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May 22, 2005

HRSA Mentorship Program

-Eight years of Scientific Research Training in Hungary-

In 1995 a new program has been established in Hungary helping talented high school students (in the age between 14 and 20) to find mentors who introduce them to scientific research in Hungarian universities or research institutes. The program gained an overwhelmingly positive response from the Hungarian scientific community. Among the six hundred mentors George Olah is a Nobel Laureate, 118 are members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and most are respected professors of their research field. We have mentors in 37 Hungarian towns, in Austria, Australia, Canada, Italy, Romania, the USA and Serbia. The patrons of the program are Ferenc Mádl, President of the Hungarian Republic, Bálint Magyar, Minister of Education and Sylvester Vizi, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

In the mentor list one can find the Nobel Laureate György Oláh, and 118 further members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) as well as members of the Constitutional Court and professors who are recognized scholars of their field. Every Hungarian high school director as well as around 250 to 300 Hungarian high school directors of the surrounding countries get a mentor list at the beginning of every school year, but more than 1,000 gifted students also get it personally. The principle of selecting a student is that one should only get a mentor list if he/she has already proved his/her suitability or has already been attracted by the attention of their surroundings.

Since 1996 the number of the  individualy involved  students has been growing steadily thanks to the intensive media support and the nationwide and international reputation. "Old students" indicates those youths who passed the age of 20 and quitted the HRSA Mentorship Program. Most of them joined research clubs and teams at their university. Some of them already finished their Phd studies and became a mentor of the Mentorship Program.

Most of the students has his own topic or field of interest when he joins the Mentorship Program, some of them exactly knows what kind of research he want to do. In the past few years there was a swift increase in the "Natural Sciences" topics, which is in line with the rapid development of bio and geno sciences.

These research topics were very "popular" among the students in 2004. European integration was the most popular because Hungary joined the EU on May 1 2004, while the others were also very common it the last 7 years.   

Today more than 5,000 Hungarian students from Hungary and the surrounding countries pursue research in laboratories and high school scientific teams. The majority of these students live in small villages (23%) and small towns (31%), thus the Mentorship Program helps the mobility of the underprivileged.

The backbone of the Mentorship Program are the mentors of course. Most of Mentors hosts two young scientists providing reseach facilities and opportunities for them. There are some mentors who where part of the Mentorship Program as a student 7 or 8 years ago.  

High school teachers are involved in the Mentorship Program by means of reasearch clubs, even though some of them  has individual students as well. In 2004 high school teachers decided to form an offical association to share both their experiences and methods. The Hungarian Research Student Association supports this process with financial and moral assistance.

Almost half of the mentors are academy members (17%) or professors (25%) which secures the high standards of the research projects. On the other hand it is important to have PhD-s in the Mentorship Program, because they have enough time to deal with students day by day.    

Nearly 1,300 students from Transylvania (Romania), Highland (Slovakia), Sub-Carpathia (Ukraine) and Vojvodina (Serbia) has also joined research projects. This way HRSA helps not only talent recruitment and support, but also gives a chance for unparalleled social mobility.

Since 2000 a National Student Conference is held every year, where the winners of the regional conferences are allowed to take part. The National Student Conference is divided into sections from biochemistry trough physics to economy and the students have to hold a presentation followed by a discussion with the members of the jury who are recognized scholars of their field. The winners of the conference have the opportunity to take part at the annual summer camp at Lake Balaton. From 2002 the best student of the conference  is a special guest of the Nobel Award ceremonies each year. In 2004 the National Student Conference was held in Szeged between 2nd and 3rd of April.

From 1997 eight national student conferences were organized as summer camps at the Lake Balaton each year for the best eighty students. Besides the short presentations of the students, world-known scientists talked about their approach of science and about their devotion. Psychologists and social-psychologists discussed the possible dangers of being outstanding in a field and showed how to solve the conflicts which might arise from this situation. The best students are sent to foreign research camps, among others in Germany, Israel, Ireland and the National Institutes of Health in the USA.

This slide is just about the financies, it does not worth a single word.  

The Hungarian Research Student Association has some valuable international contacts, which allows to broaden the scope of the Mentorship Program. The very best research students get the possibility to carry out researches in foreign labs and institutes.

The Staff in the beginning was very compact, which allowed to make decisions very quickly. Afterwards quickness was secrificed as the initiative grew.  

The students, their high school teachers and mentors formed a Foundation in 1998 and a nationwide Association in 1999. After the call of these to form scientific research clubs in high schools, 160 clubs were established. More than fifty of these clubs are working in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine promoting Central-Eastern European cooperation. From 2000 annual conferences of these research clubs gave a possibility for 200 participants to present more than hundred lectures. From 2002 regional conferences, lecture series, summer practices and Research Student Clubs are also organized nationwide. Due to the help of the minister of education the initiative opened an office in 2002. The movement was judged as an outstanding achievement in recent conferences of the European Council of High Ability as well as at a nationwide meeting of similar programs in the USA. Peter Csermely was elected as a Fellow of Ashoka International and received a Pazmany Award, an EMBO Science Communication Award and an Anyos Jedlik Award due to his contribution to this program. To promote similar programs two NATO-UNESCO conferences were organized with Leon Lederman, 1988 Nobel Laureate of physics in 2002 and 2004. At these meetings 32 countries formed a Network of Youth Excellence to exchange the experiences, students and teachers of participating scientific research training organizations.The movement received the Descartes Award from the European Union in 2004.
Mr. Szilard Kui ()
Head of Foreign Relations
Hungarian Research Student Association


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