MCAA @ ESOF2018

This year’s EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), the largest interdisciplinary meeting in Europe that brings scientists, policy makers, industry and the general public together to discuss current scientific research and innovation, is now taking place in Toulouse, France.

Several of the sessions are (co-)organized by MCAA. In this post we have been reporting live from the event on the highlights of the MCAA members speaking at ESOF2018.

Friday July 13 — Perspective of humanities and social sciences researchers. Challenges, prosperity and guidance

In this panel led by MCAA member Nina Díaz Ferández from the University of Ljubljana, the issue of employability of social science and humanities (SSH) researchers was discussed.

Is it a myth that SSH researchers have a more difficult problem finding jobs, both within and outside academia and what can we do to combat this? Gabor Kimisihok (Learning and Skills Analytics research group at TIB, Hannover) points out that the strength of SSH in these days of new technologies and innovation, lies in their ability to humanize emerging technologies such as AI. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of transferable skills and the lack of an international and European framework for such training, therefore he set up the transskills.eu platform.

Gabriella Lombardo (European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities) encourages SSH researchers to be more confident and vocal about their own skills. Also, having unified SSH representation can help with changing science and research policy.

Asunción López-Varela points out that SSH is pretty well represented in the general job market but in academic research they are still outnumbered. In interdisciplinary projects, it is important for parties to speak the same language.

Dario Pellizzon left a video message encouraging SSH researchers to be more vocal… we need young and active researchers to help shape policy!

Friday July 13 — Family Friendly Research to boost Womens Research Career — How to address Work Life Conflicts and balance Professional and Personal Life in Career Development in Research

Giovanna Avellis (MCAA) led the discussion on work-life balance initiatives and family friendly research. In general, the issues differ strongly depending on country, sector of work and even between universities. Even Finland, considered to be one of the great examples in work equality, there are still many challenges woman face when trying to combine a family with a career (Dr. Sirpa Salenius).

A UK survey with research staff presented by Katie Wheat (Vitae) shows that, while highly variable, most researchers’ experience with parental leave systems has been positive, which is an encouraging trend: things are slowly changing. Often the issue that new parents don’t have access to the information they need concerning support systems.

Brian Cahill (MCAA and EuroScience board) emphasizes the difficulty of being mobile researchers and a parent. Not having a local support system (family close by), lack of information and variable quality of childcare can make the life of a mobile parent quite difficult. Gordon Dalton (ICoRSA) “A researcher with stable career perspectives is a happy researcher and a happy researcher is a productive researcher”.

Finally, an audience member commented that family friendly research is a problem for everybody, for all genders, and that this should be taken into account in the discussion.

Friday July 13 — Increasing awareness of researcher mental health

When Katia Levecque published a paper on Work organisation and mental health of PhD students in Flanders, she wasn’t prepared for the explosion of interest that followed. The paper was rapidly shared in China, Singapore and the US, receiving 64,000 reactions in just a few hours. A video summarising the main points got over 7 million views. Even if some people didn’t want her to publish the paper because it was considered bad for the region or for funding prospects, clearly this was a topic that deserves attention.

In this session, chaired by MCAA’s Brian Cahill, Susan Guthrie outlined the factors that make research such a high-risk profession for mental health.

One study reports that 78% of researchers work over 40 hours a week, in a highly competitive profession in which control of the job, lack of support structures, a tendency for harassment and bullying, and a lack clarity in academic roles can all affect a researcher’s well-being.

The audience divided into groups to discuss solutions, with a clear take hole message being that we all need to be more aware of the problem and learn to talk about it more, whether we are PhD students, researchers, supervisors, institutions, or policymakers.

Thursday July 12 — Open science: from concept to implementation

Everybody seems to agree that “open science is a good idea,” but there are many aspects that need to be taken into account in terms of implementation. This panel, organized and hosted by MCAA members Maja Mise and Mattias Björnmalm respectively, opened the discussion about the different aspects to open science and concrete strategies towards implementation.

