Chair’s Letter - MCAA Magazine News January 2021

Dear Members,

Wishing health, safety and joy in 2021! I hope you had a good start to the new year. As we embark on yet another year filled with little-known and novel challenges, and as we are all working hard to meet researchers’ exigencies, and barely holding onto our previously normal benedictions, I wish to emphasise the fact that MCAA is committed to supporting its members every step of the way. Looking back, 2020 was quite an unusual and challenging year for all of us. Let’s take a look at all that has taken place despite the pandemic.

Prioritising the health of our members and the general public, the 7th MCAA Annual Conference (scheduled to take place at the end of March 2020 in Zagreb) was cancelled. Also at the end of March 2020, the new board started its tenure. By that time, the whole world continued to struggle with COVID-19. So, adjusting to this new reality was quite a challenge for me and the new board. Soon after the election, the new board supported the petition initiated by the MSCA Fellows for the “costed” extension of the MSCA projects.

The challenges posed by the pandemic, however, did not change our normal priorities: to support the career development of our members and help to shape the future of science policy. As such, the MCAA was vocal about the initial proposal to cut the Horizon Europe budget. We issued a statement to convey our concern to policymakers and noting my participation at a press conference on this issue organised by our partner ISE. I also organised a dedicated session during our Virtual Conference. The President of ERC Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho and Science Europe General Secretary Lidia Borrell-Damián shared similar concerns. Together, with the support of many other organisations, the budget was slightly increased. Even though it is not what we hoped for, it is much better than what had been previously proposed.

These events made me focus on the particular issue that the value and impact of research & innovation (R&I) for societal gain are not always clearly communicated to the relevant stakeholders and the general public.

Therefore, as a researcher, it is crucial to unite together and collaborate as peers as well as organisations with similar interests. To that end, I would like to strengthen our partnerships with organisations like the International Science Council, EuroScience, Science Europe, European University Association, Initiative for Science in Europe, Eurodoc, Young Academy of Europe, Global Young Academy, and European Research Council in 2021.

In the last 12 months, our members also contributed to several equally important events close to our hearts, such as Open Science, Mental Health of Researchers and Black Lives Matter.

Of all the many issues that MCAA members work on, supervision is considered the key that directly affects researchers’ work & life. Hence, I moderated a session on supervision for Early Career Researchers at the MSCA conference organised by the German Presidency. Our Vice Chair Fernanda Bajanca was part of a similar session dedicated for postdoctoral researchers. We hope to produce guidelines to help researchers and supervisors navigate Europe’s changing academic landscape.

Providing career development opportunities to our members is a central priority for the new board. The MCAA now has a dedicated learning platform (MCAA Learning) at LinkedIn, which is open for members and non-members. This platform will enable our members to take any course from the LinkedIn Learning platform in addition to courses organised by MCAA. The MCAA is also part of a ERASMUS+ Project OEDUverse and OSCAR which works on offering courses on entrepreneurship, mental health, research integrity etc. Plus, we have just approved a new working group on Career Development which will offer opportunities in the upcoming months. In addition, I organised and addressed several sessions on different aspects of researchers employability, postdoc challenges and entrepreneurship opportunities for researchers at the European Open Science Forum 2020, Wellcome Trust, European Research & Innovation Day

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Our organisation currently counts 17 000+ members spanning over 143 countries and has more than 33 chapters. Consequently, internal governance has become more complicated and challenging. To meet the changing environment of MCAA, we are now working on updating our Article of the Association to better serve future MCAA. Simultaneously, an Ethics Committee has been formed to work on the Code of Conduct for all MCAA members. Furthermore, our board member Esther Hegel is coordinating and supporting the chairs of our chapters and working groups.

Even during the pandemic, the value of networking and sharing ideas among peers has not been forgotten. For instance, MCAA members from the Board, Annual Conference task force members from Croatia, France and Poland, led by Vice-Chair Valentina Ferro, undertook organisation of the first Virtual Conference. With fewer than 10 days of promotion, the conference, which received over 330 registrations and 7+ exhibitors, was considered a success.

As we are coping with this new COVID reality, we need to understand how this changing environment is impacting our research and life. Ergo, our next annual conference will take place online between 5 and 7 March 2021 with the theme “Research in times of crisis”. Registration for the conference opened on 15 January.

Finally, I would like to touch upon the individual and organisational support we received over the years and which, I hope, will continue developing MCAA into an even more a vibrant and active organisation for, by and of researchers. Wherever I went, both as Vice-Chair and as Chair, be it in Buenos Aires for the MCAA Argentina and Brazil Chapters Event or in Budapest for the World Science Forum, or even during online events, I have watched dedicated and passionate MCAA members like you continuously supporting the growth of this association.

I have watched as our members from different parts of the world – speaking different languages and coming from different cultures and scientific backgrounds – united to achieve a common goal. Members have also been working non-stop, day and night, with babies by their side, to organise an event or write policy recommendations. Witnessing such compassion amazes me and fills me with pride and joy. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” as John Keats said, and what can be more beautiful than human benevolence that I am honoured and humbled to share with you all every day! Your empathy, grace and commitment together creates the synergy that makes up the MCAA. I would like to personally thank each and every one of you, and the amazing board members, chapters chairs and working groups, task force members, volunteers and MCAA members for your wonderful humanity and integrity.

As humanity faces one of its greatest challenges with COVID-19, let’s draw inspiration from a quote by Alan K Simpson. He said: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”

Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!

Mostafa Moonir Shawrav
MCAA Chair