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GeoPolicy: One American’s way into the European Commission

GeoPolicy: One American’s way into the European Commission

An unsolicited email to a LinkedIn connection holding the title “science communicator” led me to the European Commission. My journalism master’s thesis was now complete, and I was in hasty pursuit of a career in citizen engagement of science. The EGU’s Policy Officer Chloe Hill responded to my spontaneous request for career direction and forwarded me a running list of science-policy traineeships and fellowships. I quickly spotted a perfect fit. It was my field and it was stationed in Italy. That posting would become a dream come true.

With luck and time on my side, the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) Exploratory Research Unit was recruiting a native English speaker for their science communication traineeship. The project leaders appreciated my interest in EU public understanding of science evident in my research and Erasmus Mundus journalism degree curriculum. Unfortunately, my nationality posed a problem. The EU generally doesn’t typically hire Americans and as a result, the hiring process took a few more signatures and steps compared with other EU employees. Traineeship applicants can however, come from anywhere. My future boss sought and secured permission from the higher-ups to grant my traineeship position and after a few months in bureaucratic recruitment limbo, I was in.

Orienting myself as a science communicator

The role of a science communicator depends largely on the financial relationship between researchers and their benefactors. Sponsorship warrants visibility. In the US, the prominence of research from universities and private labs creates a need for science communicators who can write grants. This cloistered audience has its own rigid guidelines for messaging and interaction. In the EU where supranational labs directly inform policy decisions, communicators must engage tax payers and the policy makers. That means science communicators here get to write to diverse segmented populations split along lines of political parties, borders of members states, and social boundaries among citizens. This dynamic environment invites creative and strategic messengers. A space I could grow into.

Life as a JRC trainee

I arrived at the JRC in Ispra, Italy with no indication of what my actual duties would entail. The original recruitment expression of interest was as vague as I was eager. Quickly though, I was set to my tasks and made an integral part of my unit. Work was fun and challenging. From week one, I was authoring reports, designing workshops, and envisioning communication strategies for groundbreaking science projects. As time went on, my advisor gave me the opportunity to choose my own projects that supported our unit mission. I bridged my background in climate science communication and media production to catalyse engagement efforts in nuclear safeguards, ocean conservation, and automated vehicles. The workplace mobility that I was afforded and significance of my contributions made me feel useful. That impression doesn’t always happen with a traineeship or internship. Work gripped my curiosity and I followed with fervor.

Life at the JRC is easy. The Commission has organised the initiation process and living situation so that employees can hit the ground running. Trainees get a loaner bike, a snazzy apartment across the street for cheap, free language courses, health insurance, and to the envy of UN interns… a livable stipend. Best of all, people are welcoming. The first day I was greeted alongside 15 other trainees from across Europe with the warmest of welcomes. My HR adviser picked me up and drove me around the research site to point out important buildings and ground me in my new home. This convivial atmosphere would continue throughout my traineeship.

Life at the JRC is fun. The self-hailed “traineeland” community comprises all trainees and involves daily get-togethers on and off campus. Traineeland provided ready-made friendships and opportunities to invest oneself into the JRC and local Italian community. Throughout my five months, we hosted and attended educational events across campus, did Saturday yoga on the lakeshore, ran as a group through the forests, cooked common dinners, hiked the alps, and always went to Mensa on Wednesdays. It was truly heavenly, as I often commented during gatherings.

Advice to future applicants

The European Commission posts its trainee and contract vacancies through a running portal. The site constantly updates with new jobs in every field of science and level of staff management. For recent grads like myself, I recommend first applying to a trainee position. Unless you have a PhD with a very related focus and five years of experience, it can prove difficult to secure a well-salaried research position. A traineeship offers you a chance work and learn how to navigate inside the European Commission. Once here, you the support system and connection to pursue a career. Without inside experience, the hiring process can be daunting. There are a handful of contract types each with its own unique application methods. Best bet: apply for a traineeship. The exposure, community, and connections that you will receive at the European Commission as a trainee will equip you with the acumen and insights needed to build a career at an international organisation.

