NEWS FROM THE CHAPTERS
MEET THE CHAIR OF THE BENELUX CHAPTER
Esther Volz, in her own words
Hi, I’m Esther from Germany. I grew up in a small town full of vineyards close to the city of Heidelberg in the south-west of the country. I moved further south to study bioengineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. After a research project in Switzerland and an exchange semester in Norway, I knew I would like to move abroad for some time after my studies. Having participated in internships in applied sciences, I figured I am more interested in applied rather than fundamental research. During the last years of my studies, I got very excited about microorganisms and how they can be used to produce all kind of bio-based products. Hence, I was very happy when I was offered to join the Marie-Curie Project MetaRNA since it meant that I could go abroad again and do research on microorganisms at DSM, a Dutch multinational life and material science company. Four years went by fast and I am currently busy writing my thesis on the development of new biosensors for the detection of fungal products. Let’s see what comes next.
Esther heard about the MCAA for the first time, when one of her friends invited her to the General Assembly in Leuven in 2018.
“I honestly got excited about MCAA from the beginning,” she says. “I think one main reason for this was
that MCAA connects you with researchers from all over the world from many different scientific disciplines which leads to endless opportunities for exciting discussions and a lot of fun.”
By coincidence, elections for the Benelux Chapter’s board were held shortly after the General Assembly. At first, Esther hesitated to apply, as the MCAA was new to her. But she decided to run for the position of chair. And she was successful.
“When I heard I was elected, I felt a huge rush of motivation - not only for my PhD, but also to bring the Chapter forward,” she says. “I always enjoyed the planning and organisation of events and am happy that the MCAA allows me to do this.”
The Chapter counts 285 members. However, as the Benelux region gathers more than 1 000 MCAA members, there is a huge potential to increase membership. Esther is planning to set up a mass mailing campaign to encourage potential members to join.
On 13 June, the Chapter organised an event in Luxembourg, in collaboration with the agency Luxinnovation. It was an informative session about Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) Actions Individual Fellowships. Esther and Pavlo Bazilinsky, the vice-chair, also introduced the MCAA and the Chapter.
“In total, more than 30 people joined, and we were able to recruit three new MSCA fellows to join the MCAA and the Chapter,” says Esther. “During the networking drinks, we learned about common issues and training demands from our fellows in Luxembourg and are in contact with them to plan more events in the future.”
‘VISUALISE YOUR RESEARCH’
Scientists encounter quite a few challenges when it comes to explaining their research to their friends and family, or even other scientists. A workshop organised by the Benelux Chapter on 25 June proved a unique opportunity to learn how to use visual techniques to illustrate and explain a research project to the general public.
Led by Annett from the Studio VonKatz, the workshop included drawing, visual thinking techniques, storytelling and a final presentation of participants’ work. “About 15 scientists, mostly PhDs, from all over the Netherlands joined and we received very good feedback,” says Esther. “It was a very nice and open atmosphere and we learned a lot. As a follow up, we already planned a shorter session on data visualisation together with Annett during the GA 2020 and I am sure more workshops will follow.”
On September 10, an online seminar titled “How do you maintain professional connections over time and space?” was co-organised with MCAA North American Chapter. On September 23, the Benelux Chapter held a session on “The role of scientists in policymaking” that was given by the MCAA Policy Working Group.
JOIN THE CHAPTER!
Esther encourages all potential members to join! “If you want to benefit from our local events and get in contact with other fellows in your region, you should definitely join,” she says. “We are also always open to new ideas and happy about everyone who decides to actively contribute to our Chapter. And we always make sure to have some free drinks after our meetings!”
THE MCAA NEWSLETTER STAFF
A NEW CHAIR FOR THE IRELAND CHAPTER
Sushil Mishra, in his own words
I am an Indian national, currently working as a Marie-Curie Fellow in Advance Glycoscience Research Cluster (AGRC) at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI). In July 2018, I joined the Glycoscience Group of Prof. Lokesh Joshi in NUI Galway (Ireland) and started working on the SUGARSmart project (Smart design of recombinant antibody fragments specific for carbohydrate molecules). My project is about the structure-guided design of antibody fragments to recognise carbohydrate epitopes acting as an allergen or hallmark of malignancy in cells. I am very excited about this project as I am learning experimental techniques that I will also be using later in my research to validate the computational predictions.
FROM INDIA TO IRELAND
Surprisingly, Sushil’s motivation to apply for the Chair position of the Ireland Chapter stems from his membership in the Indian Chapter. “I observed that the India Chapter was more active and organised several activities throughout the year,” he explains. “I got some stimulus from this and decided to contribute more actively to the Ireland Chapter’s activities.”
