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GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s president, Alberto Montanari

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s president, Alberto Montanari

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Alberto Montanari, president of the EGU. Alberto has a long-standing involvement with the Union, stretching back more than 15 years. Following a year as vice-president, Alberto was appointed president at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna. Here we talk to him about his plans for the Union and how the science community can get involved, European integration for the benefit of scientific research, and placing value on scientific initiatives that are hard to measure.

In case some of our readers don’t know who you are, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career path so far and your involvement with the EGU over the years?

I have been a professor of water engineering and hydrology at the University of Bologna since 2001. My background is civil engineering. After finishing my master’s degree my thesis advisor suggested that I attend a PhD program. He pushed me to pursue an international vision in my research activity, something that was not frequent in Italy in the early nineties. At the time I could not communicate in English, even reading papers was a challenge for me. In 1994 I attended my first General Assembly of the European Geophysical Society (which later merged into EGU). It was love at the first glance! I was so excited by my first experience that I did not miss any EGS/EGU General Assemblies since then. Once I got a permanent position as a professor, I felt motivated to contribute to the development of EGU, to give back what I received. I served as president of the Hydrological Sciences Division, chair of the Awards Committee and now I am serving as the Union president. Let me say that EGU is great, and I am thankful to those brilliant scientists who created it! If you asked me what has been the most difficult challenge in my career so far, I would say that it was (and still is!!) to communicate in the English language 🙂

At this year’s General Assembly, you were appointed Union president (after serving as vice-president for a year). What are the main things you hope to achieve during your two-year term?

I identified a few keywords to summarize my wishes for the future of EGU:

  1. diversity and equality of opportunities,
  2. visibility of Earth, space and planetary sciences,
  3. European integration, and
  4. early career scientists.

With regard to 1, I would like to encourage diversity in the widest sense. A diverse community and diversity of opinions are vital for promoting science. As for 2, I would like to involve excellent communicators as EGU ambassadors by giving dedicated recognitions. Issue 3 is essential for promoting European and global research. At the EGU General Assembly 2019 we organized an excellent conversation on European integration with Former Italian Parliamentarian Ilaria Capua and Former Italian Prime Minister and European Commissioner Mario Monti. The amazing attendance at that event was a clear sign that many researchers were interested in the topic and that we need to follow up with more events. Finally, with regards to 4, let me say that early career scientists are the lifeblood of the Union. I am motivated to promote their efforts and amplify their voice more and more, with dedicated initiatives.

Why these in particular?

During my service with EGU I tried to listen to people as much as possible. I collected an uncountable set of opinions and views. After speaking with colleagues – and early career scientists in particular – the above keywords clearly came forward. I am happy to say that I meet an impressive number of interesting people involved with EGU and during the EGU meetings. I am motivated to further increase my efforts to speak with the community. I encourage colleagues to contact me!

EGU President, stand along side Amanda Maycock, recipient of the 2019 Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists. Credit: EGU/Pflugel

Last month, the EGU Council issued a declaration supporting a united Europe for the benefit of global scientific research and condemning “fake news”, biased reporting, social media bots and malicious state actors which threaten European integration. Why are these forces so troubling and, in your opinion, what can Union members do to address the challenges that a united Europe and scientific research face?

As I said, I firmly believe in European integration. A strong EU is beneficial to scientific research and societal development. However, such benefits are not so evident to people. I think one of the reasons is the complexity of modern society. It is a challenge for the public to understand how economy and politics work. Therefore, people hardly agree with forward looking political decisions and are tempted to support short-term strategies.

The same happens in science. Sometimes scientists speak in a language that cannot be easily understood, and therefore people are not supportive of inconvenient truths that may look obscure. In such situations fake news stories easily proliferate because they easily address people’s skepticism and concern. Such stories offer an apparently easy solution, but actually they mislead people and threaten scientific integrity and democracy. Politicians and scientists are partly responsible for this situation: sometimes they seek immediate consensus instead of looking forward and promoting transparency.

What can we do to be more constructive? At the EGU General Assembly 2019 Mario Monti replied to a question by former EGU President Günter Blöschl by suggesting, “Be yourself and tell surrounding people who you are and how the EU relates to you. And what aspects in your activity would not be there, or not be there so productively, if the EU was not there [or] if the EU was undermined”. I cannot agree more. I would additionally suggest to make it simple. Let’s use an accessible language to summarise the positive feedbacks that a strong EU and collaborative science can deliver to Europeans. Last but not least, we have to welcome diversity with a constructive attitude. Diversity – including diversity of opinions – makes science more transparent and more convincing.

