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Prof. Swiatkiewicz: Do not give up despite adversity

Professor Olgierd Swiatkiewicz – Lecturer at Escola Superior de Tecnologia de Setúbal – Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal in Portugal and international expert of the Polish Accreditation Commission. He holds a PhD in Management with a specialisation in Strategy from the University of Lusíada in Lisbon. His research interests are in the area of management, business ethics. He has previously held the position of Secretary General at the Portuguese-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry, senior assistant at CPKPAP in Warsaw and research assistant at IWP in Warsaw. He is a member of several scientific organisations such as EBEN in Portugal and the Scientific Society of Praxeology in Poland.

How did your adventure in science begin?

Quite by accident. The supervisor of my thesis, the late Professor Wojciech Gasparski from the Department of Prakseology and Scientology at the Institute of Industrial Design at the Polish Academy of Sciences, offered me an internship at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw to organise and document seminars on the Theory and Methodology of Design. It was the beginning of 1984, the deepening crisis of the socialist economy, empty shop shelves, queues, low wages for a research assistant, and a lack of access to the foreign literature of recent years – and it was then that I started attending a doctoral seminar. At the Design Theory and Methodology Laboratory of the IWP, I was working on a research topic related to the reconstruction of design methods in industrial design as part of a research programme for 1986-90, which was halfway discontinued due to lack of funding.It was a boring task and a frustrating moment, for a man at the beginning of his career. After that, everything went on by itself. But it was not a continuous and linear process. I had moments of doubt and a desire to do something more profitable. I changed jobs and tried to supplement my salary in other ways. After moving to Portugal, I worked in services and commerce for a few years before returning to academia. I never intended to be a teacher, i.e. a belfry. And working in academia is not only about research, conferences, publications, foreign exchanges, but also about tedious and boring meetings of various university bodies (research councils, departments, colleges, committees and commissions, etc.), restructurings, competitions, preparing classes, tests, scripts, teaching with very different people – I mostly worked with working students, who sometimes occupy high positions, both in Poland and in Portugal, and this is a difficult element, they know everything better and what’s worse, they have tasted power.

What factors led to your decision to go abroad? What were the biggest challenges associated with this decision

I had gone abroad before, to Sweden, and worked during the summer holidays of 1979, 1981 and 1984, in order to make up for an insufficient income, buy a camera, clothes, CDs and music equipment, and to get a taste of the West before returning to the grey socialist reality of Poland. I first left at the age of 19 to work as a forestry worker, cutting and planting forest. The next two trips during my studies were to work as a pallet maker and to work in wholesale trade.

I left for Portugal in 1990, which was a big decision and a combination of circumstances. My wife, a former lecturer in Portuguese language and literature at the Faculty of Neophilology at the University of Warsaw, was just finishing her second master’s degree at the Faculty of Polish Studies at the University of Warsaw and was pregnant with our first daughter. I no longer had close family in the country, my father had died two years earlier, and we had my wife’s Portuguese family in Portugal.

I already knew the language a little, but not enough to be able to teach at the university. With work after the move, it was difficult. I had to start from scratch. I collected two binders of job applications. Things weren’t much better with nostrification either. In Portugal at the time there were two forms of nostrification, equivalence and recognition of the degree/title, granted by the individual universities. I tried to have my Master’s degree in Management at the University of Warsaw recognised at Bachelor’s level, which I only succeeded in the third time at a provincial university in 1994. I described the difficulties in obtaining this recognition at the request of the Polish Embassy in connection with Poland’s negotiations for association with the European Union. In the meantime, in 1991 I completed the Higher Course in Portuguese Studies at the University of Lisbon, in 1996 at the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada in Lisbon I obtained a mestre degree in Organisational Behaviour and later a PhD in Management at the Universidade Lusíada in Lisbon. At the time, there were four degrees in Portugal: bachelor (3 years of study), bachelor (4-6 years of uni or 2-3 years of supplementary study after the bachelor degree), mestre (2-3 years, after the bachelor degree) and PhD. Many of my Polish colleagues don’t know that in most countries in the world, the highest degree is a doctor and there is no habilitation. A professor in Portugal is a position, not a title or degree. A colossal change and a huge facilitation within Europe was brought about by the implementation of the Bologna Process guidelines in 2007/8, done in Portugal, as usual, a bit on the knee, or as the Portuguese say, ‘yesterday’.

