Could you tell us more about your research and research career so far? What made you come to Brazil? With which initiative or funding?
I am originally a glacial geologist, with an interest in the behaviour of ice sheets on continental margins, but I became interested in other offshore cryospheric processes. My current research focuses on gas hydrates, ice-like compounds that concentrate and trap greenhouse gases (mainly methane) in deep-sea sediments and are thought to form the largest carbon reserve on Earth. These often occur in association with seafloor features of fluid venting, such as mud volcanoes and pockmarks, the functioning of which are poorly understood. I studied such phenomena in the Mediterranean Sea as a researcher in Italy, in collaborations that included researchers from France (Géoazur, Nice) and Brazil (PUCRS, Porto Alegre). A desire to work more closely with these groups, who have complementary skill-sets (and enthusiasms), led me to propose an MSCA IF global fellowship, project SEAGAS. The project involves two years in Brazil (2016-2018) and an obligatory ‘return’ year in France (2018-2019). Administratively, I am at PUCRS on detachment from Géoazur; As I was previously in Italy, this is interesting as it means that I am technically a French researcher, who has yet to live in France!
Tell us a little bit more about the application process (MSCA/IF).
You have to think long-term in regard to a candidacy, as there is only one call per year, and evaluation takes about five months. In addition, it takes time to prepare a competitive proposal. The essential starting point is the Guide for Applicants for the call (available through the Participant Portal). Reading it for the first time is already part of the learning curve, as the guide embodies a basic concept: An MSCA project is not only about excellent research, but about its integration with skills training and career development for the researcher, in the context of the European Research Area (ERA). You are asked to speak about things beyond the research you wish to do, which can require its own form of skills development! It can be helpful to seek additional information and critical feedback, from European Commission or university support groups with experience in preparing proposals. It is also important to note that if a proposal is unsuccessful, comments on the Evaluation Summary Report can be helpful in preparing a resubmission, which is encouraged. My own project succeeded on its second submission.
What would you say to EU researchers and Brazilian research institutes to encourage them to apply for this grant?
First, I would point out that there are two types of MSCA IF grants, of which one is open to Brazilian researchers for mobility to Europe (IF-EF). I have come to Brazil with a global fellowship (IF-GF), which requires a 3-way partnership between an EU researcher and host institutions with complementary skills in Brazil and Europe.
I would tell researchers that the rewards are scientific independence for up to 3 years, while acquiring new skills both scientifically and culturally, and developing an international network of contacts that can promote further Euro-Brazilian collaborations. For research institutes in Brazil, there is the opportunity to attract externally-funded researchers and to build trans-Atlantic collaborations. It is also worth noting that Brazilian research institutes can invite EU researchers to apply for projects that they think may be of trans-Atlantic interest, in the context of existing or desired collaborations with EU partners.
What are the challenges of doing research in Brazil as a foreigner? Could you tell us more about your personal views on working in Brazil and with Brazilian researchers?
I think the experience of working in any country depends in part on the background of the visiting researcher. I have lived and worked in both northern and southern European countries, which differ in their cultures, including their outlooks and expectations regarding work. I enjoy the greater importance given to personal relationships in southern cultures, which may be why I find it fairly natural to work in Brazil. Also, it is in the nature of my MSCA GF project that I am in Brazil to work with my colleagues, in a research collaboration that is in our common interest. I think Brazil is quite open to equal partnerships.
In your opinion, what could be done to further enhance the mobility of international researchers?
I think it would be useful to have more schemes to fund the mobility of PhD students from Brazil to Europe, and vice versa. At post-doctoral level, it could be useful to have co-funded schemes in which the researcher applies directly to the Brazilian research institute, as opposed to the MSCA IF scheme in which all funds are controlled by the European host. There are also inherent challenges in the areas of taxes and pensions, which despite the existence of some international schemes still end up becoming issues for the individual researcher. For instance, I have worked in four countries to date, each of which will administer a portion of my pension; When I retire I risk spending all my time trying to understand what to do to obtain it!
In your opinion, how important is incoming mobility to internationalise Brazilian science?
I find Brazilian researchers to be quite international in their outlook, due to outgoing mobility funded through national programmes such as Ciência sem Fronteiras. Incoming mobility may be helpful to maintain that outlook and foster new collaborations, especially in a time of reduced national funding.
Daniel Praeg is a Swiss national and researcher in marine geoscience who was born in Canada and has worked in several countries. He first went to sea as an Undergraduate student and then as a pre-doctoral researcher with the Geological Survey of Canada, before taking a PhD (1997) in Scotland. This was followed by post-doctoral research in Ireland (University College Dublin), and a research position in Italy (Trieste). Since May 2016 he has been an MSCA global fellow in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on detachment from a host institute in France (Géoazur, Nice). He has taken part in oceanographic campaigns in the Canadian Arctic, the North and South Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
He speaks English, French and Italian, and is currently learning Portuguese.