Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Research Fellowships
Categories: Meet the researchers
International cooperation including researcher mobility is a key element of the European Unions’ current Research & Innovation Programme Horizon 2020 (H2020) which welcomes top-class researchers from Third Countries (i.e. countries that are neither members of the European Union nor associated with it) to work on projects in and with Europe. Included in the "Excellent Science" pillar of Horizon 2020 are the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCAs) which will award EUR 6,162 million over the period 2014-2020. The objective of the MSCA is to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through worldwide and cross-sector mobility. For this, the MSCA provide grants at all stages of researchers' careers, from PhD candidates to highly experienced researchers, and encourage transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The MSCA will become the main EU programme for doctoral training, funding 25.000 PhDs. Amongst the growing alumni network of this prestigious fellowship scheme are highly talented young researchers from ASEAN – 71 fellows from Vietnam, 36 from Thailand, 32 from Indonesia, 24 Philippines, 21 from Malaysia, 17 from Singapore, two from Myanmar and one from Brunei. Each month, EURAXESS Links ASEAN invites Marie Curie Fellows from countries within ASEAN to share their experience with our readership. This month we caught up with two researchers; Malaysian Ms Mun Li Yam is currently a senior scientist with a Scotish biotech company while Ms Anna Liza Bais hails from the Philippines and is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, Austria.
About Anna Liza Bais
Anna Liza Bais holds a Bachelor degree in Forestry from the University of the Philippines and an Erasmus Mundus double Master’s degree in European Forestry and Forest and Nature Conservation from the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, Finland and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, Austria.
Ms Bais is a Marie Curie Fellow on the CASTLE (Careers in Sustainability Excellence) project within a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN).
About Mun Li Yam
Mun Li Yam is currently a senior scientist at AvantiCell Science Limited (Ayr, Scotland), a company that focuses on cell-based assays for use in drug discovery, biomedical research and natural product testing. Mun Li holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Putra Malaysia and a Master’s degree in Medical Science from the University of Malaya. For two years, she was conducting research in an independent non-profit cancer research organisation in Malaysia. In 2011, she moved to Scotland after being awarded the Marie Curie Fellowship to join the NanoTOES project as an Experienced Researcher
Ms Yam, Ms Bais please tell us a little about you.
MLY: I am from Malaysia and I hold a BSc. degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Putra Malaysia and a MSc. degree in Medical Science from the University of Malaya. I began my career working on cancer research in a Malaysian independent non-profit organisation for two years prior to securing the NanoTOES project fellowship. Under the programme, I joined AvantiCell Science Ltd. in Scotland and have since remained here to continue my scientific career specialising in cell-based analysis.
ALB: I am from the Philippines and currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, Austria. I hold a Bachelor degree in Forestry from the University of the Philippines and an Erasmus Mundus double Master’s degree in European Forestry and Forest and Nature Conservation from the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, Finland and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
What are your respective research backgrounds?
MLY: The beginning of my research career involved studying of natural products using both in vitro and in vivo models. Upon graduation, I began working at a cancer research charity, focusing on screening and characterisation of small molecules and natural compounds for anti-cancer properties, specifically photosensitisers for use in Photodynamic Therapy. At the same time, I was also involved in some immunology-related research.
ALB: My research background spans over different fields such as forestry and natural resources economics, forest ecology and management, atmospheric particles technology and social and industrial ecology. I was involved in the following research projects: determination of households’ willingness to pay using a “Contingent Valuation Method” for sustainable watersheds management in the Philippines; semi-continuous measurement of atmospheric ammonia and ammonium in Gwangju, Republic of Korea; and a comprehensive review of traditional woodfuel data in tropical countries. I had experienced in analyzing soot and atmospheric particles measured by Transmission Electron Microscopy and designing heater tips to improve the collection efficiency of Aerosol Mass Spectrometer. My Master’s thesis focused on financial analysis of postharvesting silvicultural treatments applied in logging gaps for promoting regeneration of commercial species in eastern Brazilian Amazon. My current research focuses on using and expanding the Material- and Energy Flow Analysis framework for sustainability impact assessment of bioenergy systems.
Can you tell our readers about the research projects you are doing as Marie Curie Fellows?
