In focus: Enrico Fucci

On academic nomadism, open science, and IGDORE

Continuing our new series of written interviews with researchers at IGDORE: Dr. Enrico Fucci, nomadic neuroscientist and member of IGDORE’s Global Board. Originating from Italy, with a PhD from France, mostly residing on Fuerteventura (Spain) but currently spending three months in Senegal. We asked Enrico to describe a typical workday as an academic digital nomad, what he thinks about the current movement for open and replicable science, and what matters of heart he brings into IGDORE’s Global Board.

Enrico’s current academic workdesk on a small island in Senegal.

1. Tell us a bit about your professional background.

After obtaining a BSc in Psychology in Milan (IT), I attended a two-years long MSc in Brain and Mind Sciences, held between London and Paris. After that, I enrolled in a PhD program in Neuroscience in Lyon (FR), which I completed in December 2019. Since then, I am trying to set myself up as independent researcher and consultant. I always liked hard science for the clear way in which knowledge is structured and conveyed (or at least that is the impression one gets during the university years!), but I have always had a deep interest in humanities too, especially when it comes to understand social issues. This double interest has shaped my research focus and methodology, as well as my everyday life. Concerning research, I have had and still have the opportunity to work on a very multidisciplinary and captivating topic, which I could summarize as fostering a dialogue between western-based science and contemplative philosophies and practices. Whether it consists in applying brain imaging techniques to study the psychophysiology of advanced Buddhist practices, or measuring affective arousal in novice practitioners who have received teachings on compassion and empathy, this kind of research holds a tremendous social and human side to it. For this reason, I have also been trained in qualitative methods and especially phenomenological approaches, which I try to integrate with third-person data. In the future, I would like to apply these combined methodologies to address research issues in applicative scenarios in the social domain, possibly collaborating with NGOs and associations, as well as continuing working in fundamental research (although I consider that a passion rather than a professional activity).

2. Why did you join IGDORE?

During my PhD years, I got to know academia for what it actually is: a highly bureaucratic machine which prioritizes values, skills and activities that have little to do with the hypothetical purpose of academia itself, which should be to create a supportive environment for scientific research to thrive. I like science because it is a rigorous and clear method of inquiry; it is impersonal and accessible to anybody who is willing to implement a specific methodology or question it within the “rules of the game”. Research is not about results, but about questions and methods. The academic environment and its satellite dimensions (funding agencies, journals, evaluation committees etc.) are, in my opinion, not in touch with these principles. For me, this is absurd and unacceptable.

Another important problem that I encountered during my PhD was the management of working time and space. I am not an office person and I realized that working during office hours was actually detrimental in terms of productivity. I also often asked myself why I had to sit in front of a computer at an office when I could do that at home, or while visiting my girlfriend who was living abroad or, even better, in front of the sea. This was not a caprice but a need stemming from the firm conviction that freedom of managing time and space results in more creativity and productivity. Do not get me wrong, I have the opportunity to work with a passionate group of researchers and our advisor was more than flexible on these issues. But traditional institutions do not leave much space for this growing need for independence and better quality of life.

As you can imagine, joining IGDORE was the natural consequence of my experience. If IGDORE did not exist, I would have made efforts to try and create something similar. But I am glad that IGDORE was already there!

3. You mainly live in Fuerteventura nowadays, but are also travelling a lot. How do you combine that with your scientific work? And how does a typical workday look like?

Right now, I am writing from the beach house of a surf camp, located on a small island in front of Dakar (Senegal). I am here to work as a volunteer for food, shelter and surfboards but I dedicate half of my day to work for IGDORE and some time to carry on with research work. Sometimes it is not easy to manage your work independently. Am I working too much or too little? Do I have the time to also enjoy the experience I am doing here? Of course, one must come up with some structure and organization, as well as deal with the subtle sense of discomfort, as if what you are doing is not serious enough. The latter normally disappears after I went surfing and when I see that I have been producing more clear and interesting work during the last months than ever before.

My days looks like any other person’s: wake-up, exercise and meditation (sometimes…), eat, work, free time, sleep. Take away commuting times, sitting on an office chair and have a disgusting hospital sandwich; replace it with the sound of the sea, surfing breaks and sunny days and you have a pretty accurate picture.

4. The movement for open and replicable science is growing quickly, in particular in some disciplines and some countries. Is there anything you would like to see more or less of in this movement?

I would like to see scientific publications bypassing traditional journals completely. This would mean thinking of different ways to share and assess the quality of research works. I would be much in favour of online portals for publications where the revision of a scientific report is a collective and transparent process.

I would like to see a growing emphasis on research methodology courses and workshops at undergraduate and graduate levels. As well as replication studies proposed as internships for all students.

I am not so much in favour of setting up rules or practices to “force” the implementation of open and reproducible science. Actually, I do not even think a term such as reproducible science should exist. For me, there is science, which is reproducible. Everything else is not science! As we often discuss within IGDORE, you can force people to follow certain rules but if one wants to cheat, they will always find a way. Good science is ultimately an ethical issue that is related to the difference between doing research and pursuing a career in research. And this is ultimately a problem of education of the next generation of researchers. We should encourage students to ask themselves: why am I studying this? Why do I want to become a researcher? What is it that I like in scientific methodology, and do I know it at all? To make an example, sometimes I was going around my lab asking people: if you had no money problems, would you still do research? We should ask ourselves these questions more often.

5. How would your ideal work life look like? Where would you live, where would you work, and how many hours would you work per week?

My ideal work life at the moment is the one I am living. I do not have a fixed office, but I tend to work in beautiful places closed to the nature or to my affects and passions. I have found a good balance between intellectual and physical activity (very important!) and I work less hours than an office job, but more efficiently. Of course, this life comes with a certain economic instability and I would love to have a little but stable income. However, I would not choose stability over freedom…

Dr. Enrico Fucci

6. What matters of heart do you bring into IGDORE’s Global Board?

I want to help the IGDORE project to gain credibility and affirm itself as a concrete alternative to traditional academic institutions. I am very concerned about the quality of life, freedom and independence of researchers. And not only on a human level; I believe these factors are essential for fostering scientific progress and for getting out of a little bit obscure era of scientific research.

On a more practical level, I am focused on the development of research consultancy services that IGDORE researchers can provide to external clients.

7. What would you like to see more or less of by (or within) IGDORE?

I would like to see IGDORE running at its full potential as soon as possible. That means managing research funding for affiliated researchers and provide them with consultancy jobs when there is an interest or need for that. This would also allow IGDORE to invest in initiatives in free education and eventually provide source of research funding to affiliated researchers.

I would like to see more active participation from IGDORE affiliated researchers and trainees. In my view, IGDORE has the potential to bring in a revolution in the academic world. However, its development requires a collective effort. We are all trying to do something unconventional that can have a dramatic impact on our lives, to the better! In my opinion, it is our responsibility, as affiliated researchers, to keep it alive.

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