BioN interview

Project leader Prof. Kai Kaila


The Postgraduate Training Network in Biotechnology of Neurosciences (BioN) was launched in 2010 after a favorable evaluation by the EU that resulted in a funding of close to one million Euros for the years 2010-2013. This project brings together six Russian and five European Universities, which include the Universities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don, as well as the Brain Research Unit of the Medical Research Council at Cambridge, École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and the Italian Institute of Technology in Genova.

 Our main goal is to establish the first Russian nationwide graduate school, with a focus on biotechnology and neurosciences. However, the ambitions of the partners in this endeavor go far beyond this goal. Our key activities and aims are highlighted below.


1)  BioN is the first organized and internationally recognized doctoral program in Russian biotechnology and neuroscience. We will introduce the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) into PhD student education in Russia. The major part of the teaching material is in English, which means that all relevant up-to-date scientific publications and widely read textbooks will be available for the doctoral aspirants of BioN. Here, one should note that using English is not done at the expense of Russian, but English teaching has a key position because most of BioN’s activities have an international dimension. Needless to add: science is a by its very nature international. Moreover, there is no doubt that our emphasis on international interactions and communication skills will increase the professional status and employability of our students.


2)  BioN takes a role as a major integrator and coordinator of Russian neuroscience research and teaching within the country.

In order to overcome the fragmentation of postgraduate education, we will optimize the use of the available national resources within Russia and among our European partners. These activities require a facilitation of both national and international information exchange. In light of the experiences gathered at the Finnish Graduate School of Neuroscience chaired by prof. Kai Kaila, integration and coordination at the level of doctoral training will strongly facilitate novel research collaborations also at the level of the member laboratories’ senior investigators. As a whole, an effective national doctoral program has a cohesive function which brings in lots of added value.


3) BioN will act as an effective link for doctoral trainees and senior researchers to foreign, internationally recognized institutes and laboratories.

This link, largely based on highly motivated ex-patriots working abroad is a valuable channel for promoting the return of established neuroscientists back to Russian institutes.

There is growing appreciation of the critical status of Russian science where generational gap in scientific education may appear in many fields of research including neuroscience (see “Russian science: What the scientists say.” Nature 449, 528-530; 2007). The Russian government recently has started to acknowledge this problem and a new program to attract best scientists to Russian universities with unprecedented funding opportunities (up to 5 million USD per 3 year granting period of each research group) has been announced this summer (Fursenko A.:  “Russia woos lost scientists.” Nature 465, 858; 2010). BioN is in a key position to both contribute to, and gain from, these novel opportunities.


4) BioN will establish tight interactions and collaborations with Russian R & D and industry.

Recently, several major initiatives have been launched in Russia to promote science and technology as an effective way to modernize Russian economy and society in general. BioN is currently exploring possibilities to contribute to these activities. For instance, President Medvedev has announced the Skolkovo project that will create paths to bring technologies to industry, launch high-tech start-ups, and facilitate the growth of the regional innovation ecosystems. As envisioned by President Medvedev, this will create a new science and technology city in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. This city will comprise a university, research institutions, centers of collective usage, business incubator, technology transfer and commercialization office, corporate offices and R&D centers. The Massachusetts Institute of Techonology (MIT, USA) has joined this project and   will work together with the Skolkovo Foundation to conduct educational and research activities in Russia in collaboration with its leading universities and research institutes. This project will most likely involve neuroscience among other disciplines and thus BioN activities may have direct relevance for this project by offering an international-level teaching program with adaptation to the Russian educational system before Skolkovo will be fully functional.

Very recently, the Russian Research Center Kurchatov Institute and Skolkovo Foundation Innograd have signed an agreement on cooperation. It will render assistance in bringing scientific and educational resources necessary for the realization of promising projects of the Foundation. This agreement will allow the Skolkovo Foundation Innograd to gain access to the already functional modern scientific and technological bases and intellectual resources of the Kurchatov Institute wich also include the Institute of Cognitive Research. Thus, neuroscience education and BioN activities have a high, immediate relevance for major novel science programs such as those of Skolkovo and the Russian Research Center Kurchatov Institute.


5) BioN will have societal functions, especially in the promotion of general awareness of neuroscience in the Russian society.

Science in general has a tremendous influence on the functions of modern societies, ranging from the laymen’s level of enlightenment and capability of rational decision-making to technological innovations that promote human health and well-being as a whole. During the last few decades, the impact of biotechnology and neuroscience on our everyday life, health care, schooling and education, and on many other dimensions of our existence has increased enormously. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to enhance the awareness of the impact of these major branches of current science in the society in general and among high-level political and academic decision makers. BioN will devote maximum attention to this kind of societal functions which are becoming increasingly vital in all modern, educated and technology-driven countries. Helping Russia to join the elite club of future-oriented countries with an internationally competitive training system for talented young scientists will be our outmost goal.


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