MLY: “Nanotechnology: Training of Experts in Safety (NanoTOES)” is a project under the FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN (Marie-Curie Initial Training Networks) programme. Under this training-by-research programme, my contribution was to develop cell-based assays validated for their ability to predict toxicological responses to engineered nanomaterials under a range of sample-presentation conditions. I aimed to deliver the assays in simple and user-friendly format while also allowing the possibility of high content outputs for additional information on cell function and changes resulting from exposure to nanomaterials.
ALB: I am currently involved in CASTLE (Careers in Sustainability Excellence) project within a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN). CASTLE project has received research funding from the European Union’s programme called Marie Curie Actions. CASTLE combines scientific innovative problem-oriented research and practical training of young academics on methods used for sustainability impact assessments in the bioenergy and forest-based sector in Europe. CASTLE educates sustainability experts for a broader bio-based economy. There are 14 individual research projects within CASTLE ITN project. I am currently working on Individual Research Project number 5: Using material flow indicators for sustainability impact assessment of bioenergy systems. My research aims at analyzing sustainability aspects of bioenergy provisions, at the global scale, with particular focus on land efficiency and land competition. The methodological basis of my research is the Material- and Energy flow analysis which provides a framework to assess biomass resource use intensity and sustainability of socio-economic activities in a top-down (systematic) perspective.
Why did you choose to apply for this particular project?
MLY: The attractive aspect of this project is the opportunity to experience a scientific career in industry, with my host AvantiCell Science Ltd. being an industry partner within the NanoTOES project consortium. I got a valuable chance to enhance my skills particularly in cell-based analysis and assay development which applies not only to nanotoxicological assessment, but to a wide area of biomedical research and life sciences in general.
ALB: I decided to apply for CASTLE project because I am very much interested on the topic itself. My research interest, academic background and experience fit well on the individual research project I have applied for.
So far, what are the most significant benefits you derive as a Marie Curie Fellow?
MLY: My fellowship experience in a commercial SME has exposed me to regulatory affairs and work under certified standards required in industry. Besides acquiring expertise in my area of interest, the programme allowed multi-disciplinary and cross-sectorial training through organised workshops and secondments to project partners’ laboratories. Last but not least, the fellowship allowed me to collaborate and establish scientific networks with various highlyreputable international institutions in Europe.
ALB: As a Marie Curie Fellow I had wonderful training experience where I gained new knowledge, experiences and expertise in both scientifically and technically, built my networks and the opportunity to apply the principles of sustainability in innovation sectors.
What are your plans for the future?
MLY: I hope to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technology learned during my fellowship back to my home country, Malaysia. Therefore, I decided to remain in the company following the completion of my fellowship, and to realise this plan by building strategic partnerships with scientists in Malaysia’s life science sector; this is already in progress. ALB: After completing my PhD studies, I plan to work as a researcher or consultant in a bioenergy sector or academic/research institutions active in sustainability issues.
How did you experience your move to Europe? Did you encounter any difficulties? What would be your advice for your peers?
MLY: Overall, my move to Europe went smoothly although I would consider the application for a UK work visa to be the most challenging and time consuming part. Having said that, my company has been very supportive throughout the application process and it eventually went well. Apart from the immigration red tape, being aware of the host country’s living and cultural expectations may make it easier to adapt to work and life abroad.
ALB: My experience when I moved to Europe was rather easy and I didn’t encounter any problem. One of the challenging parts of living in Europe as an Asian was dealing with bureaucracy but I am very fortunate in having a very supportive host institution. To adapt much easier and to have a good interaction with local people, I would advise you to learn the basic language and culture of your host country.
In retrospect, which elements do you think were decisive in you being successful in your application?
MLY: In my opinion, my research background in cell-based analysis for drug discovery and screening for potential therapeutics has been an advantage in my fellowship application. In addition, positive references from my previous employers could have helped tremendously as well.
ALB: I believe my strong academic background and research experience were powerful elements in my application.
Do you have any advice for other young researchers who are considering applying for a MCF?
MLY: I would strongly encourage this because the fellowship is not only a prestigious award but a truly rewarding one. My advice for aspiring applicants is to identify your area of interest and apply for one that will allow development of expertise and knowledge towards your desired research direction.
ALB: You should start gaining experience (e.g. internship, summer school, conferences) and skills which you can use as your powerful elements to have a successful application. Be well prepared and don’t forget to sell yourself and market your brilliant ideas!