On a similar note, At the EGU General Assembly 2019, you also convened a session on rewards and recognition in science for contributions that cannot be easily measured, such as engaging with the public and policy makers. In your opinion, how can the science community properly credit such contributions that are sometimes less tangible than publications, citations and grants?

I believe that the current system for academic recognition suffers from many shortcomings. Citations and bibliometric indexes give a far incomplete picture of the value of one’s contribution. We need to devise efficient methods for measuring the value of other activities, like teaching and participatory work in the community. Finally, let me quote Demetris Koutsoyiannis, a professor at the Technical University of Athens, who, in the conclusions of his talk during the above session, pointed out that “Metrics can serve as thresholds and shortlisting criteria. They are not sufficient to support final decisions, which should move away from the ‘audit culture’”.

The EGU is a bottom-up organization run primarily by its members. We’ve discussed what the Union hopes to do for its members, so I’d now like to ask how the EGU membership can take a more active role in the Union’s activities?

EGU is like a family; everyone has a role. EGU would not exist without each individual contribution. Any single person attending EGU activities is important. It is easy to get involved in EGU: just contact the relevant division president or myself. EGU is very open, and any member is welcome to test this openness; just send an email to propose your own ideas!

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Jonathan Bamber, the EGU’s President. Jonathan has a long-standing involvement with the Union, stretching back almost 20 years. Following a year as vice-president, Jonathan was appointed President at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna. Here we talk to him about his plans for the Union, how scientists can stand up for science at a time when it is coming under attack and how the Union plans to foster the involvement of early career scientists (ECS) in its activities.

In the unlikely event that some of our readers don’t know who you are, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career path so far and also about your involvement with the EGU over the years?

I started out with a degree in Physics. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the geography department at the University of Bristol focusing on Earth Observation. In that time, I’ve covered a lot of topics: from oceanography to land surface processes, but glaciology is my core discipline and research area. Most of my work has broadly been in the area of climate change and climate research but also solid Earth geophysics.

I’ve been involved with EGU (actually, it was EGS then) since the late 90s. I used to attend the meetings and I realised there was a gap in the market for cryospheric sciences. I approached Arne Richter [the former General Secretary of EGS] to form the Division of Cryospheric Sciences. I put together a proposal and became secretary of the division at the time and later became president of the division when EUG & EGS merged to form EGU. I spent five years in that role, towards the end of which I proposed (and launched) the open access journal The Cryosphere, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and publishes about 220 papers per year.  I’m very proud of those contributions to the community and feel that they have helped develop the discipline and strengthen it.

It was 2007 when I stepped down from the EGU Council all together although I still attended the General Assembly, of course, and convened various sessions. It was 2015 when the then EGU vice-president, Hans Thybo, suggested I stand in the next presidential elections. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to take on the role, but decided to go for it because I think it is important to serve the scientific community and colleagues and EGU is an organisation that is close to my heart.

At this year’s General Assembly, you were appointed Union President (after serving as Vice-President for a year). What are the main things you hope to achieve during your two-year term?

There are two main areas that I am very keen to promote and foster:

First, I want to make the organisation [the EGU] more attractive to early career scientists (ECS) and offer them more opportunities, be that more and better short courses, career support and other benefits of attending. For some years now there has been a strong ECS network within the Union and there have been great advances in that direction already.

Second, I’d like to increase the EGU’s opportunities, and those of members, to be involved in policy activities.

Why those two in particular?

There are many things one could do; but having attended the General Assembly for 15 years, there is no doubt that ECS are the future of the discipline, so if we don’t make the meeting attractive and useful for them, what are we here for?

In terms of policy, there are a number of events which have happened in the past few years which make it come into focus.

Certainly, in the UK, it is important that the science we do has impact, and just as important is that we [researchers] understand what the impact of the research we do has. Ultimately, tax payers pay for the research we do, so it is important not to get detached from the role we have in benefiting society in broad terms but also through specific opportunities and activities.

From many years attending the AGU Fall Meeting, I am aware the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has a very well developed and successful policy related programme. It is, of course, simpler for them, as the policy landscape is restricted to one nation and AGU’s headquarters are in Washington. Nonetheless, despite those differences, EGU is not, currently, providing opportunities for engagement in the policy realm in the way we could, for example, with the European Commission and its funding instruments.

Science for policy is not suited to all scientists, and all disciplines that we represent. However, it is important for a large cohort of our membership.

