MCAA Annual Conference 2023 - Balancing Family & Career: Can the MSCA pave a better way?


Many researchers struggle to start a family. This is often exacerbated by mobility. Providing a family-friendly environment and working conditions have several advantages, e.g., attracting female talent and improving mental health in academia. This session addressed such issues and investigated how can the MSCA, through science diplomacy, lead by example and pave the way to a better research work environment.

“Mobility aspect is an extra challenge for all of us with a family,” stated Magdalini Theodoridou at the session. She is one of the founding members of the Genders, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. The MSCA will launch a series of events, where everyone can report on conditions individuals encounter at a host location to help MSCA to come up with enhanced guidelines for participating institutions. Also, the MSCA now follows an inclusive definition of a family, including various forms of living together.

Gender equality is a core European value

To apprise the audience of the attitude of MSCA, Senem Sanal-Erginel, a policy officer at the Unit in charge of the MSCA at the European Commission (EC), presented current strategies. “Gender equality is central to the European Commission's agenda and a core European value. Within the Horizon 2020 scheme, the MSCA are supporting a growing number of women, currently on average 44%. However, women are still underrepresented in higher academic and decision making positions,” described Senem. According to the latest survey, female researchers tend to be less mobile, especially those with children. Also, they often leave academia for industry and many women report limited family/child support from host organizations.

“Therefore, Horizon Europe (2021-2027) is fully considering all gender aspects, including gender balance as a core criterion on all levels for transparent recruitment. Now, all institutions need the Gender Equality Plan to be eligible to apply in MSCA calls with deadlines in 2022 and onwards. The MSCA is requiring measures promoting equal opportunities, including equal pay, worklife balance, broader definition of family recognizing LGBTI+ couples and families ensures full access to all allowances, parttime work, or long-term leave and special needs allowances, even if the status changes within the duration of the project.

Likewise, MSCA is promoting female role models. Next, outreach actions stimulate the interest of children, youngsters and in particular girls and women in research careers. New MSCA Guidelines for Supervision encourage safeguarding of personal well-being, healthy work-life balance, and informing about available support systems,” describes Senem' plans for improvement.

Members of the panel (from left): Harihar Jaishree Subrahmaniam, Stéphanie Gauttier, Senem Sanal-Erginel, Magdalini Theodoridou.
Members of the panel (from left): Harihar Jaishree Subrahmaniam, Stéphanie Gauttier, Senem Sanal-Erginel, Magdalini Theodoridou.

Happy researchers perform better

Stéphanie Gauttier is an assistant professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management and a vicechair of the COST action ReMO (Researchers mental observatory). “If you have any caring responsibility, you are twice at risk of a mental health disorder,” shared Stéphanie. “Conflict between workload and a personal life makes you less motivated for your work and your performance decreases. Therefore, if we want our researchers to be happy, we need to help them to accomplish their caring responsibilities,” continues Stéphanie.

Caring for someone, not only children, further complicates mobility as well as short-term contracts within the MSCA scheme. “Our survey showed that if people with responsibilities fulfil them, it will satisfy them. Based on our survey, marriage is beneficial for mental health,” summarizes Stéphanie and admits that so far they have problems without solutions. “However, if we enable human beings to flourish, they will be better researchers in the end,” she concludes.

We are all human beings in the end

Being a first generation academic, Harihar Jaishree Subrahmaniam has been an active supporter for children and women education through working with various NGOs. Jaishree is currently MSCA individual fellow in Denmark and a chair of the MCAA Policy Working Group.

“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.” Jaishree quoted Jane Goodall with the idea that: “We are all human beings at the end of the day and we have to consider things that go beyond our own research.

“We, as researchers, should not only be advancing our careers, but also contribute to improving the academic culture”, Jaishree adds. “To do so, we need to help researchers to understand policies. The role of MCAA should be bridging the gap between the level of European commission and individual researchers. There must be a good implementation strategy. The commission's rulebook should be available in the accessible language, understandable, with known methods, channels etc, but also visible for researchers to be able to use it”, points out Jaishree.

Share your stories

To conclude the panel, Magdalini commented: “We should highlight the benefits and the challenges of mobile researchers with family for all countries. If, for instance, parental leave is not inclusively available in specific geolocations, then this should be communicated clearly so that our researchers can choose accordingly, before finding themselves in a difficult situation. Communicating the current situation should bring motivation for participating countries to improve their conditions“. But what are the next steps that EC should follow and how to enhance the rulebook? Everyone is encouraged to contact Magdalini Theodoridou directly or via a questionnaire.

Eliška Koňaříková
MCAA Newsletter, Editorial Board
Postdoctoral fellow
Twitter: @EliskaKonarik

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