NEW BOARD ELECTED IN FIRST-EVER ONLINE VOTING
In an unprecedented move, nearly 500 members voted exclusively online on 27-28 March for the Executive Committee and Board that will govern the MCAA for the period 2020-2022.
Outgoing Vice-Chair Mostafa Moonir Shawrav was elected to serve at the helm of the MCAA for the next two years. A member since 2013, he was a founding member of both the Austrian Chapter and the Research Funding Working Group.
As vice-chair, Mostafa led the sponsorship team that generated nearly a 300 % increase in revenue,
established synergies between
MCAA Chapters and Working Groups, collaborated with multi- level stakeholders (e.g. European Commission, AAAS, UNESCO) and represented the MCAA in international events (e.g. World Science Forum). His organisational efforts helped make 2019’s MCAA GA & Annual Conference in Vienna an overwhelming success. Mostafa is also the first recipient of the ‘MCAA Alumni of the Year’ award.
A VISION FOR FUTURE NEEDS AND CHALLENGES
As the new chair, Mostafa has laid down a vision that centres around three specific strategies: financial sustainability, capacity building and policy development affecting researchers’ lives. “For an international non-profit to run properly, it’s essential to achieve financial sustainability,” he says. “I’d like to generate revenue by organising workshops, partnerships and projects with international organisations, fundraising events and donations.”
“In building capacity for the MCAA and its members, I want to offer more professional and career development training opportunities,” Mostafa continues. “As a result, both the association and members can exploit the learned skills and strategies to adapt to the constantly changing industrial world and the uncertain academic environment.”
Detailing his plan, Mostafa says, “In terms of policy, I propose to conduct systematic studies and surveys to measure the impact of researcher contributions and career issues.”
These studies will “help the MCAA to work with regional and national organisations, funding agencies, academia and industry on issues impacting researchers’ situations,” he explains.
“I want to shine a light on issues representing gender, diversity and under-represented groups. Let’s move forward together!"
MEET THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Fernanda Bajanca Policy
Working Group Chair (2017-2019)
“My main goal is to cement this bottom-up approach as the internal working culture of the MCAA. Adding both my MCAA and professional management experience, I believe that I’ll bring added value to the board, specifically focusing on strategic planning administration, HR management, alumni engagement and internal policy development.”
MCAA Vice-Chair (2018-20)
Scotland Chapter Founding Chair
“I want to continue playing a role in helping individuals explore new career opportunities, both because of the meaningful relationships they established through the MCAA and because of the new creative possibilities they are exposed to when participating in this rich community.”
Original MCAA Board Member
Head of Events and Network General Interest Group
“I wish to implement all the acquired knowledge in finance and management and to make full use of my international experience in different types of environments for the benefit of the MCAA and its researchers.”
Marina Rantanen Modeer
German Chapter Chair
“I aim to further support MCAA activities and develop the communication with, and outreach to, our members. I’m also particularly interested in contributing to discussions on Open Science and stimulating more collaborations between academia and industry.”
ORDINARY BOARD MEMBERS
- Alexandra Dubini
- Donata Iandolo
- Ana Lopes
- Sara Ricardo
- Karen Stroobants
- Esther Voltz
NEWLY ELECTED CHAIR TALKS ABOUT ESSENTIAL CHANGES
The MCAA has come a long way since it was founded eight years ago, and its future looks brighter than ever, according to newly elected chair Mostafa Moonir Shawrav. His goal is to leverage synergies to promote growth and capacity building.
If diversity is key to growth in today’s global arena, the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) is in excellent shape. The MCAA is teeming with diversity of thought, perception, background, and experience.
Newly elected chair Mostafa Moonir Shawrav is attuned to this. He understands first-hand how important it is not only to celebrate MCAA’s diversity, but also to make the most of it. Harnessing the power to create synergies will be one of the new chair’s top goals during his two-year term.
“Just look at the diversity of our association,” says Mostafa. “We have members from 143 countries. There are very few organisations with such an impressive number of members representing so many nationalities.”
MCAA’s diversity is not just about its geographical and cultural distribution, it is also about research coverage. The association boasts a diverse community of researchers exploring almost every branch of knowledge.
“While this may also be a challenge, it is also an opportunity for the MCAA,” notes Mostafa. “I see it as an opportunity to work as a community on some of the most pressing global issues and to become a leading voice calling for collective and organised work on those issues.”
Diversity is clearly a big buzzword for the new board. For the first time in MCAA history, women outnumber men on the board. “Having nine women on the board is brilliant,” says Mostafa. “It clearly shows how diverse the association is and how much MCAA members value diversity. It is the first time I feel very glad to be in a minority position!”