EGU President, Jonathan Bamber (centre left) and EGU Vice-President, Hans Thybo (centre right), stand along side the 2016 EGU Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) awardees. Credit: EGU/Pflugel

ECS make up a significant proportion of the Union’s membership. EGU is a bottom up organisation and there is no doubt that ECS have a say in many matters of the Union already, but how do you plan on including ECS further in decision-making processes in the future?

I wouldn’t necessarily classify ECS separately. They are simply geoscientists, just like the majority of our members. It is important, however, for us to show them and highlight the opportunities available for them to be involved in the General Assembly and the Union as a whole.

We have a Union-wide ECS Representative on Council – this gives ECS a good understanding of how the organisation works and gives the individual experience of the machinery involved in running all the activities of EGU. Roles like this give the next generation skills to take on leadership roles in the future too. How do they know how organisations operate if they don’t have opportunities like this?

There are also no barriers to them being involved in convening sessions, organising short courses and proposing activities for the Union to prepare.

It can be intimidating as a junior scientist to be involved in these activities, so it’s important that we make it accessible to them. I think we are making great progress in this direction.

As an established scientist, what advice would you give ECS starting out in their career?

Accountancy pays very well!

More seriously: get involved!

Also, look at your most successful and respected senior colleagues and identify what about them makes them successful and what do you admire in them. Positive role models are very important.

Recently, the scientific process has come under attack. Initiatives such as the March For Science have given scientists opportunities to make their voices heard. What role can the Union play in supporting members wanting to stand up for science?

We can put together advice for how scientists can get their voice heard. The Union’s Outreach Committee is quite active in this regard already.

Trying to make sure that the voice of the geoscience community is heard within Europe is another area where we can contribute. We’ve been involved in an EU Parliamentary meeting, representing EGU, where discussions focused on improving the integration of science and collaboration across Europe.

We also offer policy makers and institutions the opportunities to contact scientists, through our database of experts.  We need to make European policy-makers more aware that we can provide that service.

In terms of funding for scientific research, we’ve established links with the President of European Research Council. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon gave a talk at this year’s General Assembly and participated in one of our Great Debates. We also hosted a meeting where senior members of the EGU’s council met with Bourguignon to discuss how the EGU could support the ERC in the future.

As an organisation, it should be our goal to provide our members with a mechanism by which they can communicate with the European Commission and policy-makers.

Last month, the EGU issued a statement condemning President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Why is this decision so troubling and, in your opinion, what can Union members do to raise awareness of the challenges facing the globe?

We should communicate the importance of our science: what we know, what we understand, the evidence based facts.

In the absence of evidence based science, how do policy makers reach decisions? They rely on gut instinct, on beliefs, on prejudices… But they should be making them on evidence based science. So, it is crucial that we communicate what we know to the public and policy-makers.

In Europe, a large majority don’t question human influence on climate. They understand it is real and that it’s an issue of upmost importance.

Trump’s decision was about politics not science; it is important to remember that. He didn’t deny that climate change was real, but he was making the decision on an economic basis and that is something else again. Whether it was a wise economic decision or an entirely myopic one is another question altogether.  I speak about this in more detail in an open editorial I wrote shortly after the decision was announced.

Geoscientists are, perhaps, more important in terms of policy and the health of the planet than they ever have been before. All the work we are doing in the geosciences has huge implications for policy and for safeguarding our future on the planet.

Jonathan, thank you for talking to me today about a whole range of topics. I’d like to finish this interview by bringing the conversation back around to EGU. We’ve discussed, at some length, what the Union hopes to do for its members and highlighted that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. So, how exactly do they go about taking a more active role in the Union’s activities?

One of the easiest ways to have your voice heard is by getting involved through your scientific division. Attend your division(s)’s business meeting. Each division has quite a few officers: a secretary, vice-president, secretaries for sub disciplines and so on. There are lots of opportunities there. In general, anyone who wants to put the time in will be welcomed by division presidents because it’s always good to have enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers.

When it comes to the General Assembly in Vienna, anybody can propose a session. If you want to organise a session or a short course, just fire it out there! The call-for-sessions is currently open [until 8th September]. You’ll find all the details online.

If you are interested in policy-related activities do complete the register of experts questionnaire.  It doesn’t take long and you’ll find details on our webpages. Make sure you provide as much detail about your expertise as possible. That way we’ll be able to match you up with those who make inquires and opportunities in the most effective way.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal (EGU Communications Officer)

 

 

 

 

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

As a geoscientist, I’m sure that you have heard of Horizon 2020, an EU programme that is allocating almost €80 billion to research and innovation over 7 years (from 2014 to 2020). This money is distributed throughout various scientific divisions and provides a plethora of opportunities for scientists, not only within the EU but also throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in all the potential opportunities and openings offered to scientists, research institutes and innovators being difficult to navigate.

