09/04/2020

Attracting Europe-based researchers to LAC with the MSCA IF scholarship - Meet George Brown, MSCA GF host in Brazil


There are two types of MSCA Individual Fellowships (IF): European Fellowships and Global Fellowships. In the case of Global Fellowships, European researchers submit an application in partnership with a European institution. Thus, the institution in Latin America or in the Caribbean will be considered as a ‘partner organisation’.

This is an excellent opportunity for LAC higher education institutions/research institutes/private sector firms to host a high-level Europe-based researcher, fully funded by the European Commission.

I want to host a researcher with an MSCA-IF Global Fellowship at my institution in Latin America and the Caribbean. How do I find a fellow?

  • Post your hosting offers on the EURAXESS portal. Follow this step-by-step guide.
  • Do inform your research network and colleagues based in Europe of your institution’s hosting offer.

Meet the researcher: George Brown, Embrapa Forestry, MSCA-GF host

We interviewed George Brown, Brazilian researcher from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) Forestry who received a European MSCA Global Fellow in his lab for two years.

MSCA Fellow:

  • Name: Luis Cunha
  • Country of origin: UK
  • Home institution: Cardiff University
  • Acronym (title) of the MSCA project: HookaWorm
  • Contact Luis here. Visit Luis‘ website page to read about his career trajectory and his research.

MSCA Host:

  • Name: George Brown
  • Country of origin: Brazil
  • Home institution: Embrapa Forestry
  • Contact George here

You received an MSCA global fellow in your lab. Could you tell us a bit about the project you did together and your role as supervisor?

The project we undertook was on ‘Amazonian Dark Earths’, a highly fertile anthropogenic ecosystem in Amazonia. We were interested in how these soils act as reservoirs for a unique soil biota, particularly earthworms, and how these animals contribute to the genesis and maintenance of the fertility of these soils. We managed to secure three different funding sources simultaneously to perform the MSCA work in Brazil, which greatly facilitated the development of the project, particularly considering the expenses involved in a large amount of travel and lab work, and the big groups of people needed to perform the fieldwork in Amazonian sites far away from my lab in Curitiba (Southern Brazil). During this period of very intense activity, I was involved in extensive planning and executing of the field and lab work, as well as in the extensive networking and bureaucratic steps necessary in order to undertake the project, as the sampling sites were natural heritage archaeological sites, and often in protected government or privately-owned areas. The Fellow, Luis Cunha, actually did not need much supervision, and I considered him more as a peer/colleague who came with a unique set of skills and enthusiasm to work together on a topic of joint interest.

How did you find out about MSCA? Did you know the fellow beforehand?

Luis told me about the MSCA as a grant opportunity to come to Brazil, and I met him at a conference in 2014 in the USA, the year the project was submitted.

How would you say the experience contributed to your institution / lab professional development?

Luis was a great colleague and I feel that I learned a lot from him and the experience that he brought with him from the UK, which he shared generously and extensively in our lab. His enthusiasm and knowledge, particularly of molecular techniques was extremely useful for our lab and in the training of graduate and undergraduate students that worked with us. His many ideas of parallel projects to be developed simultaneously in order to expand the knowledge and activities of students in our lab, led us to tackle many other exciting challenges related to various fields of biology and ecology, especially concerning earthworms, the main organism we work with in our lab.

What was your involvement in the MSCA IF application process? Any difficulty?

The application was done by the applicant. I only had to register my institution in the EU framework, in order to be a host institution. This was relatively simple, although it involved some minor bureaucratic steps, both internally in my institution, and in the EU platform. I did of course review the project and evaluate much of the scientific background for it, as well as the viability of performing many of the proposed activities, considering the local conditions in Brazil.

Do you have any advice for LAC research institutions interested in receiving Europe-based researchers for an up to 2 years stay?

It is important that LAC researchers interested in receiving researchers from Europe do regular visits to international conferences, where many students looking for postdoc opportunities participate. In these conferences, it is useful to let others know that you are interested in expanding collaborations, and could receive students in your lab, even if you do not have any scholarships available. In this case, it is also important to say that you could contribute with ideas and some of your time to develop joint projects that could fund postdocs and other researchers to come to your labs, as this is a show of confidence and interest in receiving new people.

What about to young researchers based in Europe who are considering applying for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship to undertake a research stay in LAC?

It is essential that young researchers go out of their comfort zone and reach out to speak with the scientists and professionals working in their areas of interest, without being afraid or concerned about ‘not knowing it all’, and also without fear of leaving Europe to somewhere different, where they may not know the language or share the same customs, foods, etc... First of all, none of us are omniscient, and we are in science because we are moved by curiosity, questions, hypotheses and the search for answers to these, through the diligent use of scientific methods, ingenuity, creativity, passion, and often times reiteration, reassessment, self-criticism, and sometimes serendipity. So we need to be bold enough to approach those whom we are interested in working with, to share our ideas and ‘tread the waters’ to see if they are received by others, in order to work together. Although many professionals are quite busy and often have full labs or schedules, most scientists will always welcome an enthusiastic student/colleague with a question worth pursuing. And if it happens to coincide with an opportunity to submit a proposal for funding, then this is even more interesting. Secondly, LAC is an exciting region, full of natural and human wonders, cultures and challenges that should excite practically anyone with the desire to live a different adventure in their lives, and to do new things which have not yet been done in Europe. This may be perhaps the most attractive aspect of doing research in LAC. The possibility of doing something new, and also something useful. Many problems that are faced by LAC institutions and people are often already resolved, or not experienced by those living in Europe. So the challenges of working in an environment that may be more limiting in some aspects (particularly in terms of infrastructure for research, which is often less well developed in LAC institutions), may be overcome by the fascination of doing something new and also feeling more useful in what you do for others. The social life in LAC is also often much more open than in many European countries, whereby links created such as friendships and comradeship may be life-transforming and lead to important changes in personal paradigms. These are all things that I believe contribute to making scientists better ‘human-beings’.

In your opinion, how important is incoming mobility to internationalise LAC or your country's science and why?

For our lab, the incoming scientist (Luis) was a strong force towards stimulating my students to want to go to Europe and other countries. Although I often share with them this view and the importance of having an experience abroad, being able to communicate on a daily basis with a young scientist from abroad acting like their peer (rather than their supervisor), was much more effective in this manner. Furthermore, bringing in new ideas and concepts of how to improve lab organisation, activities, and research questions also stimulated my students to do more and to be more productive and inquisitive. The number of new projects and ideas we tested while Luis was here was phenomenal, and I consider this impetus essential in order to move forwards and tackle ever more difficult and complex questions we are facing in science today.

 

About MSCA IF

MSCA IF aims at supporting the international mobility of researchers within (European Fellowshipsand beyond Europe (Global Fellowships) as well as helping to attract the best foreign researchers to work in the EU. The grant usually covers two years' salary, a mobility allowance, research costs and overheads for the host institution.

Individual Fellowships (IF) are for experienced researchers to undertake their own research project at a host organisation in another country, thus gaining new skills through advanced training and possibly, intersectoral mobility.

We suggest you also read at 2 European researchers who conducted their projects in LAC:

  • Daniel Praeg, Swiss researcher who did a research stay in Brazil with a Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) global fellowship, and
  • Daniele Salerno, Italian MSCA researcher from Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands, currently at Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina.

You can find all the information about the MSCA IF 2020 call here: bit.ly/MSCAIF2020

This article was originally published on EURAXESS Brazil & LAC Quarterly Newsletter Q1 2020