GROWING IN NUMBERS, BUILDING CAPACITY
The MCAA is growing. According to Mostafa, growth can be seen not just in the number of members (currently more than 14,800) but in the breadth and depth of the association’s activities. As such, capacity building is vital for the future of MCAA in empowering members to realise their full potential.
“The MCAA needs to be self- sustainable in terms of management and finances,” explains Mostafa. “We will work to develop and coordinate efforts with all our Chapters and Working Groups about how to raise funds, and how
to generate revenue through workshop and training services, as well as to secure funds through successful project proposals.”
"It is important for the MCAA to have in place a regular revenue generating system and to become more structured in terms of internal management and policy,” he adds.
Drawing on the different strengths and expertise of the members is a vital key to achieve this goal. This is why Mostafa is eager to encourage members to get involved. “We will open the volunteer calls for different working groups or different topics,” he says. “It is important for members to get involved. This is an association run by volunteers.”
Mostafa also stresses that his door (that is, his email inbox) is always open. “If you want to contribute on any issue, please let us know. We are always in listening mode! We want to hear from members. We want to hear your suggestions.”
Fundraising is just as important as volunteers and something that Mostafa will actively promote during his tenure as MCAA chair. A presentation he prepared for this year’s General Assembly (cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak) will be repackaged as a webinar.
“When we talk about fundraising, we cannot just ask people to start raising their own funds,” says Mostafa. “First, we need to provide the proper infrastructure and support. We need to train the brain. This is why I am currently planning a fundraising training programme. The full training was offered already at the General Assembly. It is a wonderful programme on alumni relations, fundraising, non-profit leadership, and effective communication.”
“Unfortunately, this was not realised,” he adds. “So, I am now working to prepare a webinar for our members and chairs.”
As vice-chair in the previous board, Mostafa was in contact (directly or indirectly) with probably all MCAA members. This means he has an excellent sense of what members expect from the association, which can be integrated with the results of the Europe-wide survey that was done some time ago to identify the most common challenges that MCAA members face.
“Some members want more career development opportunities and others are looking for more networking opportunities,” says Mostafa. “Overall, I believe our members want support. When they are looking for opportunities or find themselves in a stressful situation, they turn to MCAA for assistance.”
Career development is certainly at the top of Mostafa’s two-year agenda. Offering members additional career development opportunities is on the horizon. Mostafa, who organised a workshop on this topic at the World Science Forum last year, says he is keen to take the MCAA to the next level on this topic. His motto is to provide a customised solution for the assessed individual needs of each member.
Not surprisingly, mentoring is also a big part of Mostafa’s vision. The MCAA Academy, which has been established by previous boards, will increasingly become key towards this goal.
Career assessment is also crucial in the landscape of Open Science. “We will closely work with the European Commission, as well as with the national governments on policy level in this direction,” explains Mostafa. “I have already planned a meeting with the researchers who are affected by Covid-19 and we will ask the European Commission to offer adaptability and flexibility for the MSCA projects. We will always be the voice of the MCAA researchers and will contribute to their development,” he adds.
Regular evaluation and monitoring will also be part of the strategy of the association, as Mostafa plans to open a Survey Working Group and will ensure the setting up of systematic surveys to measure the impact of the association’s programmes. Depending on the results, action will be adjusted accordingly.
A GROWTH MINDSET
Mostafa is keen on taking on new initiatives for the MCAA. He explains the principles of his leadership style: “I believe in enabling people to maximise their potential. I would like to do the same for our board and our chapter chairs. I would like to give them the autonomy, the freedom and the support so that they can do what needs to be done.”
To enable the autonomy of the MCAA Board members, effective communication is of paramount importance. “Our structure is complex, as we have internal and external stakeholders like the contractor, the European Commission, our chapter chairs, our members and volunteers and even external partner organisations,” says Mostafa. “This complicated structure is neither top-down, nor bottom-up. It is a rather complex organism with up, down and parallel branches with different allocation of tasks and authority where specific components react and respond in their unique way. So, the communication and decision-making process is not so straightforward. Changing or creating a protocol when necessary is even more challenging. But what the MCAA has already done is to prove that we are committed to our response-ability”
“I believe we have shown our capabilities as an association,” he adds. “In order to reach our full potential, we need to take new initiatives. This will be at the heart of my leadership style. To enable people and help people maximise their potential.”
