THE WAY THINGS WERE

Perhaps the best way to place today's situation in context is to examine what it was like before the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a global power, the Soviet Union had a huge scientific infrastructure. There were about 365 institutes in the All-Union Academy of Sciences [of the USSR]. These institutes were spread out over a vast geographic area encompassing the whole former Soviet Union. Each institute was organized around a technical area such as welding, semiconductors, or foundry issues, and frequently employed thousands of scientists, technicians, and support staff. The scientific horsepower that was brought to bear on a given technical area was immense. For example, the Institute for Foundry Problems in Kyyiv, Ukraine employed at this one location more scientists working on this one technical area than were working in this area in a distributed mode throughout the United States. Many research institutes were in closed cities. These were cities that were not identified on maps, and excluded foreigners. There were over fifty such cities, each with populations exceeding 40,000 people. There were ten cities that were dedicated to nuclear research, where a combined total of 750,000 scientists worked.

Scientists formed an elite within the Soviet social structure. Scientific institutes were given high priority when resources were allocated. Scientists often were able to get better housing than other citizens. A certain pride came with being a specialist in a given field. Often the specialty was passed from father to son or daughter. For example, Dr. Boris Paton, the director of the E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute and president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, is the son of E.O. Paton, for whom the institute is named. On the other side, political patronage also had its role. Some scientists were promoted not because of the value of their contributions to science, but because of their political beliefs or affiliations.

The research thrusts of the institutes under Soviet rule were dominated by a military/space orientation, as well as support for the heavy state-run industries. Cost of labor was generally a less valued factor than cost of materials. Handcrafted, custom approaches were often acceptable. This is a major factor that needs to be considered when the technology is evaluated for licensing in western applications.

An interesting difference in the structure of the scientific community that evolved under Soviet rule is the concept of the "doctorate." In the FSU, the doctorate degree partitions into two classes: Candidate of Technical Studies (Kandydat Tekhnicheskykh Nauk) and the Doctor. The "candidate" is equivalent to the western "doctor." It is achieved after four to five years of graduate study and the successful defense of a dissertation. The title of doctor is awarded after a high level of expertise has been achieved, as demonstrated by extensive research and numerous publications. Similarly, scientific rank is determined by membership in the Academy of Sciences. Full membership and the title "academician" are awarded only to the most respected and accomplished scientists. An interim step to this level is the "corresponding member" of the Academy.


Published: December 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian