FOUR GREAT SPEAKERS WE MET AT THE MCAA GENERAL CONFERENCE
Contributing to the success of the MCAA Annual Conference and General Assembly (at the University of Leuven, Belgium, on 2 and 3 February 2018) was the range of different sessions on offer for participants. We were lucky enough to meet four speakers from very different fields - the Mayor of Leuven; a philosopher and sociologist of science; an innovation specialist; and one of the pioneers of the concept of ‘open science’. Below is an overview of what they said for those who couldn’t attend.
Mayor of Leuven — Opening of the conference
“Violence is the enemy of science”
The Annual Conference was opened by the Mayor of the host city, Louis Tobback. He gave awarm welcome to the participants and emphasised the role of KU Leuven in making the city attractive. When we met him afterwards, he emphasised the importance of multiculturalism in a city like Leuven. “There are between 150 and 155 nationalities within the small area of Leuven. That makes for a truly multicultural city and environment,” he said. He also emphasised how Leuven provides scientists with a secure place to conduct their research. Researchers in other locations around the world are not always so lucky, as Mr Tobback reminded his audience during his speech: “Violence is the enemy of science.
“How much talent is wasted with the wars in the Middle East, wherethere is physical and military violence. And what Mr Trump is doing in the United States is also a form of violence that doesn’t favour scientific development in my opinion,” he mused. It is therefore crucial for the scientific community to stay united for the sake of the future and events like the MCAA annual conference are a good opportunity to reinforce this sentiment, Mr Tobback suggested.
Philosopher and sociologist of science —“What’s in the facts? A call for much more open knowledge”
“Psychiatrists study people, I study psychiatrists!”
Trudy Dehue’s session “What’s in the facts? A call for much more open knowledge” attracted a particularly high number of comments on social media (especially on Twitter, in conjunction with the hashtag #MCAAGA18). To give an idea of what she does she usually jokes, “Psychiatrists study people, I study psychiatrists!” The purpose of her session was to question classifications and the way they create realities. According to her theory, definitionsare not neutral, but reflect values in societies. “My simplest example is that if you study poverty, you use a definition of poverty. That precedes the facts and the figures. And the figures cover up the values, but the values are still very active, because the figures are being used in policy programmes. And the values behind the figures are still creating the policies,”
Professor Dehue told us when we met after her session. She believes it is very important to put the definitions and the figures arising from those definitions into perspective. The mental health disorders seen among PhD students are a good example: “You can say PhD students suffer from depression. If we do so, we don’t ask, “what about the system in which PhD students have to work? Little money, having to travel all over the world, no job security, and no building up of a pension if you don’t have a regular job.” Although we are only talking about mental disorders, shouldn’t we also call that injustice?”. Tackling the uncertainty inherent within the academic world could thereforebe a first step to tackling mental disorders among PhD students, Professor Dehue concluded.
Deputy Director of Education at Climate-KIC — Innovation in Europe
“Innovation is anything new you can introduce in the market to address the needs or challenges of people”
Mr Bansal was speaker in the session on innovation. When we met for a chat, he highlighted the role of innovation in today’s world: “as innovators and as researchers, we have a responsibility to innovate ethically”, he said. Although we tend to associate innovation with technology, it can be applied in many different sectors. “Innovation could be also business model innovation. The technology might be there or it might be the same technology, or it might be a very simple technology. But the way you serve the needs of your customers can be very innovative,” he explained. Researchers shouldn’t hesitate to adopt an entrepreneur state of mind, according to Mr Bansal: “see how you can explain why your innovation is needed on the market,
be entrepreneurial and go for it! If you want to learn what a business model is, what finance is, what marketing is, what branding is, how to tell stories, how to sell your business, your product, then go for it!” To him, researchers are already entrepreneurial in that they commit their career to their research without knowing the outcome. Business entrepreneurship involves some adaptation. But for researchers, “the sky is the limit!”.
President of the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers.(Eurodoc) — Open science
“Sharing is caring”
At the end of a very fruitful day, we chatted with Mr O’Neill about opening up research; in other terms, ‘open science’ — “A bit of a buzzword at the moment”. The principle is based on the opening up of a wide range of scientific activities (from the submission of a journal article, to research management for example) and making these activities accessible to other researchers and — why not — to the general public. Challenges remain, however, like data protection and data storage. But there are also benefits from open science for less advanced regions in research terms, said Mr O’Neill. “In these regions, researchers have zero access to publications. They sometimes have to find illegal ways to access research data. It is important for these areas, that they have access to this and can develop their own
research project, and maybe they could come back to us and involve us,” he says. In this sense, “Sharing is caring”.
GETTING STARTED IN PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Charlotte Thorley was invited to speak in a session on how to get started in science communication and public engagement. For those who couldn’t be there in person, she published a blog post.
The session was very dynamic and informative and was attended by an engaged and curious audience of researchers involved in MSC Actions. They were perhaps drawn by the selection of interesting panel members: Sofie Vanthournout, Director of Sense about Science EU; Dominka Bijos, a medical instruction designer for Delta Kn; and MCAA chair, and our very own Calum MacKichan, MCAA chair of communications and Publications Officer for the European Plant Science Organisation. As the discussion was so good, and the questions really important, I thought I’d summarise them in a blog post for posterity! Here goes…
A quick guide to getting involved in science communication and public engagement:
Both Dominika and I shared our experiences of getting involved by just saying ‘yes’ the first time an opportunity came up. The easiest way is to get involved is to say yes to something that someone asks you to do, whether that be speaking to a group of adults one evening, going to a school as part of a careers fair, or writing an opinion piece for a newspaper. This way someone else is going to do a lot of the organisational work (the teacher, your lab-mate, the university, the editor…). Hopefully it will go well, and you’ll be starting on your own engagement journey, but if you don’t enjoy it, you don’t ever have to do it again. At least you tried!
Try things out
As you get more comfortable with engagement, you can try some new ways to communicate and engage. There are so many options available to you and what you will be good at might depend on all sorts of factors, like the time you have available and your other hobbies, interests and skills. As it turns out, after many years of giving workshops in schools and public presentations, I realised I’m not that great at presenting science, but I am brilliant at managing things, and bringing people together to work on a project together. So now, that’s the role I take. You might find that you don’t enjoy live radio interviews, but you love to record podcasts, or you really don’t enjoy writing for blogs but you do get a lot out of twitter. If you are already in an amateur theatre group, you might like to work with them on creating a play that involves your research. Having a go is really the best way to see what suits you.
Good engagement and communication are like any other skills – they take practice. You wouldn’t expect a band to go on stage without rehearsing, so why would someone giving a talk do that? Work on your talks, your writing, your presentation skills, your comedy skills, dancing, drawing, whatever you need to make your activity high quality. That way both you and your audience will get the most from it.
I know, I know, I already told you to say ‘yes’. But engagement stops being enjoyable once you are under too much pressure, and certainly for those of you in academia there are already many other pressures on your time. Prioritise what you get involved with based on you interests, time and values, so that you can be at your best. Your public will thank you for it!
Many grant applications or job roles now expect me to include public engagement in my work, but it’s not something I have much experience with, it’s not my thing. What can I do?
Collaborate. Collaboration is the best way to make sure your first ventures in engagement go well. It might be that you can work with others in your department on an activity they have already set up, or that you might work with an outreach programme from your university or institution that has existing public events, or that you have a friend who leads a dance class who are interested to do something with your work. If you have those other interested and experienced people around you, making something work for you won’t be too hard.
Do you think science communication is something every researcher should be made to do?
No. Fundamentally no. Once this work becomes something that is enforced, then the joy will be sucked out of it, the researcher will resent it, and the audience will respond badly. The research, including my own, backs this up. However, I do believe that everyone can find a type of public engagement that works for them with a little help and that academia should have a general culture of engagement that supports this work in order to do its best for society. If you don’t have a local public engagement officer or network to help you find what works for you, feel free to get in touch!
What about difficult subjects, such as the use of animals in research? Might we not be at risk if we talk about this; after all, some labs have been attacked.
Involving the public in discussions about research is the best way to counteract the negative opinions on subjects like this. Until recently, research, particularly science, was often done behind closed doors, making it difficult for the public to know why it is done the way it is, and even more difficult to trust the outcomes. Engaged research means that researchers are seen as people, with lives, families, hobbies, and this makes science much more part of everyday life. In turn, this means that the decisions researchers make, such as who to include in a clinical trial, whether to spend money on launching a satellite, to turn on the Large Hadron
Collider, or explore the impacts of a new treatment on animals prior to human testing, make much more sense and are more easily empathised with. That’s not to say that there won’t ever be extremists who take extraordinary actions, but it becomes increasingly unlikely and importantly they won’t have public support.
I’d like a career in science communication, but it seems like the competition is high. How can I get my first break?
A tricky one! Keep trying… you will get there eventually. You can improve your chances by contacting the job advertisers ahead of application to learn their values and interests so you can tailor your application accordingly. Include evidence of your activity, such as hyperlinks to videos or websites that include elements of your work, or perhaps send in a portfolio or images to support your application. The three most common mistakes I’ve come across when reviewing applications are quite simple to avoid and might really help. The first is to remember that there are lots of people out there who do science communication in a variety of ways. I’ve received hundreds of applications from people who have told me that they are the first person to think of having a fun approach to science for kids, or a science podcast. Take the time to research what else people are doing and frame your experience in that context. I would have been impressed to hear why those people thought their approaches were different from others, or how they built on existing knowledge. Secondly, look up the organisation you are applying to, to find out what they do and how they do it. And as mentioned, ring them up and ask. I’ve done too many interviews with people who don’t really know what we do, or even can’t remember the name of the organisation. Nerves and forgetfulness are fine, but laziness isn’t. Finally, CV’s for jobs outside of academia should be no more than 2 sides of A4. It’s not a lot of room, I know, but honestly, if I get 100 applications, I don’t have time to read your publication list. Keep the information recent and relevant.
How can I get my organisation to be more supportive of public engagement and sci com?
Great question... I might have to do another post about that! There were more questions, and lots of suggestions for ways you can get involved. Sense about Science is running its #askforevidence campaign, as well as workshops to help you stand up for science. Pint of Science is expanding, and there's maybe a Bright Club near you. Whatever you get involved with, I hope you enjoy it!
'' I ATTENDED MY FIRST MCAA GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND IT WAS GREAT"
An environmental engineer experienced in environmental biotechnology, Sara Johansson currently works on TreatRec, a European Industrial Doctorate (EID) project funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) programme. She attended the MCAA General Assembly and shared her impressions in an ethusiastic blog post.
I am just back from three intense days in Leuven where I attended the MCAA General Assembly together with my TreatRec colleague Yaroslav. It was a really great experience that far surpassed my expectations; let's be honest, elections of the board did not sound that exciting to me, but the GA had so much more to offer than that! First of all, I met an inspiring crowd of devoted young researchers from different disciplines and, since this is the MCAA, from a vast number of countries. There were also sessions on topics spanning from protection of intellectual property to science communication to how to balance professional and personal life in a research career. Katia Levecque talked about the prevalence of risk factors linked with mental health disorders among PhD students, a topic she discussed in a paper that attracted much attention last year, but I found even more interesting the approach of Gerard Govers, a professor at KU Leuven and former Director of the Doctoral School of Science and Technology there. He pointed out that research is a difficult process; failing experiments, uncertain outcomes, wrong turns and dead-ends are all part of the development of an idea. Instead of fooling ourselves into thinking that it will be easy, he suggested that we should accept the fact that conducting research is a daunting task and focus on how to deal with disappointment, unexpected results, competition and the difficult interpersonal relationships that are all part and parcel of it. I was also very impressed by the work of the Policy Working Group, which aims to raise awareness on issues related to science policy. Topics they work on include
Open Science, employability of the current PhD surplus, the limited amount of permanent positions in academia, and academic refugees. One of the speakers highlighted the uneven flux of researchers to and from specific countries. Spain is just one example: the number of early stage researchers leaving is several times bigger than the number of early stage researchers entering. Being one of those, and noticing that I didn't meet a single other Swedish researcher during the meeting, while I on the other hand met several Spanish and Italians and Indians (and a surprisingly large number of Argentinians), underlined this. Next year the MCAA General Assembly will be held in Vienna and I am already looking forward to going there and I highly recommend that you do too!
IPCHAIN DATABASE: REVOLUTIONISING THE PROTECTION OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
All academic research relies primarily on cost-effective intellectual property strategies. Through the strategic disclosure of an invention, competing researchers and corporate developers are effectively precluded from obtaining a patent on the innovator’s idea. This established concept of defensive publication will soon be revolutionised through the use of IPCHAIN Database’s Blockchain technology. Traditional defensive publication in peer-reviewed journals requires a great deal of time and additional work and thus may pose a legitimate risk for researchers keen on quickly protecting their continued freedom to operate. Submitted articles take time to write, often take months to get published and are always at risk of being rejected by the journal. From the time of inception to the eventual publishing of the invention, there is no protection for the scientist’s intellectual property; despite the fact that they may share that information with others. The IPCHAIN Database directly addresses and effectively solves this problem. The IPCHAIN Database (www.ipchaindatabase. com) is based on decentralised Blockchain technology, and as an incorruptible digital ledger, will change the way defensive publication is achieved in the context of scientific research. By adhering to the standards and international classification guidelines set forth by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), IPCHAIN Database publications, which are considerably easier and faster to file, can be used as definitive proof in legal proceedings, and therefore qualify as prior art in the eyes of patent offices around the world. By using the IPCHAIN Database, the scientist effectively prevents other parties from obtaining a patent on his or her invention, and can even defend existing patents by using the ICPHAIN Database for the defensive publication of incremental innovations. In countries that use the so-called first-inventorto- file system (FITF), such as the United States, the Russian Federation, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Australia and many others, the discloser can also profit from a grace period during which he or she may file a patent. The IPCHAIN Database works in
conjunction with traditional defensive publication in scientific journals or on its own. The scientific advantage of one’s innovation being featured in a peer-reviewed journal has led the IPCHAIN Database to devise an optional rating option. This allows for published authors in their respective fields, as proven experts, to give feedback on the innovation’s relevancy, form, and content. This ensures that the IPCHAIN Database is able to offer all the advantages of traditional defensive publication without any of its inherent risks.
For more information on better protecting your innovations, please visit www.ipchaindatabase.com
OPEN CALL FOR ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS
Partners in the EU-funded CORBEL project have launched an Open Call for Advanced Research Projects, offering all scientists in Europe – whether working in academia or industry – a unique opportunity to accelerate their research. Project proposals should request access to at least two different research infrastructures. CORBEL will fund the service providers and will also cover travel and accommodation costs. Supported by the Open Call project managers, successful applicants will be offered open access to cutting-edge technologies and services available from more than 20 service providers at 10 European research infrastructures.
BOOST YOUR RESEARCH WITH OPEN ACCESS SERVICES & TECHNOLOGIES
How research infrastructures can support your projects
Funding, access to technology and expertise, building new collaborations and developing multidisciplinary projects are only a few examples of the challenges faced by scientists. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of tools and resources being developed to help overcome some of the bottlenecks in research. Biological and Medical Sciences’ (BMS) Research Infrastructures fall into this category1. These resources offer open access services to tools and technologies with the sole aim of supporting the progress of innovation and excellent research. This article gives a practical overview of how to take advantage of the opportunities offered by BMS Research Infrastructures.
Euro-BioImaging: the BMS Research Infrastructure for imaging
A huge range of research projects require some sort of imaging input. Many researchers are often faced with the challenge that the state-of-the-art equipment and technical expertise required to perform advanced imaging is not available at their home institute. This is exactly what Euro-BioImaging aims to overcome and support — this research infrastructure was built to break down the barriers associated with biological and medical imaging. Euro-BioImaging is a European-wide network of 29 imaging facilities (also known as, Nodes) offering a selection of 36 distinct imaging technologies. Euro-BioImaging offers the following open access services:
Access to cutting-edge imaging technologies: whether you are interested in imaging molecules, cells or organisms, Euro-BioImaging offers access to the latest imaging technologies to allow you to generate innovative results.
Expert training and support: each Node is staffed with personnel who can provide the support required to maximise the output of your research project. Guidance is available for all aspects of the imaging pipeline, from study design to image capture. Image processing and storage: data storage and analysis re significant problems considering the large and complex datasets generated by imaging technologies. Euro-BioImaging can help extract meaningful conclusions from your data and, through tools such as Image Data Resource3, can give you the means to store and disseminate your data. All life scientists, from academia
to industry, across Europe and beyond, can access Euro-BioImaging services. Click here to apply. Currently Euro-BioImaging can support user projects (costs related to travel and access) when they come in via the iNEXT project (http://www.inext-eu.org/) or the CORBEL project. Read on to find out more……
CORBEL’s Open Call for Advanced
In addition to Euro-BioImaging, there are 12 other biological and medical Research Infrastructures in Europe. These 13 research infrastructures are currently working together via the CORBEL project, which aims to harmonise access to the plethora of services available across Europe.
The CORBEL project partners are now pleased to announce their second Open Call!
For this Open Call, more than 20 European facilities from 10 different research infrastructures across Biological and Medical Sciences have joined forces and combine their technologies and scientific expertise to support advanced research projects. Applications can be submitted online with an open-ended deadline. Successful applicants will be offered up to €5 000 to access cutting-edge technologies and services available in fields such as biobanking, translational medicine, clinical research, curated databases, systems biology, mouse mutant phenotyping, marine model organisms, advanced imaging technologies, high-throughput screening, or structural biology. Click here to find out more about the call and submit your application. To help you prepare for this opportunity you can also visit the CORBEL Catalogue of Services. This easyto- use tool aims to help life scientists to easily view, understand and access the main services of the 13 research infrastructures. Follow @EuroBioImaging and @CORBEL on Twitter for the latest news, updates and funding opportunities.