OBJECTIVES OF THE CHAPTER
An upcoming meeting with the vicechair, Amir Tabakovic, and several other members will pave the way for future activities. “My aim is to identify active members and to involve them to reinforce the MCAA’s presence at all other universities in Ireland,” says Sushil. We are planning to organise monthly meetings in different cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. ”The Ireland Chapter’s chair is also planning to campaign on social media to attract new members and to enhance networking.
The Chapter counts 149 members. According to Sushil, the challenge is to use the potential of these members within the Chapter’s activities. “We target 200 members with a focus on ‘active’ members. We are reaching out to the research offices at the universities and asking the to forward our emails to MCAA fellows at their university. I am hoping that our local social events in different cities will help us to identify those members,” he explains.
The Chapter offered support to members to attend the event "Scientifically Speaking: Communications Training for Researchers" organised by the British Council in Dublin on 27 August - 6 September.
Sushil and his team are also currently liaising with MCSA National Contact Points and Enterprise in Ireland to organise an "MSCA Fellows" event for Individual Fellows.
Jokingly, Sushil was also quick to note that the Chapter offers its members more than just “free pints of Guinness”. “We’d be reaching out to new members by telling them how the Chapter could help them in having a better social life in Ireland as well as their professional development. Knowing other fellows from a different research background and countries will open up opportunities for collaboration in future and job hunting” he says.
As such, Sushil invites all current and past MSCA Fellows to join the Chapter!
Contact Sushil Mishra firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact the Chapter ireland.Chapter@mariecuriealumni.eu
Follow the Chapter on Twitter @MCAA_Ireland
THE MCAA NEWSLETTER STAFF
GREEK CHAPTER’S FIRST ANNUAL MEETING
The Greek Chapter, an official component of the MCAA, is up and running again since 2019. Newly appointed Chair, Eirini Papageorgiou, and researchers from near and far gathered in Athens to discuss about the visions and missions of the Chapter for the upcoming months.
CHAPTER’S CREATION AND MEMBERS
In 2015, 18 Marie-Curie members in Greece took the initiative to found the Greek Chapter with the guidance of the MCAA Events and Networking Group. The Chapter initially organised a flurry of events and activities both for Marie-Curie beneficiaries and the general public, but people’s attendance started to decrease over time.
Now, Eirini Papageorgiou – the new Chair of the Greek Chapter (elected in January 2019) – will pick up the torch and continue the work to further promote the Chapter. The aim is to increase the number of members (who currently count 98) and boost participation at future meetings and activities.
The first annual meeting that took place in Athens in July 2019 proved a great opportunity to meet the Greek Chapter members, share opinions and decide on the future plan of activities and events that will further increase the visibility of the Chapter. “We want to create a club that someone would find interest in joining – so it has to be both educational and fun,” said Eirini Papageorgiou.
During a round table session, attendees formed in small groups to discuss important objectives and activities. Eirini Papageorgiou highlighted that focusing on matters that are practical, feasible and visible would be a good start. “We would like to show that the Chapter is present and active, and exploits the services that MCAA offers. We want to be not only a Chapter in papers, but also in practice,” she said.
The Chair and attendees agreed on a list of objectives during the meeting. Several main goals are listed below:
- Incorporating active social media channels into the MCAA Greek Chapter marketing strategy to promote events and activities, grow membership and keep members engaged and informed.
- Organising a certain number of local networking meetings each year at which members of the Greek Chapter can gather to chat, exchange ideas, knowledge and experience.
- Making Researchers’ Night more interactive and engaging through interesting installations. Visitors will have the chance to discover how research and science contribute to improving everyday life. Kids will also explore, play and learn science in a fun and tangible way.
- Advertising the Greek Chapter through open seminars and workshops especially when the Chapter community grows in number. Topics should include preparation of successful MSCA-IF proposals, CV writing, protection of intellectual property, and career development after the MC fellowship.
- Promoting Science Slams events where scientists communicate their own scientific research work in a fun way.
According to Eirini Papageorgiou, this annual meeting is the first of a series of events to follow. Her aim will be to create further opportunities for discussions and networking to encourage members’ collaboration. “We are a local hub, not just a group of researchers,” she said.
THE MCAA NEWSLETTER STAFF
THE WESTERN BALKANS CHAPTER IS UP AND RUNNING
Radenka, in her own words
I was born and raised in Podgorica, Montenegro and graduated in Electrical Engineering and Electronics at the University of Montenegro. After earning my Masters in Scanning Electron Microscopy at ISUFI, University of Salento, in Italy, I decided to focus on solid state physics and material science. I started my PhD research at University Ca’ Foscari in Venice in 2002, and defended my doctorate at EMAT, the University of Antwerp in 2006. After studying in Italy and Belgium, I worked on luminescent nanomaterials in Serbia and France and electron microscopy in Portugal.
