistance to any plans to reduce the mean time, usually reffering to “risky character of scientific research”.

Unusual ideas sprinkled in the end of the evening, like giving the students (or group leaders?) cash awards for making Ph.D. on time. Very well, if this becomes true, I’d reckon it’ll be fair to ask FOM to reimburse me the prolongations I have not made thereby saving the foundation money. It’d be like a million: my personal account is ready for that.

In the end of the evening, when everybody was sufficiently tipsy, it appeared that we all are supposed to sign the Treaty of Veldhoven that requires making 90% of all Ph.D. withing 48. If I’m not mistaken, I saw Jan Zaanen signing it.

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