Seven things we learnt at the Marie Skłodowska- Curie Actions (MSCA) Satellite event at ESOF 2014

If you weren’t present at the MSCA Satellite, you are probably wondering what happened... Here’s a round-up of seven things that we learnt that we think you might want to know too.

1. What do “transferable skills” mean?

Transferable skills were in the spotlight over the two days. The concept can be defined as “skills learned in one context (for example research) that are useful in another (for example future employment whether that is in research, business etc.). They enable subject- and research-related skills to be applied and developed effectively. Transferable skills may be acquired through training or through work experience” (Alessandra Luchetti, Head of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions unit, European Commission).
These skills can also be considered as “professional skills” to the extent that these competences may also be used within industry and academia.

2. Why should the EU invest more in its researchers?

According to the Innovation Union Competitiveness report 2013, the share of researchers working in the EU’s private sector (45%) is much lower than the share in competitor countries, like the United States (79%), Japan (68%) or China (61%). While seeking to encourage more private sector engagement in research, the EU is also investing itself in European researchers, through Horizon 2020 which aims at:

  • Responding to the economic crisis to invest in future jobs and growth;
  • Addressing people’s concerns about their livelihoods, safety and environment;
  • Strengthening the EU’s global position in research, innovation and technology.

Cross-sector mobility is also strongly promoted.

3. What are the benefits of joining the MCAA?
Snezana Krstic, the MCAA chair, presented the Marie Curie Alumni Association and the benefits of joining. So far, nearly 65 000 Fellows have benefited from the Marie Curie Actions (MCA) and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). The MCAA – which held its first general assembly in November 2014 – is open to all current MSCA Fellows and those who have benefited from these actions in the past.
On joining the Association, members will benefit from numerous advantages: micro-grants, job announcements, call announcements, services, events and awards. Above all, joining the Association will help build a community spirit.

4. How to identify your transferrable skills and present them to a potential employer

The session “Deciphering a job description: which skills are needed?” aimed at helping participants to identify their transferrable skills and then present them in the context of a job interview. How? By telling a story, structured as follows:

  • Start with a challenge that you had to overcome;
  • What you did to overcome it;
  • What the outcome was.

Telling these stories helped researchers to identify their numerous transferrable skills, which can include, for example, organisation, time-management, team-work, leadership, independence, analytical thinking, understanding organisational structures, writing, grant-writing, communication, perseverance, coordination, diplomacy.

5. How to work within a team

The session “Working within a team: giving and receiving feedback” identified the characteristics of an efficient team as follows:

  • Clear unity and purpose;
  • Plenty of discussions, in which everyone participates;
  • People are free to express their feelings and ideas.

The session identified positive feedback (reinforcement purpose) and negative feedback (constructive purpose). In both cases, it is important for the person who gives the feedback to be understanding and supportive, and to encourage self-assessment.
Feedback techniques can be classified in three categories: “ask-tell-ask”, “sandwich technique” and “bridge technique”.

6. How are ERC proposals assessed?

The European Research Centre (ERC) is an independent agency which was set up in 2007, and is led by scientists. There are three ERC core funding schemes and two additional schemes:

  • Stating Grants;
  • Consolidator Grants;
  • Advanced Grants;
  • Proof of concept;
  • Synergy Grants.

The ERC funds individual scientists in all fields of fundamental research.
The evaluation of proposals is based on excellence and follows a peer-review process structured into 25 panels (ten in physical sciences, nine in life sciences and six in social sciences and humanities). Demand is very high, which has an inevitable impact on proposal success rates.

7. Is it worth applying for an ERC Grant?

Before applying, the potential applicant should be aware that obtaining this type of grant is a long-term, strategic project – and time consuming. He/She should ask him/herself:

  • Do I have a project?
  • Do I fit the profile?
  • Do I have the time to do it?

To present his/her project in the best way, the applicant must find the right balance between a “personal narrative” and the identity of his/her field, keeping in mind that he/she will have to convince a panel of 15 members plus external reviewers. The choice of the host institution is also crucial.

According to professor Kjaer, ERC grantee, Department of Business and Politics, CBS at the Copenhagen Business School – also ERC Grant Leader and chair of this session -– an ERC grant brings resources, scientific freedom and, above all, recognition.

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