What are your career options? And how can you benefit from your MSCA experience? It's inevitable to see a cloudy road when researchers need to decide the next step of their career, and so, the MCAA opens the stage to discuss Careers after MSCA, sharing their stories and providing insights, suggestions and motivation.
Being a scientist nowadays is just one of the careers to follow. Nevertheless, the MSCA fellowship is an important step for most researchers. “Over 90% of all former fellows considered that the MSCA fellowship had a good or very good impact on their professional development,” stated Anouk Lafortune, policy officer at the European Commission, quoting a recent report on the results of surveys conducted with former MSCA fellows (1). And continued: “A majority of them continue to work in academia after their MSCA project, but many pursue a career in other sectors, including in industry, international or public administrations. Unsurprisingly, the highest share working outside academia after their fellowship is found among employed graduates from the ITN European Industrial Doctorate programmes”
Linear careers are not as common
Ornela Bardhi completed her industrial MSCA doctorate, and later worked one year as a scientific advisor for the Ministry of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in Albania. Currently, she is a real-world data analyst and researcher in a private company, and Chair of the MCAA Western Balkan Chapter.
For Ornela, the process of choosing the next step has its drawbacks. Ornela asks: “Who is the owner of the property rights? PhD students typically know nothing about such an issue, especially in a new country”. On the other hand, she agrees that many skills are very much transferable, especially soft skills: management of projects, contacting partners or coordinators. “It is just about switching the mindset. And a couple of webinars helps, too”, Ornela advises. “Even though the MSCA PhD did not help me to acquire specific skills to work for the government, the MCAA network helped me to get all the extra information through the co-organization of online classes attended by alumni”, she explains.
Ornela finished her speech with a couple of ideas and motivations: “MSCA fellows tend to have very diverse career paths. You are allowed to change your mind, to update your career plan. But prepare for life after PhD already during the PhD. Your career path should work for you, not the other way round. Linear careers are not as common as before, take advantage of obtaining inside knowledge from other sectors”.
Prepare an action plan
Joaquín Capablo Sesé studied chemical engineering at the University of Zaragoza, with an Erasmus experience in Germany and an internship at Bosch. After his PhD, he became an MSCA fellow in Italy. Afterwards, Joaquín was recruited by the Bosch Group in Spain. “In academia, you are often aiming for 100% quality. However, in the industry 95% is fine, especially when achieved one week in advance”, he summarizes his experience.
Currently, Joaquín is working for Campus Iberus and is the Chair of the MCAA Spain-Portugal Chapter. He depicts common challenges: “Researchers need a perspective, contracts longer than 2 or 3 years. Also, they would benefit from workshops on time management, grant management or work-life balance. They need to know how to deal with their supervisors”. Joaquín presented examples of good practice used in the MSCA COFUND Iberus Experience where they help incoming international researchers with integration.
Joaquín also gave several pieces of advice: “Think about your personal career development plan, about self assessment. Look for opportunities outside of academia, define the skills you need to improve. If you want to reach a goal, prepare an action plan. If you leave academia, you can go back. Even though you typically do not publish in industry, you learn other sets of skills”. With this said, Joaquín also adds that we should change the system of evaluation in academia.
Spending time abroad opens mind
Corinne Portioli is a biotechnologist by training who worked on multidisciplinary neurological projects. She started in Genoa and afterwards she received a MSCA global fellowship to work in Houston, USA. Later, she joined the MSCA-COFUND programme. “In this project, I could unify all my background topics - neuroscience, biotechnology and drug delivery. Also for me, networking on an interdisciplinary intersectional level was important. And for global IF (Individual Fellowship) - it opens your mind when spending time abroad, you do not get this with national fellowships”, she points out.
Corrine is both, MSCA alumnus and fellow. Both projects helped in her professional career and so far she has chosen to stay in academia. “IF the project gives you more autonomous possibilities. On the other hand, in COFUND, the PI has more power as a grant holder”, she compares both experiences. Corinne is also an MCAA board member and a certified project manager.
When we decide to become scientists, we are inspired by the stories of others. Therefore, promoting a dialogue about new pathways for scientific careers shows us other perspectives and different ways to reinvent. The results of the MSCA fellows surveys and the panel discussion, showed the MSCA experience has a strong impact on the career trajectories and employability.
MCAA Newsletter, Editorial Board
European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, (2023). Results of MSCA end of fellowship evaluation questionnaires (H2020): 2023 update, Publications Office of the European Union. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2766/88926
European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, (2022). Marie SkłodowskaCurie actions : Marie Curie alumni association survey 2020: results, Publications Office of the European Union. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2766/17173