Helping refugees continue their scientific work in Europe
JRC's 'win-win' initiative
by Edward McCafferty, JRC
Each year millions of people around the world are forced to leave their homes and seek refuge from violence, persecution and disasters. For scientists who find themselves in this situation, it can also mean leaving their work behind, losing touch with their scientific networks and maybe even giving up on research altogether. But being forced to leave home does not have to mean losing knowledge and expertise. To try and prevent that from happening, JRC colleagues run a training and mentoring initiative to help refugee scientists in Europe find ways to continue working in their field.
Last week colleagues welcomed 12 participants of this year's programme to a skills and career development workshop at the JRC's site in Ispra, Italy. There they met our scientists, toured some of the laboratories and found out more about Europe's research systems – from finding a job to funding and publishing research. The two-day visit also gave the participants in-depth information on the role of science in policymaking, as well as tailored training on practical skills.
"Many participants hope to contribute to rebuilding their home countries," explains Jessica Mitchell, JRC policy officer who coordinates the initiative. "The problem is that many get one- or two-year fellowships and then struggle to find a post after. Or some are no longer working in science, and are trying to get back into their field of expertise."
JRC scientists work with refugee scientists
The scheme is in line with the efforts of the EU (most notably through the science4refugees initiative), academia and NGOs to help refugee scientists and researchers to continue their scientific work, develop their skills, and to connect to other European researchers.
Networking is key
Now in its second year following a successful pilot in 2017, the programme includes participants from a wide range of scientific fields – climate change, energy, food, demographics and science communication to name a few.
The importance of networks and mentoring in science was evident in the way that some participants found out about the programme. For example, climate researcher Shifa Mathbout discovered the initiative through a mentor she had at the Global Young Academy – an international society of young scientists who partnered with the JRC on this initiative. Venezuelan science communicator Ricardo Núñez Fornes found out through his large network on Twitter.
Many participants hope to contribute to rebuilding their home countries
Building on these networks and developing practical skills at the workshop was highly valued by the scientists. "To make my network wider, for me, is a very good way to continue my academic journey," explains nutrition expert Eqbal Dauqan. "At the same time, I'm learning how to write my CV in a new way, to apply for awards, to attend conferences, to apply for jobs, the right way to find research funding; all this is very important for our work as scientists."
This networking and the research that the participants are involved in can also be of direct benefit for the EU. Afghan scientist Ahmad Wali Ahmad Yar, for example, is already collaborating with the JRC's migration experts on research looking at the socio-economic integration of immigrants at a local level in Europe. For him the biggest difference between the JRC initiative and similar programmes he has heard of is that "you get information on what's going on inside the institution. We had the chance to visit and talk to experts and professionals here. Their openness and eagerness to explain everything for us and be there to help us has been really valuable."
So what's coming up next in the programme, following the two-day workshop? Jessica explains that "participants will return to the JRC and be hosted in labs or facilities linked to their research field, where they will interact with scientists and develop a career plan with a mentor."
For Ahmad, this means a visit to the JRC's research site in Seville. "I look forward to meeting the professionals there and, if possible, to using their data to help with my research. Their support will be crucial," he says.
After the programme, participants will also be offered mentoring through the JRC's alumni network. And the JRC is exploring more long-term placements in some cases.
Looking further to the future, the scientists are hopeful about their prospects. "Maybe this programme will help me find a permanent position," explains Shifa. "I'm looking for stability because I'm very tired of searching. I'm optimistic that this programme will help lead us there."
More widely, their experiences on the programme could help them to improve things back home. "I'd like to link my research with practical work," says Ahmad. "If things go well and the situation in Afghanistan improves, I'd be happy to use the expertise I gained here for the development of my home country as well."