“I’m originally an engineer from Bangladesh. I later studied and worked in the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. Over the past 10 years, I have conducted research in nanotechnology and expanded my horizon through leadership, management personal coaching. As the vice-chair of the MCAA from 2018 to 2020, I improved the internal governance process, increased sponsorship and organised 2019 GA & Annual Conference of the association. In short, I am a scientist well-connected with academia, the industry and the non-profit sector with expertise in science diplomacy and entrepreneurship"
Fernanda, in her own words
I joined MCAA in 2013, before its official creation as an AISBL (Association without lucrative purpose, in the Belgian Law). In 2016, I became a Policy Working Group member, chairing from 2017 to 2019. I worked for about 20 years as a developmental biologist in Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam, Braga, London, Kyoto, Toulouse. Then, I got bored with lab routine, frustrated at instability and decided to change careers. My experience at the MCAA was key to this decision. I currently manage clinical research at a children’s hospital in France. I need a sense of purpose in all I do. This is a common point throughout my life choices.
CHAIR OF THE POLICY WORKING GROUP & BEST WORKING GROUP AWARD
Fernanda chaired the MCAA Policy Working Group between 2017 and 2019. She recalls the challenges involved when leading a team. “We are all volunteers, peers, and I am still nowadays far from being an expert in policy. My job was facilitated by the competence and professionalism of the most active Policy WG members. Thanks to this collective work the MCAA is becoming a respected voice in European science policy,” she says.
The Policy Working Group won in 2019 the “Best Working Group Award”. Fernanda gives some tips for the attention of members willing to follow this example: “Nurture the people! The Best Working Group Award is never the work of an individual but that of a passionate group of active members. Second, a chair needs to know how to delegate. Finally, each WG is different, the internal governance model needs to be adapted to the requirements of each group. In the Policy WG, several task forces were created to focus on specific themes and/or activities,” explains Fernanda.
Chairing the Policy WG also had a direct impact on Fernanda’s career. “I realised project management was what I liked the most in my research, not so much the lab work. I changed careers to be able to do it professionally,” she says.
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTOR AWARD
Fernanda was awarded the MCAA “Outstanding Contributor Award” in 2019. “It is always rewarding to see our efforts recognised, validated by your peers. It meant a lot. But at the same time, I was lucky to be chairing a visible WG.”
According to Fernanda, the support from the other members is what matters the most. “That was in itself a very meaningful prize,” she adds.
MCAA REPRESENTATIVE AT INITIATIVE FOR SCIENCE IN EUROPE (ISE)
Having been an MCAA representative at ISE, Fernanda tells us about the
work done in this field. “We have worked within ISE to launch a campaign at the European level, advocating for more ambitious budget allocation to the next Research Framework Programme, Horizon Europe. A petition is going around and efforts are being organised in many countries at the national level,” she explains.
There is more to come: “We established an agreement very recently that will allow us to contribute more directly to ISE activities.” Fernanda calls therefore on the participation of MCAA members: “We are also involved in setting up new ISE task forces focusing on themes of interest for the MCAA, such as Open Science, or Career Development. And I take the opportunity to call for any interested Open Science experts among our members to contact the Policy WG. We need to reinforce our team as we have many requests on the different aspects of Open Science policies and a limited number of available experts.”
FOCUS ON ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT AND ETHICS
As the new MCAA vice-chair, Fernanda sees multiple priorities for the association, such as Updating the Articles of Association, self-sustainability, career development, policy and communication.
However, she believes a specific focus on alumni engagement is paramount: “I believe MCAA’s impact and benefits to its members can be further increased by incentivising wider participation, which is easier said than done, considering the exponential increase in the membership,” she says.
Another priority for Fernanda is to work on a Code of Conduct, both for general members and for the elected members. “This comes together with creating an Ethics Task Force. These will be some of the projects that I believe will bring me more fulfilment, and, as I said before, finding your motivation is key when doing a volunteering job,” she concludes.
“I believe MCAA’s impact and benefits to its members can be further increased by incentivising wider participation"
Valentina, in her own words
I am an experimental physicist and science illustrator. I am originally from Italy, but I have lived in five different countries because I love new experiences and challenges. I am currently based in California, at the University of Berkeley, where I am doing a postdoc on advanced microscopy techniques. When I am not in the lab, I spend my time either contributing to the MCAA community or improving my drawing skills for effective and outstanding science communication. I am always happy to share ideas and opinions with other people, especially if it is over a glass of beer.
“I try to direct members that have a particular set of skills to the right role in the Communication Working Group"
FORMER CHAIR OF THE SCOTLAND CHAPTER
Valentina’s association with the MCAA started with the Scotland Chapter. “The experience with the Scotland Chapter made me think that with such a network and community you can really be creative and think outside the box, and this helped me to come up with the idea and the enthusiasm that can really make MCAA stand apart from other organisations,” she says.
Thanks to this experience, Valentina gained new skills. “By chairing the chapter, I learned how to organise events, especially how to delegate to other key people in the group and make sure of matching their skills and interests to their task,” she explains.
