Special coverage: General Assembly and Annual Conference - “Writing your own script for your future essentially implies drafting your own unique voice”

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MSCA Senior Global Fellow Cristina Blanco Sío-López was one of the presenters of the ‘After the MSCA Fellowship - What next?’ parallel session. Unfolding your potential and consolidating your agency are not what you expect to hear when listening to advice on the journey that begins after a fellowship. Cristina explains why these and other unfamiliar terms and expressions are important.

You talked about how important it is to ‘be in the moment’ in order to move forward. Can you explain what you mean?

Asking yourself ‘what’s next?’ after your MSCA Fellowship might initially feel like a daunting question. However, one of the more reassuring ways around it lies in understanding that any future pathway is just slowly and progressively drawn by building the present, step by step and day after day.

Therefore, there is no need to coldly jump into unknown waters because the first step towards any future comes precisely from looking how far you have come, from carefully thinking about what you have learnt and from daring to decide not just the professional, but, most importantly, the person you want to become. Indeed, that first move towards that future implies taking a quiet moment of reflection that is not, in any sense, a conversation based on seeking or worrying, but a time for pausing for a little moment, of breathing, of being in the now. And, in our current challenging contexts on so many levels, such as health challenges, arbitrary legal dispositions, socio-economic hardships, conflict, violence and displacement, this also entails an invitation to re-learn kindness to oneself and self-compassion as a key to moving forward.

To create our future, you want us to write our own script. How do we do that?

Asking yourself out loud who you would like to become comes with the responsibility (and the freeing joy) of writing your own script. Indeed, it is important to remember that you should not let anybody override the script you want to enact for your lifetime. It is your own unique life, and building your future is a right that cannot be stripped from you. In this respect, even when social constraints appear as too powerful and impactful, you always have your mental capacity to imagine and propose how you want to carve your space. One way of approaching this fundamental exercise lies in a willingness to constantly learn, evolve, adapt, transform yourself and give form to your own unique voice.

Against the backdrop of an open future, the fact that you do not hold yourself back is of utmost importance, as well as that of not falling into the trap of letting yourself believe others’ clichés and prejudices.

Another step in the journey is about unlocking potential, what you call unfolding potentialities.

The next step is then that of essentially unfolding your potentialities. This means to unlock all your capacities, aspirations, skills, groundbreaking initiatives, frontier projects’ ideas, hopeful change proposals for a personal and a collective better future and fulfilling actions. In short, it entails all that is compressed in the question ‘who do you want to become as a person beyond your professional self?’ and invites you to transform a blank slate into a space for cumulating actions to unravel the potential you hold still unrealised within yourself.

Nonetheless, a word of caution would be in order when unfolding your personal and professional potentialities because some doors to your future, such as jobs and professional development opportunities, can be actual gateways while some other seeming ‘doors’ can be outright traps. Some examples of such traps might include an impossibility to negotiate salaries for women and women not accepted for senior positions. In this particular case, I would advise that we fight not just to have ‘women on board’ in our projects and organisations but to have women on ‘boards’. In the unfortunate case that we bump into a seeming door that ends up revealing itself as a trap, it is important to keep in mind workable ‘ways out’. These might involve reaching out to kind, sincere and dedicated mentors from any realm or organisation, reaching out to relevant networks, confidential advisors and legal services to give us a representative voice, as well as health experts. In this respect, it is fundamental to keep in mind that asking for help is always courageous, as it is a gift of trust you offer to your safety nets with a determined willingness to move forward towards your very own future.

What is the role of the knowledge gained during an MSCA Fellowship?

Steps forward imply a capacity to implement the new knowledge you have been consciously and unconsciously accumulating throughout your MSCA Fellowship years, either by explicit research and training activities in your field and beyond or via personal contacts, informal conversations and activities, and other forms of expression and fulfilment outside of your discipline (e.g., artistic creativity, community building). These experiences offer you the possibility of attaining a grounding stature as a unique expert in your field and as part of the scholarly community overall. They also offer you an invaluable capacity to disregard your own rigidities and to discern a mindset that does not just look for the ‘what’ but also for the ‘with whom’ to implement initiatives and for the identity-driven ‘why’ you are undertaking any project at a given time in a given context. In this way, you will be able to focus not simply on your own visibility, but on more performative forms of discoverability, allowing you to project all that you are beyond your work.

You also refer to ‘agency’ when planning our future. What does this mean?

Writing your own script for your future essentially implies drafting your own unique voice and consolidating your agency. You are not a subject of changing circumstances, but an agent of change within your present and the main actor of your own life. For this reason, you should not simply take for granted where you are being placed, what you are asked to do or how you are to be defined externally. Consolidating your agency entails educating your environment and your employer on all these issues. You are the one who is aware of your potential, skills, knowledge and capacities. Therefore, you are the only person who can set your boundaries. Indeed, never wait to be told how you fit or ‘who you are’. Instead, dare to bend your realm to the ‘you’ who wants to thrive, not just to survive, in changing ecosystems. And, most importantly, do fight the constant ‘juniorisation’ and the ‘post-doctoralisation’ of young scientists by becoming the senior expert you designed yourself to be. A fundamental aid in this venture will be the soothing gift of baby steps. You have come this far and your best is yet to come, day after day.

Jerry Stamatelos
MCAA Editorial Team

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