Luckily for you, this blog will outline some of the most relevant Horizon 2020 geoscience opportunities so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to map out the many existing options!

Horizon 2020: a summary

The Horizon 2020 programme follows the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), which ran from 2007 until 2013 with a budget of just over €50 billion. Research framework programmes were initially established by the EU to coordinate national research, pool research funding, increase knowledge sharing and reduce duplication.

Horizon 2020 aims to generate world-class science and technology to drive economic growth within the EU and be bigger, simpler and smarter than previous programmes. It consists of three primary research and innovation pillars:

In addition to these three pillars, there are two horizontal and three smaller programmes. These pillars and programmes are depicted in the figure below.

 

Horizon 2020 Structure. Credit: http://cerneu.web.cern.ch/horizon2020/structure

 

Each pillar and programme offers funding and opportunities that you may be able to access depending on the focus of your research. This blog will focus on Excellent Science as this is believed to be the most relevant pillar to the geoscience community.

Excellent Science

As you can see in the figure above, the Excellent Science Pillar has four primary components, all of which offer opportunities to researchers.

  1. European Research Council’s frontier research encourages high-risk, high-reward proposals in an attempt to generate revolutionary science and innovation by providing a number of different grants, including:

 

    • ERC Starting Grants: support talented early-career scientists (with 2 – 7 years of experience) who have already shown potential as a research leader
    • ERC Consolidator grants: fund researchers with 7 – 12 years of experience who would like to consolidate their independence or who would like to strengthen a recently established, independent research team
    • ERC Advanced Grants: empower individual researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders
    • Proof of Concept Grants: are secondary sources of funding for researchers who have already received an ERC grant for the frontier research project and now want to explore the commercial or societal potential of their work

2. Future and emerging technologies supports the following collaborative research initiatives that aim to extend Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation:

    • FET Open: funds projects that focus on new technologies and that are in the early stages of development
    • FET Proactive: seeks to establish a critical mass of European researchers on emerging, exploratory themes and ultimately build-up a new interdisciplinary research community
    • FET Flagships: fund 10-year initiatives that involve hundreds of European researchers who focus on solving an ambitious scientific and technological challenge e.g. developing uses for new materials such as Graphene

3. Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships provide innovative research training, attractive career options and knowledge-exchange opportunities to scientists across all disciplines. Key opportunities within this fellowship that may appeal to geoscientists include:

    • Innovative Training Networks (ITN): provide up to four years of funding for a joint doctoral-level research training programme that is implemented by at least three partners from in and outside academia
    • European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT): is a Europe-wide public event dedicated to the sharing of science and engaging the public. The next NIGHT will take place on the 29thof December 2017 in over 300 EU cities. Find a NIGHT near you!

For information about science-policy fellowships and training opportunities you can also visit last month’s GeoPolicy blog on science-policy placements.

4. Research infrastructure (including e-infrastructures) aims to further European research infrastructure for 2020 and beyond. The primary geoscience related outcome of this Excellent Science component is:

As well as the opportunities within the Excellent Science pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme, there are numerous overarching initiatives, tenders and training courses which may be of interest to some geoscientists

  • Researchers are able to join the Horizon 2020 Database by creating a profile outlining their relevant fields and experience. Once registered, researchers may be called upon to provide expert advice and contribute to various projects, evaluations and policy designs
  • Scientists can also play a more active role by submitting a proposal through the Horizon 2020’s Call for Proposals. These calls are continually updated and require a collaborative approach with at least 3 organisations from different EU Member States or associated countries. Various EU partner search services are available for researchers who want to contribute to a project but who are lacking collaborators
  • The Horizon 2020 programme runs innovation competitions. These competitions revolve around prominent societal problems and offer cash prizes to whoever can find the most effective solution or best meet the defined challenge
  • Research institutes within widening countries may find the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation scheme particularly beneficial. Primarily focused on Eastern Europe, it has several initiates that aim to ensure the equal division of innovation and subsequent social and economic benefits across the EU

Despite offering so many opportunities to researchers, the Horizon 2020 programme is not without criticism. Like almost all funding programmes, it is highly competitive.

The proposals submitted during the first 100 Calls for Proposals within the Horizon 2020 programme only had a 14% success rate. While not a surprising percentage, it is approximately 6% lower than the overall proposal submission rate success for the previous research Framework Programme (FP7). The grant and proposal style of funding has also been said to fuel the propagation of casual academic contracts. These casual contracts often result in high competition for positions and increased pressure on researchers due to the continuous tendering and application process.