‘THE DARK SIDE OF RESEARCH’
Valentina is happy to have contributed to the creative aspects of the association and refers to “The Dark Side of Research”, a comedy show in which scientists reveal their stories with dark humour. “We have excellent science communicators within the association, and we have the sensibility, from the training received during our MSCA funding, to understand the importance of sharing knowledge with the general public,” she notes. The MCAA workshop on comedy for science communication that she co-organised “received a lot of praise, with many attendees asking if MCAA offers this type of training to other events or to institutions. This is something we could build upon,” Valentina says enthusiastically.
BRANDING AND ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT
Working on an MCAA brand identity is key, according to Valentina. “In this next term, I would like to focus more on this aspect, as it would not only help to activate more members who respond more to the core messages, but it would enhance the effectiveness of MCAA to procure its own funds so we can become financially self-sustained,” she explains.
Another big challenge she is willing to take on is alumni engagement. In this scope, the release of an alumni mobile phone application will facilitate connections among MCAA members. “Honourable mention goes to an alumni mobile app, MCAA Connect (by Lounjee). The coordination of its test run was originally done by outgoing board member Marco Masia, and I am now following up closely to ensure its release to all members. I am really confident this will have a significant impact on the way we run MCAA in the future,” Valentina notes.
IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION
Valentina also works as a facilitator and liaison within the association. “I try to direct members that have a particular set of skills to the right role in the Communication Working Group,” she adds.
She underlines the good collaboration with Valerie Bentivegna, chair of the working group, and the role the latter played in enhancing communication within the MCAA. “The largest credit for the initiatives taken by the Communication Working Group and its members goes to the leadership of Valerie Bentivegna,” says Valentina.
For the MCAA, organising workshops and events that focus on communication has multiple benefits. On the one hand, it strengthens the association’s voice in the struggle for evidence-based decisions and against false news, and on the other it offers professional growth opportunities for the members, adds Valentina.
EDITORIAL SCIENCE ILLUSTRATIONS
Our vice-chair is also an illustrator who focuses mostly on editorial science illustrations. Valentina believes that this artistic outlet makes her a better scientist. “Every researcher is creative, but we often acquire fixed mental patterns because of habits and community standards. Nurturing creativity for the sake of play and fun can stimulate our minds in unexpected ways,” she concludes.
Francesco, in his own words
My name is Francesco Sanna. I am Italian aerospace engineer. I received my Ph.D. in applied physics in 2016 from the Netherlands. Because of my strong desire to contribute to the European Union and my interests in finance, I joined the European Central Bank as a Ph.D. trainee. I later worked as an analyst, and more recently a financial stability expert. I just completed a Master’s in finance for professionals (MBA equivalent) at the London Business School. I am now keen to pursue a career in finance, putting to work the new skills I acquired.
“Since the very beginning I have always been foreseeing a great future for the MCAA"
INVOLVEMENT SINCE 2013
Francesco was part of the first MCAA Board in 2013. He recalls his motivation to join: “Since the very beginning, I have always been foreseeing a great future for the MCAA. There was literally nothing when we started. I was extremely young and very motivated to contribute to the development of the association. Thanks to the hard work of its members, the association has grown incredibly in the last years.”
According to Francesco, the MCAA’s achievements so far are twofold. Firstly, the MCAA has built a structured organisation thanks to clear guidelines. Secondly, the association is capable of undertaking numerous activities and raising funds.
EVENTS AND NETWORK WORKING GROUP
Building on his experience as an Ordinary Board member, Francesco was also involved in the Events and Network Working Group. “I had the chance to learn several skills. First, how to organise events and projects despite a small budget. Second, how to coordinate within a team to organise events in remote. Lastly, I learned how to deal with cultural differences, an aspect which may further add complexity to an organisation. We tried and managed successfully to transform differences into advantages,” he explains.
FROM PHYSICS TO FINANCE
It’s a big leap – from physics to finance, but one that came rather easy for Francesco. He used to spend up to 60% of his time in a laboratory to research how acoustics in ducts are affected by mixtures of water and air. But a wind of change was blowing. “I realised I wanted to learn how to provide (financial) support to brilliant minds, in order to ultimately enable great projects to take place,” he says. Following this impulsion, Francesco applied for a PhD traineeship at the European Central Bank and was hired. He continued after with a Master’s in Finance for professionals at the London Business School.
PRIORITIES FOR THE MCAA
As treasurer, Francesco will focus on the following four priorities.
1. General financial oversight: This activity consists in controlling and monitoring the association finances to make sure its record-keeping and (banking) accounts are managed properly. To this aim, it is important the association disposes of a developed accounting tool that can be used to track any transaction.
2. Effective communication of the financial status: With respect to the relationship with the European Commission, it is important to keep the EC informed regularly and to agree on a common plan, especially considering the Commission represents the main source of our funding. As a researcher, I also believe is fundamental for MCAA to cooperate with the EC in order to promote research. On the internal governance, to grow and become financially more independent, an important objective to be achieved is to strengthen the internal communication with the current governance.