A major talking point concerned incentives for researchers and institutions to support the open science initiative. Some universities are already implementing strategies that incorporate open science in their recruitment and promotion decisions. Taking advantage of existing structures, such as the reward structures in those universities or existing structures from domains that already have a strong history in data-sharing, we have good examples of how open science implementation can work.

For Mattias Björnmalm, the take-home message was that we are now in the stage where we can focus on implementation, so that is where the important discussions should take place, with an eye on the tension that exists between established infrastructures and new emerging structures for open data, open access and open science in general.

Thursday July 12 — MCAA members Alejandra Consejo and Pavlo Bazilinskyy receive this years’ European Young Researcher Award

Wednesday 11 July — How best to integrate academics and students refugees into higher education

A career in academia is hard enough when your personal life is settled, just imagine building your career as a refugee or displaced researcher! In a session chaired by MCAA’s Andreina Leara we heard that the challenges are enormous, including language, legal status, emotional trauma and developing a sense of belonging.

“The knowledge of humanity is losing out unless we don’t better integrate academic and student refugees into higher education” said Antonio Lim Miguel as he presented an MCAA survey on the topic.

The survey of over 2,000 respondents highlighted a lack of knowledge and resources for how to deal with the problem and a lack of awareness of the initiatives that exist already. Time is of the essence as lives and careers can be lost through years spent in migrant camps and out of education and work. There is evidence that rapid integration has an economic benefit for the host country too. Antonio urged institutions to have courage in taking more risks by hiring refugees.

The panel for How best to integrate academics and students refugees into higher education: Andreina Laera (MCAA), Fernanda Bajanca (MCAA), Matthew DiFranco (MCAA), Rebecca Murray (Helena Kennedy foundation), Miguel Antonio Lim (MCAA), Jaclyn Rosebrook-Collignon (CoMUE Migrant Work Group), Eleni Adrianopulu (Welcome Centre, EURAXESS), Veronica Cesco (European Commission), Amir Al Oustah (Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse) and Maria Blöcher (Kiron Open Higher Education)

Wednesday 11 July — Researchers associations beyond borders: how many computations to design an interactive constellation?

How can we make strong and effective collaborations and how can we create effective researcher networks through researcher associations? These questions were discussed during the panel on researcher associations beyond borders, organised by MCAA member Maria-Antonietta Buccheri.

With so many research associations out there, how do we ensure that we don’t compete for the same funding or give a fractured and disorganised impression towards policy makers, when we are often aiming towards the same goal?

Establishing a network between research associations (and organising joint panels like this is one great way to do this) is an excellent way to provide the networking and support groups researchers of all levels really need. As Slobodan Radicev from EuroScience put it: “Let’s make this networking, not njetworking”.

Wednesday 11 July — The lost generation of European scientists: how to make the system more sustainable?

The panel, moderated by Sara Ricardo, board member of MCAA, discussed the ‘Lost Generation’ of European researchers.

Prof Renee Schroeder, from the University of Vienna, discussed the challengers facing PhD students, including a lack of support and empathy by some PIs. She said two- or three-year fellowships are not sufficient. Dr Schroeder also noted that the academic community needs to acknowledge the role of luck in academic success.

Prof. Rolf Terrach, President of the European University Association, said that the research system has become more challenging, and that it’s no longer the case anymore. He suggested that it may be worthwhile providing real-time data on the probability of progression from one research stage to the next. If the data exists he proposed that it should be made public to allow candidates for a research career to make an informed decision.

Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the ERC since 2014, mentioned the need to be aware of the situation facing young researchers, which has become more critical over the last 20 years. He noted the difficulty in balancing teaching expectations with high-quality research and stressed that there is no one solution for all European countries.

Dr. Maria Giorna, board member of the MCAA said we need more flexibility at all levels and extend options beyond short-term contracts.