What are the benefits to you of working in an international scientific environment compared to working in Poland?

In Portugal, at the Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal, where I worked for more than 27 years, I had a dozen foreign colleagues (several Russian and Ukrainian women, a few Englishmen, an Ecuadorian, an Irishman, a Pole, a Frenchman, a Chilean, a Brazilian and a Spaniard) out of a total of less than 900 teaching and research staff, but it was not and is not an international environment, quite the contrary. Portugal is not the United States or the United Kingdom. It is a small country and a culturally closed society. The family and connections that develop from school through university are very strong and invisible to outsiders. The Portuguese are not at all direct like the Poles, in a good and bad sense. Universities are practically closed to outsiders.

You have to create and develop an international environment yourself and that’s what I did, starting with conferences and symposia. Then came the possibility of Erasmus exchanges, thanks to the European Union. Without international contacts, it seems impossible for me to develop as a scientist. Apart from the personal satisfaction of meeting interesting people from other cultures, a network of acquaintances is formed, from which new projects, ideas for new sources of funding, new opportunities for personal and scientific development, new ideas for research and publication. It is a break from everyday life, stress, university political games, university bureaucracy, the routine of teaching. It is a form of renewed motivation and job satisfaction when it seems that one could have chosen a better and easier occupation in life.

Do you maintain contact with the Polish scientific community?

Yes, as much as possible. For a long time, I had contacts and went to seminars of the Ethics of Economic Life Group of IFiS PAN in Warsaw, then came conferences organised by Professor Andrzej Bocian from the Faculty of Economics and Management at the University of Białystok. As part of the Erasmus exchange, I taught classes, reviewed and evaluated theses and took part in the defence committees of bachelor’s and master’s theses at the WZiE and the Institute of Management at the University of Białystok. For some time I was a foreign expert of the Polish Accreditation Commission. I also evaluated research projects for the National Science Centre. At the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, I was a professor invited to give guest lectures at the WEFiZ of the University of Szczecin, and later I had the pleasure of hosting Professor Ewa Mazur-Wierzbicka, from this very university, at my university. This year, as two years ago, I am a member of the Conference Programme Board of the Faculty of Management at the University of Białystok

What are you currently working on and what is the main focus of your scientific research?

I am now in early retirement, for health reasons, so my opportunities are limited, but this does not mean that I have completely abandoned what I was doing before. My interests have always focused on the borderline of the social sciences, mainly social psychology and sociology, management, philosophy of morality and praxeology. I am now delving into the issue of the aims and methods of ethics education in non-philosophical subjects. And it is a very timely topic.

What are the latest developments in your field of research that are of particular interest to you?

I mainly work in the area of social sciences at the intersection of different disciplines, and there is a lot of it in each of them, so that it is impossible to discuss them all without going into detail. It is better not to start, because it would be a river topic. The problem is that almost everything interests me. It may sound strange, but back in high school I wondered why there were no general studies.

What is your most important scientific achievement or discovery? Why is it important?

I don’t recall any of my important achievements, i.e. I think they were all important to me, each in its own moment. My first article proposal was rejected by a reviewer as unsuitable for publication, and rightly so, as it was gibberish. After that, it wasn’t easy either, I just tried to write more to the point, support the theses with relevant literature, clearly formulate the methodology used, take care of the formal side and so on. In science in general, including the social sciences, the method of small steps is used. Often the same research is repeated on a different sample, using different tools or under different conditions to confirm or reject the influence of variables. Publications based on research conducted under some theory are better received than under grounded theory, even though the assumptions of each theory are also its limitations. Eclecticism and even advertised interdisciplinarity are not at all welcome, at least in the social sciences. What has been done is in the past, what is important is only what we do not yet know, what lies ahead. À proposing the question, I was reminded of how, at one of my master’s or doctoral seminars in the 1980s, my colleagues and I commented on the fact that most of our professor’s and his colleagues’ books were available at the cheap bookstore on Swietokrzyska Street.

What scientific problems in your discipline are you most looking forward to solving and why?