3. Self-sustainability: Internally, members could be asked to provide their own expertise for science courses (e.g., biology and medicine, engineering, science, finance and entrepreneurship) and social subjects and soft skills courses (psychology, negotiation, ethics, gender equality, project management, etc.). Externally, more partnerships should be sought, across industries and considering different geographical areas. With such a high level of expertise, I believe we should invest more on human capital and seek support to develop a strong entrepreneurial spirit across the community.
4. Finance and Audit Working Group: I wish to ask for the collaboration of active MCAA members to launch a new working group focusing on the financial development of the association. The time has come to establish our own internal rules and best practices to improve the allocation of our own resources.
Marina, in her own words
Currently, I'm an early career researcher working on cyber-physical systems at the Technical University of Dortmund. I grew up on a small island outside of Stockholm and later studied at the Royal Institute of Technology and the Stockholm School of Economics. Professionally, I've been involved in a wide range of projects and companies, most recently as a robotics engineer at the European Space Agency and as a research engineer at Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), before I started my position at TU Dortmund. I have moved around frequently the past few years for work and have developed an intense love for getting to know new cultures, languages and people.
“The MCAA has played a very important role both socially and professionally for me"
The MCAA has played a very important role, both socially and professionally. “My interactions with the MCAA community have given me personally a whole new and improved perspective on my challenges as a mobile researcher and I want others to get the same chance,” she says.
As the new MCAA secretary, Marina believes the association should focus, among other priorities, on early stage researchers. “I see great potential in our support structures for early career researchers and how we can contribute to their well-being in their quite vulnerable situation. I believe we can collect the experiences we have in our community and find effective remedies for the difficulties our members experience in terms of both practical matters as well as moral and psychological support,” she explains.
‘RESEARCHERS MEET INNOVATORS’
Marina has been chairing the German Chapter since 2018. During this time, she had the opportunity to contribute to the organisation of the ‘Researchers Meet Innovators’ conference. “The team behind Researchers meet Innovators wanted to create a space for academics from all disciplines to meet with the start-up world and vice versa. The idea was to bring forward a concept that would pair up business knowhow with science expertise in an inspiring environment,” she explains.
More than 100 attendees joined two days of talks, discussions and workshops. Many of the invited speakers and workshop facilitators were ex-researchers that had taken the step into the start-up world. Based on the success of this event, Marina emphasises the advantages researchers can obtain when they focus on innovation: “I believe we need to find ways to encourage self-employment and creative development of products, services and businesses. Researchers meet Innovators is a great platform for just that and this concept can and should be copied to other branches of the MCAA,” she notes.
CROSS- FERTILISATION OF THE CHAPTERS
When Marina was chairing the Chapter, she focused on relationships with other Chapters and Working Groups. “I believe this kind of cross-fertilisation makes it easier to learn from one another and copy successful concepts within an organisation like ours. Having both informal and formal ties with other chapters and working groups spurs creativity and ideas,” she explains.
“Furthermore, the know-how of long- time members of different groups mixed with fresh ideas from new members, gives the best sides of both worlds combined into one. I encourage all chapter boards to seek a mix of members from within the MCAA – especially other chapters and working groups,” she adds.
FOCUS ON OPEN SCIENCE
Marina underlines the work already undertaken by the MCAA as regards Open Science and believes the association should go further in this direction. “Open Science, such as, for instance, Open Access, is a structure set up for the common good. The MCAA has seen this and is already working hard on advocating open science policies in the EU,” she says.
Early career researchers should also receive particular help from the association in this scope: “It is quite common that young researchers have very vague ideas about what open science means in general and more specifically could mean for them, because their beneficiaries are not prioritising the topic. This is where the MCAA can step in and help develop a trustworthy platform to promote open science amongst its members. I believe we should not only promote, but also educate our members and various stakeholders about the important advantages of open science. It is definitely the future of science,” she concludes.
Alexandra, in her own words
I am a molecular biologist currently working as a distinguished researcher at the University of Córdoba, Spain. For the last 15 years (10 in the US and five in Spain) I have devoted my career to understanding how green algae can produce hydrogen and other types of biofuels. I recently joined algae/bacteria consortia, focusing on how to use this research in wastewater bioremediation and biofertilisation. Altogether my investigation focuses on developing new alternative and sustainable energy solutions and on expanding the circular bioeconomy. My goal is to contribute to the ecological transition while promoting women in science.
