Returned Brain Escaped Again


Doctor Mary Anne Tafuri has an Italian degree in Archaeology from Rome, a British PhD in Archaeology from the University of Southampton and has worked in both England and Italy. Today, she answers questions about her everyday life in these two corners of Europe exclusively for the Wessex Scene.

How did you first arrive in Southampton?

After completing my university course in Rome,  I had to choose between applying for a PhD in Italy or in the UK. I decided to contact a professor, who at that time was working in Southampton. I was really interested in his studies especially in his methodological approach, and he was also enthusiastic about my project related to Italian prehistory. He invited me to join him in England, and this is how I arrived in Southampton.

How was the first impact?

I am bilingual so I didn’t have any language problem, which is generally a tough obstacle when you move to a new country. I had to deal with the other ordinary difficulties, of course, such as finding a house to rent, being introduced to a new team and so on. But I was very fortunate as I think the environment at the university is great. My PhD colleagues and the academics were very friendly and interested in the contributtion I could make to their research. In addition, working in a multicultural team was a plus for me since it rarely happens in Italy. I obviously had to find the funds to support my studies and my salary. With the help of my tutor I applied for two grant applications and I won the bursaries.

You also spent one year and half in Southampton working as an assistant professor before teaching in Rome. What are the main differences between British and Italian students?

When I was a student in Italy there was a rigid separation between the professor and his class. Once I started to teach in the UK I found that the environment is different: the professors and students are used to collaborating. Later, when I started to teach in Rome, I noticed this tendency had also been adopted in Italy. There are still some differences:  firstly, British students are a bit younger than Italians. Italian students have a very accurate and extent preparation but they are less critical compared with the British students. On the other hand, British students are very critical, but their university programmes are less wide. These two aspects tend to integrate, that’s why an Italian emigrating to a British context is always very appreciated.

Why did you decide to return to Italy?

I didn’t mind to stay in the UK, but I decided to come back to Italy for personal reasons. I won an Italian ministerial contest, informally known as “Brain re-enter”, which helps upper graduated- working- abroad Italians to repatriate and tries to overcome a typical Italian problem: that of the brain-drain. I signed a 4-year contract to teach physical anthropology at “Sapienza: University of Rome” the same place where I had studied some years earlier. It has been a very positive experience but it has ended now because of the chronic lack of investment for research in Italy. As many of my colleagues after the 4 years I lost my position and I had to find a new job, and that is why I am in Cambridge at the moment. The returned brain has escaped again!

 What future does a graduate student have today?

These are very hard times everywhere in Europe, but I think there are more possibilities in the UK. The PhD system itself works in a different way. In the UK, the PhDs are open to everyone, you have choose and  find your funds. It’s difficult especially after the financial cuts but there is still a general support of research . In Italy you have to undertake a public competition. The funds are insignificant and not available for all of  the few winners. Moreover, the perspective is different in the UK. If you want to continue the academic career you have to finish a PhD, then a post doc and after that you will find a job. In Italy, if you are lucky, you can undertake a PhD, if you are very lucky you may attend a post doc, but you have very few chances to find a job related to your studies. I am experimenting this system on my skin. This dramatic sensation of not being rewarded in Italy push many young people to go abroad. In a few years we will know who is right, the ones emigrated or the others who remained fighting for their rights. Both of these choices are very hard, especially as one needs to find a balance between family projects and the career.

Eventually, would you like to share with the readers one of your memories of living in Southampton?

I grew up in Rome, which is near to the seaside but not as close to the seaside as Southampton is. I remember my first New Year’s Eve I spent there. At midnight all the sirens of the ships began to resound. I know this might be extremely common in every port city of the world, but this is one of those memory  fixed in your mind for no reason  and you can’t get rid of it  for the rest of your life.





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5 things about me: Student Writer Photographer Cosmopolitan Bergamo - Rome, Italy

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