 What did my supervisors want in an applicant? Aside from my language skills for their writing position, my interviewers were looking for international experience, adaptability to multiple tasks, and willingness to contribute new ideas. I cannot imagine a more diverse place than the JRC. Language, research field, nationality, and experience were common factors in daily operations. My interviewers wanted to know how well I could collaborate in an environment with teams from diverse nations, backgrounds, and scientific fields. Their call for adaptability to multitasking is not a euphemism for a coffee maker or a “wasserträger”. The JRC has a myriad of projects that often overlap with other departments, therefore contributors must know how to switch tasks effectively and work with multiple timelines. Finally, many teams want a trainee who can deliver a new perspective. Trainees are seen, unofficially, as a source of spiritedness and vibrancy to the hyper-focused scientific output machine that is the JRC. This anticipation of ingenuity from trainees opens opportunities for them to make their mark on projects by contributing their perspective and expertise. I recommendation interviewees demonstrate their professionalism, exemplify their adaptability, highlight one or two related experiences, and let their enthusiasm for his or her field and community shine.

Saying goodbye?

In an effort to network outside my unit, I wrote and delivered a short speech on science communication. Several units allowed me to speak at their monthly meeting. I wanted to show others how sci comm could improve their output visibility, as well as demonstrate the utility of someone with my skillset. I took this effort further by drafting communication strategies in my free time for units without one. I often got as a response, “I wish you were staying, we have some interesting projects coming up.” I wished so too.

After a fast and full five months, I completed my traineeship. As I prepared to shut down my computer for the last time, an email popped up. It read that I had been accepted as an external expert for one year. An audience member from one of my past speeches recalled my purpose and had recommended me for the position. I was and am ecstatic. There is no one way to secure a position here. Aside from traineeships, I recommend familiarising yourself with a JRC initiative and aligning yourself with their efforts. Connect with people through LinkedIn, on collaborative international projects through university connections, and by applying on the vacancies list. Familiarise yourself with European Commission projects by following EU Science Hub social media channels. Also, feel free to reach out to me any time via LinkedIn or a.w.mckinnon@gmail.com.

 

I expect that each new work day will continue to surprise me and hope that every new connection could be one for life. The JRC gave me the opportunity to pour my acumen and education into projects that, from my limited perspective, made an impact on the lives of EU citizens. I am eager to get going again.

By Aaron McKinnon, Communication Strategy Expert at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

We’re hiring! New job opportunities at the EGU Executive Office

We’re hiring! New job opportunities at the EGU Executive Office

The EGU is hiring for two job vacancies at its Executive Office in Munich, Germany. The deadline for applications is fast approaching (14 July 2019) so send your submission soon!

Chief Strategy & Finance Officer
The EGU has recently launched a new strategy to set a direction for the Union and to guide the work of its Council, committees and staff until 2025. This is an exciting time in the development of the EGU and we have created a new position of Chief Strategy & Finance Officer to lead the development and implementation of the Union’s strategic plan and vision, with particular responsibility for the financial security of the Union going forward. This role will be part of the EGU leadership team and will report directly to the EGU Executive Board.

The full job vacancy, including key responsibilities, person specification and how to apply, is available at https://www.egu.eu/jobs/2428/egu-chief-strategy-finance-officer/. Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the EGU Executive Secretary Philippe Courtial (executive-secretary@egu.eu).

Head of Media, Communications & Outreach
We are also seeking to appoint a Head of Media, Communications & Outreach to manage EGU press and communication activities and lead the media, communications and outreach team. This position will replace the current Media and Communications Manager role. Responsibilities include managing press releases and other news, organising press conferences and running the press centre at the EGU General Assembly, as well as overseeing all aspects of EGU communications and developing a forward-looking vision for communicating the work of the EGU.

The full job vacancy, including key responsibilities, person specification and how to apply, is available at https://www.egu.eu/jobs/2427/egu-head-of-media-communications-outreach/. Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the EGU Media and Communications Manager Bárbara Ferreira (media@egu.eu).

A behind-the-scenes look at EGU’s new office

A behind-the-scenes look at EGU’s new office

Earlier this month, the EGU has entered a new chapter in its development by officially relocating its Executive Office – here’s your chance to take a virtual tour of the new space!

The EGU Executive Office, currently staffed by seven employees (and growing!), serves as the Union’s headquarters. The office works year-round assisting the EGU membership, implementing media, communications and policy initiatives, and managing various EGU-related websites, among other activities.