“I hope I can bring a concrete vision of how science can bring technology and innovation to the aid of society"
A 15-YEAR EXPERIENCE IN THE SECTOR OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
Alexandra devoted her work to renewable energy production, focusing on green algae and its biofuel applications for the last 15 years. Her goal is to develop environmentally friendly sources of energy to reduce carbon emission, putting the spotlight on renewable energy. “I think it is important to talk about renewable energy in general, and to put this topic on the MCAA agenda in particular,” she notes.
According to Alexandra, the MCAA can play a crucial role in developing a network that will connect various experts involved in renewable energy. “Today, more than ever, science and society need to be connected. Renewable energy alternatives are key climate-safe solutions that may be adapted to societies transitioning to a new energy system,” she explains.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
Alexandra supports the involvement of women in leadership roles, strategic positions and in helping shape policy and decision-making. With this scope in mind, she hopes to join the MCAA Genders, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) working group on specific actions for women in STEMM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine).
She will also encourage women’s active participation within the MCAA. “Visibility, leadership, networking and emotional ability are essential aspects that help promote women’s responsibilities, and the MCAA can participate in the development of those skills,” Alexandra points out.
EXPERTISE WITH THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Alexandra has been member of two groups of experts in the European Commission related to energy and climate. As such, this experience will provide her with guidance within the MCAA. “As an external expert of the European Commission, I hope I can bring a concrete vision of how science can bring technology and innovation to the aid of society and how together with the MCAA we can contribute to the EU research mission,” she notes.
Alexandra is very keen on getting started with her new tasks. “I look forward to working with the MCAA board on those aspects, as well as on the specific mission of the MCAA, which is to help the advancement of knowledge for a global, diverse, and informed society,” she concludes.
Donata, in her own words
I am a researcher from a town in Southern Italy. I am currently working in France as a senior postdoctoral fellow. My major research interests are bioelectronics and musculoskeletal regeneration.
So far I have lived in four different countries (Sweden, Singapore, France and the UK). In 2016 I started my IF initially in France and then in the UK, at the University of Cambridge. Since 2017, when I joined the MCAA, I have been involved in the activities of the UK Chapter, having organised a workshop on mental health in Cambridge in 2019.
The connection between research culture, policy and researchers’ well-being and mental health is my major interest and the reason for becoming even more involved with MCAA.
“It is key to address researchers’ well-being if one wants to improve the academic environment"
INVOLVEMENT IN THE UK CHAPTER AND FOCUS ON MENTAL HEALTH
When Donata moved to the UK, the first active role she undertook within the MCAA was the organisation of an event on mental health in Cambridge in 2019. She explains her engagement: “I got involved for personal reasons and because I believe it is key to address researchers’ well-being if one wants to improve the academic environment. Until recently, researchers were not given the right attention and they were mostly exploited.”
According to Donata, there is an urgent need for a change in the research culture scientists experience within academia. “The change should include the different actors and should therefore involve funding bodies, PIs and researchers. Productivity is key, but one cannot forget that science is practised by people, and people need the right conditions to be creative while producing great science and having a decent life,” she notes.
RESEARCHERS’ WELL-BEING IS PARAMOUNT
The priority, according to Donata, is to support and promote initiatives targeting researchers’ well-being as well as actions triggering change in terms of research culture.
As she explains: “We have already seen, in particular in the UK, a stronger attention devoted to researchers’ well-being and policies put in place towards the goal of a more open and fair research environment. I hope that we will be able to extend this experience to other environments, wherever MCAA members are present and active.”
Ana, in her own words
In 2006 I graduated as a biological engineer from Minho University in Braga, and in 2014 I received a master’s in Organic Agriculture at Ponte de Lima Agrarian School. In-between I carried out field work that merged my volunteer and professional skills. After completing my Environmental Education training at the Biotechnology School of the Catholic University of Porto, I joined various environmental projects that led to my traveling in Portugal and abroad and experiencing different realities. I finally got the chance to merge my experience and biotechnology academic skills with the soft skills gained along this complementary path when, in 2014, I joined SPReD Lab, in the University of Porto’s Faculty of Sciences, where I began to consolidate my actual scientific path.
“I would be happy to help young researchers by listening to their needs and assisting them in fulfilling their expectations"
FOCUS ON YOUNG RESEARCHERS
Ana Lopes has been involved in a youth organisation called Youth and Environment Europe (YEE), which provides a platform to encourage youth to engage in environmental protection. Her priority to help young researchers is paramount. As she explains: “It is of utmost importance to always be aware of their needs, because when we support youth at their level and interests, everything flows naturally, filled with good energy. Besides, offering guidance on their motivations, expectations and skills is essential, so that they do not become frustrated, and they continue on a consistently built path.
During her mandate as an ordinary board member, Ana will focus on this specific category of researchers. “I would be happy to help young researchers by listening to their needs and assisting them in meeting their expectations,” she adds.
