Naturejobs (Reino Unido)

Research opportunities in São Paulo

Publicado em 21 junho 2014

Por Lynn Kimlicka, Prital Patel and Saheli Sadanand

Most of us currently associate Brazil with football, the Amazon rainforest, and Carnival. Add extensive, well-funded research opportunities to the list.

Brazil has a growing economy, with the seventh largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. In addition, it has a growing bioenergy industry and robust agribusiness. With the resources to perform cutting-edge science, Brazil is now looking to strengthen its scientific research community.

International work experience is becoming an expected entry line on researchers’ CVs if they hope to climb the academic ladder or gain a tenured position. Multitudes of organisations now aid scientists in seizing such global opportunities. São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), Brazil’s largest publicly funded, regional grant funding institution, is one such example.

At the Naturejobs Career Expo on May 20th, FAPESP highlighted the numerous scientific research opportunities in São Paulo, the most populous state in Brazil and the epicenter of the country’s research enterprise (45% of the country’s PhDs are awarded at one of São Paulo’s six universities). FAPESP supports research in all fields and helps provide opportunities to develop scientific careers through fellowships and grants. It has an annual budget of about a half billion dollars and is seeking to recruit talented researchers from all over the world to Brazil. Since 1962, one per cent of the state taxes collected in São Paulo have gone towards FAPESP.

Marie-Anne van Sluys, a researcher at the Biosciences Institute of the University of São Paulo, recently advocated what she sees as the flourishing field of life sciences in the State of São Paulo, during her presentation. Founded in 1962, FAPESP has supported research in São Paulo for over 50 years. Scientific activities thrive in this state, accounting for over 50% of the nation’s scientific publications in international journals. A large emphasis is given to life sciences.

Among various funding opportunities offered by FAPESP, van Sluys highlighted three categories in the Green Economy Research Programs: Bio-Energy (BIOEN), Biodiversity and Conservation (BIOTA), and Global Climate Change (GCC). Almost half of the energy in Brazil is generated from renewable sources, and BIOEN Program establishes partnerships with industry to advance ethanol-related technologies from biofuels, such as sugarcane, as an alternative to gasoline. The BIOTA Program has identified and analysed over 500 new species so far and evaluates the possibility of sustainable exploitations of plants and animals. The GCC research program aims to generate climate models specifically focusing on the Amazon and Southern Atlantic regions and to determine their influence on the global climate change.

FAPESP receives 1% of all state revenues to drive research in fields including, but not limited to, health sciences (~30%), biology (17%), engineering (11%), humanities and social sciences (~10%), and chemistry (~6%). In 2012, FAPESP allocated about half of its budget – approximately US$300 million – to health sciences, biology, ecology and agronomy, and veterinary. And in 2013 FAPESP distributed a total expenditure of around US$500 million.

Euclides de Mesquita Neto, a special advisor for the international cooperation scientific directorate at FAPESP and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Campinas, gave a presentation that broadly described the goals of FAPESP and elaborated more specifically on funding opportunities in natural science and engineering research.

Neto described three major types of individual fellowships – FAPESP Post-Doctoral Fellowships, Young Investigators Awards and São Paulo Excellence Chairs (SPEC). Post-Doctoral Fellowships provide funding for two years, with the possibility of renewing the fellowship for an additional year or even two years if the work is linked to an already funded research project. Fellows get monthly stipends of approximately $2,700, which he said is a very livable income in Brazil. Applicants can apply for advertised positions or present new proposals that augment existing research in São Paulo institutions.

Young Investigators Awards are awarded to researchers who have prior post-doctoral experience. Awardees receive four to five years of funding (with a monthly allowance of approximately $3,000) that support purchases of materials, consumables, transport and visiting scholars. There are additional benefit funds attached to the host lab.

Dr. Sergio T. Ferreira, professor of biochemistry and neuroscience at the Federal University of Rio de Janeirohas reviewed many applications for FAPESP’s Young Investigator Awards and Postdoctoral fellowships, and in his opinion, successful applicants must have good publications in well-respected journals. Publishing in high JCR impact factor journals are not always necessary, however, first or co-author publications in good to medium impact journals in the field of study are expected. These Young Investigator Awards are aimed at helping a researcher establish a lab and publish independently. However, collaborations with more senior or established groups are also permitted.

SPEC is a pilot program whose goal is to attract foreign, high-level researchers to do some research in São Paulo by providing five year awards. Awardees remain at their original institution but are required to spend twelve weeks per year in Brazil. This time does not need to be continuous and there are no explicit restrictions on funding amount or usage — awards have been given in the range of US $100K to US $1 million, Neto said. SPEC participants will manage a team that can include both doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, gaining experience in lab management skills.

A question that arose following the session was: why should a researcher select Brazil over other countries with comparable financial resources? In response, Neto pointed to Brazil’s particular strengths in a range of fields: agribusiness, aviation (Embraer is the third largest airplane manufacturer in the world, after Airbus and Boeing), nanotechnology, and material science. Although industry-funded research does lead to some projects that are subject to confidentiality agreements, Neto said that he is not concerned about conflicts of interest, because “most research is academic in nature.”

In addition to the scientific benefits of working in Brazil, Neto pointed out that “Brazil is an immigration country. We welcome people of different ethnic backgrounds and have a very diverse population.”

One thing to be aware of, says Dr. Marcelo Briones, a microbiology and genomics researcher, from the University of São Paulo, is that researchers may find the inability to fund post-docs and technicians directly out of grant funding to be limiting to their research goals. The hiring system for post-docs, technicians and secretaries tend to be centralised. Technicians are usually hired via public contests and are tenured government employees, and while postdocs write fellowship applications with principal investigators, the hiring decisions are dependent of approval by reviewers.

Useful links:

FASESP website

Pesquisa, the FAPESP news magazine

FAPESP Post-Doctoral Fellowships

Young Investigators Awards

Sao Paulo Excellence Chairs