Previously, the EGU staff occupied a small office space within a Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität building in central Munich, but now the EGU team is settling into larger and more modern premises in Munich’s Berg am Laim area.

This move plays a part in the EGU’s new strategy, which was launched concurrently with the Executive Office’s relocation. This new strategy will set a direction for the Union and guide the work of its Council, committees and staff until 2025. By moving to a larger space, the Executive Office will be able to expand and provide the support needed to implement the EGU’s goals for the coming years.

“The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität hosted the EGU Executive Office after its establishment in Munich in the summer 2010,” explains EGU Executive Secretary Philippe Courtial. “The move to new premises marks a milestone in the young EGU history and offers a great, new working environment and new perspectives to the EGU Office staff, and it will allow us to reach our strategic growth ambitions as well.”

The EGU staff is still unpacking and organizing the new space, but here’s a sneak peek into where our team works to support the Union’s goals!

Welcome to Kastenbauerstraße 2 (K2), home of the new EGU Executive Office!

(Credit: B. Ferreira/EGU)

The new EGU Executive Office is located on the second floor of one of the wings of the K2 office building in Berg am Laim, Munich. The image above shows the outside entrance to the wing where the office spaces are located.

 

Credit: Olivia Trani

One of the first rooms you’ll find is the office common area. Here we have a small kitchen, equipped with some office essentials (coffee and cookies), and a table where our staff members often meet for lunch.

 

Across from the kitchen is the office’s meeting room, which can hold up the 17 people. With this amount of space, the Executive Office aims to host meetings and workshops for EGU committees.

 

Four of the rooms are occupied by the office staff. This is where most of the EGU team’s day-to-day activities take place! You can learn more about the Executive Office team members and our activities through the EGU’s website.

 

The new space also has four empty rooms which will support the office as our team expands both in the near future and in the coming years. At the moment the EGU is looking to fill two job vacancies: Head of Media, Communications & Outreach and Chief Strategy & Finance Officer. If interested in joining the EGU team, you can learn more about the positions on the EGU website.

 

(Credit: B. Ferreira/EGU)

On the ground floor you’ll find the building cafeteria where all employees from companies based at K2 can order some lunch, grab a coffee, or munch on a Bavarian classic, a Butter Brezel 😊

 

We’ll end our tour with a photo of the building’s courtyard connecting to the cafeteria, which features nice art installations and tables for employees to enjoy a break outside.

Thanks for joining us on this tour!

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

Sharing & talking isn’t enough – we need a change in culture around mental illness

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ (ECS) Great Debates offer early career scientists at the EGU General Assembly the chance to network and voice their opinions on important topics in the format of round-table discussions. At the end of the debate, each table delivers a statement that summarises the discussion and recommendations. By publishing the results, we hope to highlight some of the needs of the EGU ECS community and how these matters should be addressed.

Early career scientists (ECS) demand more open and honest discussions around mental health in academia to combat stigma and create supportive environments – they also acknowledge that, while their own approaches are part of the change, assistance from the top is required as well.

At this year’s ECS Great Debate, the topic was mental wellbeing.  The main question was “How can Early Career Scientists prioritise their mental wellbeing?”, which was discussed by almost 100 participants – mostly ECS but this topic is relevant to everyone. To guide our debate of this very broad topic we focused on two aspects:

  1. What can ECS do themselves
  2. What support would ECS like to see from institutions

Even though this is a very personal topic, we could have discussed both aspects all night, and in fact just having the topic in the General Assembly programme sparked debates during the week. I’m grateful that all participants debating this topic with us felt safe to share some very personal stories.

Early career scientists having round-table discussions on mental wellbeing in research and academia at the EGU General Assembly 2019.

Approximately one in four people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime – this number is even higher for PhD students, early career scientists and academics. This means it is time to discuss this aspect of research life more openly, not only to provide support but also to reduce the stigma around mental illness and ensure it does not turn into career enders. By openly discussing all aspects of research careers, we make certain that diversity is celebrated and ECS feel supported.