ASPIRATIONS AS AN ORDINARY BOARD MEMBER
At YEE, Ana acted as a liaison with the Portuguese national organisation of Ecoclubes. She also helped to develop international projects and to further promote communication between the international organisation of Ecoclubes and YEE, while she also occasionally assumed coordination responsibilities. Within the MCAA, she plans to make full use of the different skills gained during this experience. She notes of her interest in the issue, “When you dedicate yourself to cooperation and take on different functions and positions, there is a natural multiplying effect of added value and experience. Besides, you acquire multiple ways of seeing things that can complement each other, providing a more comprehensive view of the work and the team.”
Sara Ricardo, in her own words
I live in Barcelona where I started a Career-Track PI position in Cell Biology in 2012. I did my PhD at UCL in London and held postdoc and scientist positions at the NYU Medical Centre. I left academia in early 2019 and I am currently working at a health-tech company, where I develop partnerships and client relationships. I independently consult and coach on academic issues, working with foundations and academia. I started my involvement with the MCAA as a founding member of the Portugal-Spain Chapter. Between 2015-17, I served on the Chapter’s Board and then I received my first Board mandate 2018-2020.
“I always felt that regional or local chapters would work better if people could meet and share experiences and know-how in small clusters"
Sara’s journey with the MCAA started when she decided to join a few members who were planning to create a local Chapter in Spain. Shortly after, the Portugal-Spain Chapter was officially established and Sara attended its first meeting in Barcelona. “We were only a few members at that meeting, about 15 persons from Barcelona and other regions, but I felt that there was a lot of energy and ideas,” she recalls. “And to this day it still is one of MCAA’s most active chapters.”
Sara continued her local involvement by becoming the coordinator of the MCAA Barcelona Hub, the regional group of the Spain- Portugal Chapter, from 2017 to 2019. She explains the importance of the regional level in an association like the MCAA: “I always felt that regional or local chapters would work better if in smaller clusters in which people could actually meet and share experiences and know-how. Also the same framework, if successful, could be used as a template for other regions, in which the building of the network would be easier as it could be replicated.”
Her involvement was fruitful. In 2017, Sara was approached by an institute in Barcelona and by a UK organisation who asked for collab
oration in training and events. “I set out to build a network and tried to build it in a way that was sustainable for the future and could be carried out by others after me. I talked to a couple of people who I thought were motivated to help and that is when the Barcelona hub started,” explains Sara.
She coordinated meetups and events, as well as the links to academic and governmental organisations. “That has given its fruits and several of these are now our sponsors and collaborators and our local network has reached hundreds of members,” she adds.
A ‘LOST GENERATION OF RESEARCHERS’
As an Ordinary Board member, Sara led a session called “the lost generation” at ESOF 2018. She highlighted the challenges of experienced researchers in the current academic system. This session was a success and was featured in an article published in the Angle journal, as well as in the MCAA IRRADIUM magazine.
“The ‘lost generation’ refers to the mid-career scientists who, after completing many short-term contracts and temporary positions, find themselves largely excluded from research careers due to lack of opportunities for permanent positions. The term ‘lost generation’ was first coined by Gertrude Stein to identify writers coming of age during World War I to whom pre-war values were no longer valid,” explains Sara.
It’s a term that now can be used to describe the situation of many researchers. According to Sara, “it represents the mid-career academics cohort that were caught in the middle, in an age in which the old rules that governed the scientific enterprise, and by extension research careers, no longer applied and have been suffering from the consequences”. The ESOF session received a lot of publicity, showing that it is an issue that still needs to be addressed.
COLLABORATION WITH EIT ALUMNI
Sara is currently contributing to the organisation of a leadership intensive workshop in collaboration with the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Alumni, one of MCAA’s partners. It’s here where Sarah learned about one of its groups, Women@EIT, which is led by Maria Kanov. “Maria and her team had already done one leadership intensive workshop that had been very successful. I originally talked to Maria as I thought some of their ideas on leader empowerment within the network could be also applied to the MCAA,” explains Sara. “The model that they have created to empower members to lead is of great value and I am happy to be part of it.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop will likely become a webinar.
Karen, in her own words
I am a former chemist with an interest in policy that affects researchers as well as a research background that can inform policy. Originally from Belgium, I moved to the UK five years ago to work in Cambridge as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie post-doctoral fellow. I have since transitioned to a full-time career in policy and am currently Science Policy Unit Lead at the Royal Society of Chemistry. I joined MCAA in 2016 and since 2018 have been vice-chair of the MCAA policy working group, where I’ve been able to share insights from my experience as a policy professional.