I am a current MSCA Individual Fellow in Physics at the ENEA Cassacia Research Centre in Rome, Italy. My project, NanoPyroMat, aims to develop nanomaterials for ambient energy harvesting applications. I am the co-founder and chair of the MCAA Western Balkans Chapter. Outside of work, I am kept very busy by my two young sons.
The kick-off event in Podgorica, Montenegro was a great faceto-face meeting of nine founding members of the Chapter, the MCAA Vice-Chair Mostafa Moonir Shawrav as the representative of the MCAA Board, three guests and one journalist. All the members present were proactive and togeth
er we generated lots of ideas for future activities. We voted for the board members and defined the Chapter’s strategy. The Chapter has national representatives from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, who are the go-to contact point for those countries. We hope to expand and cover all the territories in our region soon.
We were very lucky to have support from our member Branka Žižić, from the Ministry of Science of Montenegro. The same ministry provided the venue and helped us achieve good local media coverage. After the meeting I gave an interview to the Montenegrin daily newspaper Pobjeda about our Chapter and the work of the MCAA. Additionally, four of our members spoke to Montenegrin National TV for their science magazine programme, which was aired on their channel in September. These were great opportunities to raise awareness of MSCA opportunities and to help us increase engagement from researchers in the Balkan region.
We have 60 members. Currently, about 25% of them are active members, so we have achieved a stable and active critical mass of engaged members. We would like to reach 100 members in the next 12 months.
The Western Balkans Chapter aims to connect and represent MSCA fellows and alumni from the Western Balkan region, with many of them residing
abroad and being part of the so-called “scientific diaspora”. We see our role as being almost like a pressure group in our region, advocating for best practice in science and research and the adoption of policies and approaches that should help science in the Balkans reach wider European and global standards. A large part of this involves promoting MSCA actions, the MCAA, and Responsible Research and Innovation both to researchers and to relevant stakeholders in the Balkans, including both governmental and academic institutions. We will try to drive greater interest, engagement and participation of the research community in the Western Balkans, particularly in terms of MSCA opportunities, as, unfortunately, the number of applications coming from our part of the world is still pretty low.
There are a few things worth highlighting in our plans for next year. The Chapter has applied to hold two sessions at two key upcoming events in 2020: the MCAA General Assembly and Annual Conference in March 2020 in Zagreb and the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) in July 2020 in Trieste. We are waiting for the selection results. These would be great opportunities to discuss some of the important issues for the Western Balkans, such as the barriers faced by researchers in terms of career progression or how to improve role of science in decision-making in this part of the world.
We also aim to take part in the European Researchers’ Nights in our respective countries and to organise several MSCA and MCAA promotional events throughout the year. We are open to holding joint events with other MCAA Chapters and Working Groups and are always happy to work together with other members of the wider MCAA family.
RESEARCH IN THE WESTERN BALKANS
Western Balkan countries are all relatively small and, in many ways, are still in transition politically, economically, and socially. The region has experienced difficult times in the recent past that have slowed down progress in the research and innovation sector and that continue to cause a pronounced “brain drain” from the Western Balkans, which is also a problem for South East Europe in general. There are many challenges to overcome to catch up to EU averages, not only in research but also in creating effective science policy, achieving gender equality and driving public engagement. Sadly, the Western Balkan region does not have a very progressive attitude towards gender relations and equality; there is a lot of rather old-fashioned, discriminatory thinking, both in the workplace and in general.
Regarding research in the Balkans, there are obvious "visible" barriers to effective science, notably the low level of investment in science, the lack of large-scale research infrastructure, and the absence of reliable career pathways for mobile scientists. On the other hand, there are also underreported, "invisible" issues such as workplace mobbing, nepotism, corruption in academia, and entrenched attitudes towards things like career breaks and industrial collaboration. We have had a lot of scandals in academia that have recently hit the region, related to issues like plagiarism and academic integrity. So far, we haven’t seen substantive national or regional initiatives to address these problems, or to drive the significant change in the research cultures or working practices that we need.
JOIN THE CHAPTER!
We strongly believe that better science can lead to better societies. We all want to see the Western Balkans doing better. We hope to see our region playing a full and active part in the European research environment, not through braindrain, but rather brain gain and brain circulation instead.
Join us and help us open up the European horizons for research in the Western Balkan region. Follow us on Twitter @MCAA_WB or get in touch with the Board via the MCAA portal. We’d love to hear from you.
Contact the Western Balkans Chapter email@example.com
RADENKA KRSMANOVIC WHIFFEN