The Horizon 2020 programme has released an Interim Evaluation Report which despite not mentioning the proliferation of casual contracts, did acknowledge the need for additional funding, intensified international cooperation and greater data accessibility. The Interim Report also highlighted the Horizon 2020’s successes including increased efficiency compared with its FP7 predecessor, scientific breakthroughs, the generation of economic growth within the EU and the strengthening of research infrastructure.

Research and innovation funding post 2020 is yet to be secured but potential for continued growth within the sector was discussed during the Research & Innovation – Shaping our Future conference and in the Investing in the European Future We Want publication.

For further information regarding the Horizon 2020 programme and other EU funding instruments, you can email the Research Enquiry Service or Horizon 2020 National Contact Points.

References 

GeoPolicy: Conquering conferences – how scientists can make an impact at a policy driven event

GeoPolicy: Conquering conferences – how scientists can make an impact at a policy driven event

Last week I was in Brussels for the EU Green Week, an annual event that discusses European environmental policy. The event was jam-packed with policy-makers, entrepreneurs, innovators and a handful of researchers. Green Week allowed me to network and gain a better understanding of upcoming political issues while enabling the EGU to show-off some specialist knowledge with Nick Arndt, the Chair of the EGU Outreach Committee, participating in a panel discussion.

Green Week’s high level of participant diversity and focus on success stories and political cooperation is commonplace in policy driven events. However, it is a stark comparison to the academic focus and technical presentations that embody scientific conferences. These differences also permeated into the social aspects of the event with each participant seemly at the event for a specific promotional, networking or policy related purpose. The limited number of researchers present at Green Week was also quite noticeable but unfortunately rather typical of a policy focused event. And I say unfortunate because while these events tend to have a very different focus from academic conferences or meetings, the presence of scientists is vital.

Although it may seem a little contrived, the networking aspect of these politically orientated events is absolutely essential for collaboration, intersectoral coordination and, of course, science-policy communication.  Attending events such as Green Week allows scientists to communicate their research to a non-academic audience while also: introducing scientists to formerly unknown organisations, demonstrating alternative methods of communication and highlighting issues that need greater research.

So, by now I’m assuming that I’ve convinced of the importance of scientific presence at policy driven events. Great! But how can researchers make the most of their resources and energy during the relatively short period of time that they have to network during the event?

  1. Be prepared: Investigate which organisations, companies and policy-makers will be attending and presenting. This can help you work out which presentations you should attend, potential connections you can establish and which components of your research are most relevant for you to showcase. Researching the websites or LinkedIn profiles of key participants may also give you additional talking points.
  2. Know your message: Conversations flow fast at policy driven events. This was particularly evident at Green Week with participants trying to network with as many people as possible during the short coffee breaks. It is important that you can present your research or convey a particular message within 60 seconds. Remember that policy-makers are interested in research that is relevant for their sector, identifies practical solutions and that can be used to identify policy options.1 For more tips on presenting information to policy-makers see the policy section of the EGU website.
  3. Find a conference buddy: Making a strong connection with someone who works in a similar field but different sector can be a diving block into a pool of new contacts. Determine the types of people your new buddy is interested in and try to introduce them to relevant people within your own network. Not only will this help your conference buddy and strengthen your connection, there’s a good chance that they will return the favour. While this is generally more beneficial during the event, introductions can be made afterwards via email.
  4. Aim for a two-way conversation: Although it can be tempting to talk non-stop about your own research (you are probably there to share it after all!), listening to other participants can be a valuable skill. Being an active listener helps you to understand the needs of the policy-makers, innovators and organisations that you are speaking with, subsequently allowing you to link the most relevant aspects of your research to their work. This may increase their interest in your research, provide you with insights into where further research might be needed and establish a foundation for continued cooperation.
  5. Remember that it’s a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand: The fast pace of policy events means that following up afterwards is essential. Building a non-academic database of these contacts can be a good method of keeping track of the people, where you met them and what components of your research they showed interest in.2 Methods of following up after the event can range from simply adding your new connection on social media to sending them a short summary of the research you discussed with them during the event.
  6. You can also ease yourself into fully fledged policy events by attending science-policy events that are relevant to your research. Many of these events are advertised and regularly updated on the EGU Science Policy Events page.

     

    References:

    [1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00416.x/full

    [2] https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/mar/25/academics-policy-engagement-ten-tips