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


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 Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the EGU Executive Secretary Philippe Courtial (

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 Informal enquiries about this position can be made to the EGU Media and Communications Manager Bárbara Ferreira (

Advance your career at the General Assembly 2019

Advance your career at the General Assembly 2019

Attending the EGU General Assembly offers you countless opportunities to meet scientists from all over the world, learn about the latest advances in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences, and present your research to the science community. This annual meeting is also a great chance to network, pick up tips on how to boost your career, and find job opportunities. Here are just some of the ways the General Assembly can help you advance your career in the geosciences, both in and outside of academia.

Job Centre

The Job Centre at the General Assembly offers the opportunity to connect employers/recruiters and highly-qualified candidates in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences. The centre is located on the basement level of the conference venue.

Employers and recruiters can use the space in two ways to raise awareness of their current job opportunities. First, recruiters can put up paper-copy job adverts or small brochures on the centre’s job-posting pillar close to room -2.32, at the basement level. In addition, the centre has a job presentation space (room -2.34), which is equipped with a projector and is available for employers/recruiters to present their vacancy(ies) on their own notebook to interested job seekers.

Job presentations are listed online in the meeting programme under programme group JC. You can find more information on how to reserve a 30-minute presentation time slot on the EGU 2019 Job Centre page.

Next to the job presentation room, rooms -2.35 and -2.36 are available for job interviews. These are booked through door sign-up sheets.

On the flip side, if you are looking for a position, the Job Centre offers many opportunities for scientists to get career advice, connect with recruiters, and seek out jobs:

  • Ivo’s clinic: Ivo Grigorov, research coordinator at the National Institute of Aquatic Resources at the Technical University of Denmark, offers daily clinics for scientists seeking advice and training for job applications.
  • Post your CV & find job listings: at the entrance of the Job Centre, close to room -2.32, there is a job-posting pillar offering space to put up your CV and browse job adverts from recruiters.
  • Present yourself: Take the chance to advertise your skills to potential employers with the Meet the talents session (JC1), scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, 18:00–19:00, on the gallery on the Green Level 1 (first floor).
  • Visit the job presentations in room -2.34: check the meeting programme to find days and times that employers of interest are presenting.
  • Use EGU’s online job platform: search for vacancies at:

Please note that a conference registration as participant or as exhibitor is required to take part in the Job Centre.

Networking at the General Assembly

Beyond the Job Centre, the EGU offers other events and venues with networking in mind.

The Networking & Early Career Scientists’ Zone, on the second floor of the conference centre, offers a space to catch up with your peers and make new connections. Scientists across all fields are encouraged to meet here to grab a free coffee, have informal discussions, organise and attend pop-up events, and perhaps even find opportunities for new collaborations. Check out the Zone’s notice boards to find out all the details. On these boards you can also find information on various topics, such as interest group meetings and division social events taking place during the conference.

The ECS lounge (now called the Networking and ECS Zone) at EGU 2014. Credit: Stephanie McClellan/EGU

In addition, the Early Career Scientists’ Networking & Careers Reception, an informal EGU-hosted event with drinks and light snacks, will bring together early career scientists (ECS) and experienced researchers with the aim of facilitating new connections. This reception allows ECS to get to know and get advice from researchers further along their career, and for established scientists, in and out of academia, to share their experience with researchers in the early stages of their career.

To attend the reception, which is scheduled for Tue, 9 April, 19:00–20:30 in room F2, you need to register in advance. Please sign up using this form. Places at the reception are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Your place is guaranteed only once you receive a confirmation email from the EGU Communications Officer, Olivia Trani.

Sessions for advancing your career

The General Assembly is also a source of many short courses with career development in mind. You can check out the following sessions to explore career options and get advice for how to thrive as a geoscience professional – be it in academia or outside:

Meet the Experts: Geomorphology (SC3.1/GM12.1)

Academia is not the only route: exploring career options for Earth scientists (SC3.12)

Polar Science Career Panel (EGU Cryosphere and APECS co-organised) (SC3.15)

Making your PhD aspirations a reality! (SC3.18)

How to make the most of your PhD or postdoc experience for getting your next job in academia (SC3.19)

Balancing work and personal life as a scientist (SC3.20)

The EGU General Assembly will take place from 07 to 12 April 2019 in Vienna, Austria. For the full session programme and more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.