Tuesday July 10 — Horizon Europe: The future European framework for research and innovation beyond horizon 2020

In this open panel, the challenges and opportunities of Horizon Europe were discussed with Carlos Moedas (European Commission), Maria Leptin (EMBO) and our very own Angela Bellia (National Research Council’s Institute for Archaeological and Monumental Heritage; MCAA). As with such discussions, there are no ready-made solution, but the commissioner was challenged on issues including open science (which will not come for free), research integrity (how can we ensure it), inclusiveness and new models of leadership.

Andrea Bellia challenged Europe to better capitalise on its human capital and improve success rates for young researchers in the European funding programmes. Emphasising her view that Horizon Europe can only be successful if it can overcome the geopolitical differences around the continent. She also called for a better support for social sciences and humanities, a challenge that Carlos Moedas answered by saying that he will not accept a Horizon Europe mission that does not include SSH.

Tuesday July 10 — Environmental impact of transportation on Europe: view of science and industry.

During the session, organised by Pavlo Bazilinskyy (MCAA), students and experts on climate and transport technologies expressed their points of view regarding the changes needed to be made in order to reduce the negative impact of transportation. An important question was whether technology is the solution for lower contamination or does people’s behavior play a major role? Opinions were divided in this aspect. Some of the speakers believed that technology has to and will play the most important role in the change, while others believed that we need to focus on stimulating people for the use of less contaminating transportation ways and change stereotypes related to the need of owning a car. Despite the different points of view, they all agreed on the importance of accessibility of sustainable travel in order to make a real change. During the opened questions the audience pointed out the importance of educating people regarding the use of sustainable transportations.

Tuesday July 10 — MCAA session: Core issues for Early Career researchers and strategies for effective media outreach

This session consisted of two parts: first MCAA chair Dr. Matthew DiFranco summarised the results of the 2017 MCAA survey and board member Dr. Nehama Lewis told us how to produce more effective media outreach strategies.

In a nutshell, the MCAA survey pooled responses of 5,479 former MSCA funding recipients across 62 different countries about their current career, their mobility profile and barriers in their career. The results of this survey will be published soon.

Dr. Nehama Lewis told how to get more likes on our tweets, or be more efficient in media communication in general. An important thing to think about is both the ability and motivation of the target audience: does the target audience have the ability to understand the topic, and are the motivated to learn about the topic? If the answer to at least one of those questions is “no” (and most often, this is the case), it is better to have a message that catches the eye, is concise, and acknowledges you as a credible source.

Sunday July 8 — MSCA Satellite Event

The MSCA satellite event marked the launch of the new online learning platform (MSCA learning hub). In order to start an open discussion about two of the available courses, a panel of MCAA members shared their experiences about engaging with science policy makers and communicating research to the general public.

In this interesting discussion we learned that timing is key when speaking to policy makers (so find out what the current issues are) and the power of storytelling for science communication.

This was followed by a round of “Science Speed-dating”, giving early stage researchers the chance to test their narrative skills to a round table of curious listeners.

Saturday July 7 — European Science Slam

Valerie Bentivegna — Photo by Nuoya C at the European Science Slam

There are many ways to communicate you research to the general public, and for some researchers, standing on a stage for 10 minutes to talk about your science in an engaging and funny way is more than just an adrenaline rush, it’s also one of the best ways to make your research more known.

The European Science Slam (co-organised by the MCAA; Wissenschaft im Dialog, Germany; and Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona) put six science communicators on a stage to tell an eager audience about their research.

Among them, two MCAA members Yoran Beldengrün and Valerie Bentivegna (photo), preformed science magic and science music respectively. A shout-out to the other performers as well: Ondřej Kovanda, Martina Pesaresi, Carrie Ankerstein and Günther Auzinger, the latter who can now call himself the European Science Slam Champion!

Updates in this blog are written by members of the MCAA Communication Working Group (Calum MacKichan, Ivana Kraiselburdand Valerie Bentivegna) and MCAA board member Nehama Lewis.

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