Our journey through desert
“A journey through desert” is a famed expression in French (traversée du désert) to describe when someone is left alone or cast aside in political or professional life. This is what the ENP-China team experienced in the past month when our own university turned us into research refugees. An ERC Advanced Grant project is one of the most challenging, selective, and prestigious research awards in European academia. But at Aix-Marseille University, even after a month no reply has been given to ERC’s letter asking for a clarification. So much for the consideration due to the European Research Council.
In a journey through the desert, a very big threat is thirst. Where to find water outside of an oasis? Well, cartoons and comics have taught us that water can be found in cactus.Whether true or not, we found our cactus during the rough patch through AMU sand. It is a welcoming co-working space in the heart of Aix en Provence named Cactus! It is there that we found our final port of abode for three weeks.
Cactus is run by an enterprising and charming Russian couple who made our stay a most pleasant experience. Throughout the weeks we spent working in their offices, they were especially attentive and helpful. The place provided ample space for us to work in safe conditions (in the metropolitan county with the highest covid incidence rate in France), including our bi-weekly team meeting.
And hard at work we were, among cactus all around, and excellent coffee and tea service. The team bounced back, against all odds, and succeeded in pursuing the objectives of our ERC project, in line with the degree of engagement and responsibility that the European Research Council can legitimately expect from ERC-funded research teams.
Research is not an activity that fits in nice office hours and fixed routines. Research requires adaptability and flexibility, but also stability. We made it through theses four weeks of peregrination thanks to the unmatched sense of commitment and responsibility of the young and hard-working members of the team.
This also came with a cost: a damaged monitor during transport and the rent paid for the co-working space. This is a complete waste of ERC research money since ERC already compensates financially the university for the usage of its infrastructure. It is of course a complete violation of the terms of the ERC grant agreement.
Before the actual administrative closure, we made an appeal to reverse the decision. All that we received from the vice-president in charge of research — in an “intensive research university” — was a one-sentence mail that in substance said “get lost!”