Today, for the first time in 18 years of association to the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), I leave for a trip abroad, to the CERN laboratories, on my own wallet.
The situation into which basic research has been thrown by our crazy government borders the ridiculous, but is pretty darn serious. Italian physicists often travel to foreign laboratories to attend their apparata, collect data, perform their research, discuss with colleagues. If they lose money to do this, they will stop their foreign activities. I think in particular at graduate students and young post-docs, who earn salaries insufficient for a living, and whose per-diem compensation when abroad used to allow them to cover their expenses.
Post-docs in Italy earn about 1200 euros a month, a salary which is half or a third of that of colleagues from other countries. Until May 31st, when they traveled abroad they would also get about 100-130 euros per diem to cover lodging and meals. This allowed them to save a little. From now on, they will be reimbursed of the hotel expenses (making the choice of a cheap lodging not attractive any more), while the refund of meals is still uncertain. For sure, lunches and dinners within the lab (at CERN there is an excellent canteen) will not be refunded, because there will be no proof of the expenses.
In a time of economical crisis, other countries are reducing expenses across the board, but one sector immune of cuts is research and instruction: obviously, since it is a quite foolish idea to reduce the quality of our investment in the future. In Italy, basic instruction has been hit hard by the cuts, and expenses for universities and research are also being cut recklessly. The emergency, for our prime minister, is to pass laws that prevent judges from investigating on his misdemeanour, while the economical crisis, the future of Italy, and the situation of our younger generations do not appear a concern.
As I leave for CERN, I think that I will spend more money than I will get back, but I bring with me one conforting thought: I do not need to be ashamed of my job when I am abroad. In Italy, that is the feeling.
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