The social sciences, including the economic sciences, are not natural, exact or technical sciences. In the social sciences and economic sciences, the problems are still the same, and sometimes they deepen and build up. The fundamental problem here is human beings and their behaviour. The role of the social sciences is, among other things, to try to look at these problems from a different point of view, from a different perspective or with different tools. Sad to say, but I have no expectations here.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your scientific work?

I will answer this question somewhat perversely, looking back over the years, about what surprises me. When I was starting out in the pre-computer era, I used to have to type everything, even my MA thesis had to be rewritten twice after Prof. Gasparski’s corrections, i.e. I rewrote it once and paid for it to be rewritten a second time. There were relatively few scientific journals, and you had to wait months or even years for an article to be published. In scientific journals, there was visible polemics, sometimes very fierce, between the author(s) and the readers, errata, corrigenda, etc. were published. Authors were paid a small fee for publishing in Polish journals and for reviewing scientific publications. Now, every day my email inbox is littered with proposals frompredatory journals andeditors. International scientific publishers, on the other hand, are not engaged in charitable activities to advance science for the benefit of humanity, but in lucrative business. Numerous journals charge from several hundred to several thousand euros for the publication of an article, prepared by the authors in accordance with formal editorial requirements, in open access and after going through the process of two blind reviews. The editorial costs are incomparably lower. For a free review, you can sometimes get a discount of a few tens of euros, to be used within a certain period of time if you submit an article to this or a brother journal, paying of course the remaining substantial fee. At universities, it is mainly publications in journals indexed in Web of Science and Scopus that count, and especially those in the Q1 and Q2 quartiles. Many colleagues publish articles and chapters in collective works with 3-10 or more authors per article, some of them able to publish 20 or even more papers per year. Is this possible without gift and guest authorship in the social sciences? I doubt it. Once a colleague pointed out to me that I don’t think I know how to work online. But networking can also have a negative dimension, after all, organised crime and the mafia, is also networking. Stress, deals, combinations and cronyism are increasingly common bread. Employees compete against each other in cyclical parametric evaluations and collect the points necessary for successful promotion in competitions for senior professorial positions. In collecting points, quantity counts, which sometimes takes precedence over quality. Courage, independence and integrity are character traits that may not go hand in hand with ambition.

What are the most important research questions you plan to address in the near future? What developments do you see in your field?

First of all, I want to finish what I have started. Apart from that, I have several topics buried for years, more or less advanced, concerning social responsibility and sustainability. So I have something to do. The growth of research and publications on social responsibility and sustainability is enormous and disproportionate to what is happening in the reality around us.

Are there practical implications or potential applications of the results of your research? How do you see their impact on society or the economy?

This is not the field. Technical sciences and medicine provide solutions for practical application. The social and economic sciences undertake the cognition, analysis and explanation of social and economic phenomena, and it is potentially up to the institutions and bodies implementing socio-economic policies to use the results of this research. However, the scientific literature circulates within a very limited circle of specialists in the field and does not reach policy makers. Some applied research includes an executive summary, i.e. a simple, clear summary that decision-makers can understand. Many times, the research results contained in scientific publications are effectively mediated by the mass media, which disseminate knowledge, to policy-makers in companies and state administrations. I have only twice encountered reference to my work in the mass media. In turn, at my university, in 1996, I carried out the first survey of graduates and developed the first marketing plan with colleagues, which significantly improved contact with potential candidates to study at our university. In Portugal, university admissions are centralised and computerised, with no entrance examinations, and candidates can choose up to 10 courses at a time in three phases of candidature. In turn, this results in universities competing with each other for university applicants.

What advice would you give to young scientists at the threshold of their scientific careers

Each scientific discipline is different and incomparable, with its own internal and external conditions, better and worse sides. The fields of science we learned about at university are now history, as new disciplines are emerging at the interface of sometimes very different fields, which are becoming independent. Besides, the conditions for practising science are different in every country. I would not dare to give advice, because every path is different and unique, and you have to walk it yourself. I catch myself making mistakes all the time. One thing I think is essential, not only in science but in every area of life, and that is perseverance, not giving up despite adversity. Beyond that, humility comes in handy. Something I value very much, and which is becoming increasingly rare, is personal courage, not succumbing to pressure, deals, overweening ambition and the exuberant egos of some very important people, but this has a cost.

Fot. Unsplash

Marta Sikora
Olgierd Swiatkiewicz
Written by:

Marta Sikora

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