“I am known by colleagues as someone who shares insights, knowledge and connections generously"
FORMER VICE-CHAIR OF THE MCAA POLICY WORKING GROUP
Karen’s association with the MCAA started in 2016, when she attended her first General Assembly in Salamanca (Spain) and became aware of the MCAA’s activities.
She then became involved with the association when she was elected vice-chair of the Policy Working Group. She was happy to contribute. “I am known by colleagues as someone who shares insights, knowledge and connections generously. I have advised on tone and language, and provided tips and tricks for effective policy writing with many members of the Policy Working Group,” she explains.
She developed a good collaboration with Fernanda Bajanca, who was the chair of the working group and who has become one of the MCAA Board’s vice-chairs. “Fernanda had really given the group great momentum, lots was happening, and my contribution was ensuring that more professional and effective outputs were consistently developed by the group. I have also provided advice on issues that I work on now or have worked on professionally, including research culture and open science,” says Karen. Our interviewee also had the opportunity to represent the MCAA and present its views on topics such as the new framework for the European Research Area.
THE VOICE OF RESEARCHERS
Karen realised the potential of the association when she attended the 2016 General Assembly. “The MCAA has grown a lot since then, and the previous board deserves much credit for the important work it has done, increasingly engaging with stakeholders, including policymakers at the EU level,” she says enthusiastically.
Now that she is an Ordinary Board Member, Karen will focus her strategy on “further building on this strong foundation, to ensure the MCAA is increasingly recognised as the voice for researchers in the policy landscape.”
COMMITMENTS AS AN ORDINARY BOARD MEMBER
Karen has already been involved in volunteer organisations and will use this experience in her activities as an ordinary board member of the MCAA. As she says: “I have a lot to offer, and I will support the MCAA in any way I can. I have previously been president and vice-president of volunteer organisations, and of course I’ve picked up a thing or two on governance of non-profit organisations during my professional life, working for large member organisations such as the Royal Society, London and Royal Society of Chemistry. I will definitely use this knowledge to contribute to improving MCAA’s governance and member engagement.”
She also suggests that the MCAA should develop its own voice in science policy, the area of informing decision-makers about relevant scientific evidence (for example on coronavirus or climate change). She will also focus on a toolkit to enable MCAA members to write effective policy documents related to their area of expertise as “part of a broader suite of tools for continued researcher development,” she concludes.
Esther, in her own words
Hello everyone! I am Esther and recently I became an official member of the new MCAA board. I am curious about molecular biology and engineering and enjoy organising and planning things, which is why I studied bioengineering, pursued a PhD in molecular biotechnology and am now coordinating research projects in the fields of bioeconomy and biotechnology.
“It is crucial to foster the dialogue among scientists and entrepreneurs"
EXPERIENCE AS THE BENELUX CHAPTER CHAIR
In 2018, Esther became the chair of the Benelux Chapter and enjoyed particularly the freedom she had to implement her ideas. “As we are all volunteers, things can take much longer than expected, which might not only kill your own motivation but often results in members becoming inactive. You therefore need a great amount of personal motivation to keep things going,” she explains.
Esther however underlines the importance of the human factor within the association. “You will meet people in MCAA that inspire and support you. As a chair, you can learn new skills you were never taught at university and broaden your horizon tremendously. Besides those clear practical benefits, it is mostly the people you meet that make all of this a very rewarding and fun experience,” she underlines.
At the 2019 General Assembly, the Benelux Chapter was elected “Chapter of the Year". For Esther, this recognition encouraged her to move forward. “I was a bit stunned, but felt honoured. It motivated me to push the chapter even further,” she says enthusiastically.
SYNERGIES BETWEEN SCIENTISTS AND ENTREPRENEURS
Esther contributed to the organisation of the “Researchers meet innovators” event in Berlin, in 2019. She strongly believes that many solutions to current global challenges lie at the intersection of different scientific disciplines.
“However, scientists are rarely trained to focus on the commercialisation of their research,” explains Esther. “This is why it is crucial to foster the dialogue among scientists and entrepreneurs. We currently see great interest from both sides in collaborating and working on innovative solutions, which is why events like ‘Researchers meet innovators’ are very successful,” she adds.
FOSTERING COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE CHAPTERS AND WORKING GROUPS
According to Esther, chairing a chapter often can pose specific challenges, which differ from the challenges encountered by working group chairs. “I would first like to further improve inter-chapter communication and collaboration by updating the ‘Strategic Document for Chapter Chairs’ and by organising more Q&A sessions, as Mostafa and others did before,” she explains.
As a next step, Esther would like to give a new life to the ‘Chair Management Working Group’ on the MCAA portal. “Normally, the General Assembly is a great event for chairs to meet, discuss and connect. I really hope we will be able to find a new date for the GA2020 in the upcoming weeks, so that we can have a productive chair-collaboration kick-off in the near future,” she concludes.