Foreign scientist lauds China's scientific research progress

Richard de Grijs in China's Xinjiang

Richard de Grijs never thought about living in China before 2010, when he gained an opportunity to work for the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) under Peking University in Beijing, where his wife was born.

The Dutch astronomer spent eight years at the KIAA as a senior fellow before leaving for Australia earlier this year. He said that he benefited a lot from working with China's "smartest young people" and was amazed at the country's rapid development of scientific research during his stay in Beijing.

"Professionally, I cherish the time I spent in Peking University, where my students and post-doctoral scholars were seen as the most productive research team at the KIAA, while I kept applying for external research grants," said De Grijs, who was also frustrated by the reality that he met some barriers in applying for the government research subsidies in China due to his foreign citizenship.

With China rising as a major scientific power, it is unfair to the Chinese scientists that they are sometimes portrayed in a negative light in the global media, which assume that they are used to infringing on the scientific research disciplines, said De Grijs, who partly attributes some academic misconduct to China's rigid system, which sees publication of papers as a key parameter for a scientist's promotion and salary.

Despite those negative factors, De Grijs feels good about doing research work in fast-changing China, which can provide global researchers especially young talents many opportunities to take part in its large scientific research projects such as the large optical telescope designed for space station and the next-generation particle accelerator.

"Chinese scientists are keen on launching international cooperation, which has become a trend in the country's academic circle," said De Grijs, recalling that he was encouraged to build reputation for the KIAA and himself in China. "China's scientific research circle is becoming competitive, and my Chinese workmates see the 'sky' as their ultimate limit."

The scientific advance in China cannot be separated from the strong support of the leadership, which aims to build the country into a world leader in technological innovation in the next two decades.

De Grijs marveled at the fact that many senior officials in China's government have academic backgrounds in science and engineering, compared with Western governments, where policymakers majoring in science and engineering are scarce.

"In China, scientists hold a high position in power structure. Because of this position and the relatively high economic growth, the subsidy system for the country's basic research and applied research can be so healthy," said De Grijs. But he stressed that researchers must provide high-quality project proposals if they want government funding.

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