Increasing demands on researchers, highly competitive working environments, uncertain career paths and expected relocations were some of the challenges highlighted at the event that can impact ECS mental wellbeing. As ECS face these challenges, it is important to find ways to protect and care for oneself to ensure that mental health is not ignored and that ECS feel supported to seek help or guidance if they encounter mental health issues. The top tips from the ECS debating this topic can be summarised in three key themes:

  1. Be more than your research: have hobbies and find communities outside your lab or office. This helps to find perspective, get additional assistance or just to distract yourself. This can be difficult if you are new to a research group and have to relocate regularly. This is where online communities can be very helpful as they provide support and local knowledge irrespective of physical location.
  2. Be kind to yourself: selfcare is important, so know your limits and don’t fall down the trap of overworking; work smarter not harder. Take regular stock of your achievements, such as a DONE list rather than a To-Do list. It can be tempting to compete with your colleagues who is in the office first and who ends up staying the longest, but are all these hours productive? Figure out your best times to be productive and let the flexible working hours of academia work for you.
  3. Share with others and learn to be an ally: it’s ok to not be ok; we play a part in sharing this to help to create a more open, accepting environment. It’s not only about speaking openly about your own mental health but it’s also about listening without judgement when others share their experiences – this allows supportive environments to flourish. In this kind of space, everyone can feel comfortable to share their experiences, worries and fears, as well as celebrate successes, good practices and support.

These are big asks, and it was acknowledged that a supportive workspace environment is also key to allow researchers to look after their mental wellbeing. Institutions have a key role in creating and maintaining the right kind of working environment and office culture. Stigma around mental illness is probably the biggest barrier, and employers have to do more to both reduce the stigma and foster kind, safe and judgment-free office environments. Offering awareness training and handing out phone numbers for support or help lines is a start but not enough. ECS listed these things as key actions they would like to see implemented to create supportive environments:

  1. Specialised training and guidance for supervisors and managers: These kinds of workshops should not only teach employers how to identify needs and offer help but also how to raise awareness and create a more open working culture.
  2. Open discussions (such as coffee mornings or discussion groups) should be encouraged by institutions across all career stages to allow people to share their experiences.
  3. Celebration of available support: far too often finding guidance or the right person to talk to is a difficult task, especially when you are in crisis or difficult situation. Raising awareness and celebrating support programs provided by institutions and other organisations can make it easier for people to reach out and get help at the right time.
  4. Research culture changes: work environments that bolster and celebrate diversity are key for ensuring that ECS feel supported.

The overarching theme of the debate was that mental health management cannot be left to the individuals alone, but instead together we can all play our part in making sure our work environments become more accepting, less judgmental and truly value diversity.

By Stephanie Zihms, lecturer in researcher development, University of the West of Scotland, UK 

If you are looking for someone to talk to or resources, here are some phone numbers and websites:

UK:

Samaritans: 08457 909090
Abuse Not: 0808 8005015
Brook Young People’s Information Service: 0800 0185023
Eating Disorder Support: 01494 793223
Anxiety UK: 0844 477 5774
Depression Alliance: 0845 123 23 20
Rape Crisis Centre: 01708 765200
Rape/sexual assault: 0808 8000 123 (female) or 0808 8000122 (male)
Miscarriage Association: 01924 200799
LLGS Helpline (LGBT): 0300 330 0630

Germany:

TelefonSeelsorge Deutschland: 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 11 0 222
https://www.telefonseelsorge.de/?q=node/6293

China:

Helpline 1: Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center Hotline: 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332
Helpline 2: Lifeline Shanghai: (english-speaking) (021) 6279 8990
Website: http://www.lifeline-shanghai.com
Helpline 3: Shanghai Mental Health Center: 021-64387250

Italy:

Helpline 1: 199 284 284
Website: http://www2.telefonoamico.it/

France:

Helpline 1: (+33) (0)9 51 11 61 30
Website: https://www.sos-amitie.org/

USA:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272

Austria:

Helpline 1: 142
Website: http://www.telefonseelsorge.at/

Krisenhilfe: 0732 2177

Switzerland:

Die Dargebotene Hand (Schweiz) phone 143 or https://www.143.ch

Netherlands:

Helpline 1: 0900-0767
Website: https://www.deluisterlijn.nl/

Collection of helpline numbers around the world:

https://togetherweare-strong.tumblr.com/helpline

Coping tips:

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/symptoms/suicidal-thoughts/today

Resources to be a better ally:

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk
http://www.sane.org.uk
https://www.wie-gehts-dir.ch/de/