EU=MC2. The ideal formula if you want to go places

March 31, 2006

The Marie Curie Conference allows junior scientists to network with European colleagues, says Harriet Swain.

Our monthly guide to some of the conferences taking place around the world

You're young, talented, multilingual and in possession of a good research grant - what do you do next? The Marie Curie Conference (MC2) being held next month should spark a few ideas.

The conference, which takes place at Manchester University, is unusual in that it is aimed specifically at junior scientific researchers.

Most of the 200 or so delegates will be Marie Curie fellows - researchers in the early stages of their careers who have received European Commission grants to allow them to spend time researching in Europe, but outside their home countries.

The idea is to provide a forum where they can exchange ideas across different disciplines, while learning the kind of practical skills that every fledgling researcher needs to know - from how to deal with the media to how to win a Nobel prize.

Manchester also hopes to benefit in practical ways from the event. It is eager to promote its newly merged institution among young researchers from mainland Europe.

Not that the UK has to work too hard to attract bright young Europeans. It is the most popular host country for members of the fellowship programme, attracting about 28 per cent of fellows, according to Bryony Gill, a research fellow at Manchester, who completed an impact assessment of the fellowship scheme last summer.

Gill, who tracked down about 3,000 of the 12,000 Marie Curie fellows, will discuss her study at the conference. She says Germany and, to a lesser extent, France are also popular destinations for fellows, while Portugal, Spain and Italy are the biggest exporters.

Many European Union accession countries are keen to attract researchers through the scheme, although the disparity in incomes between those and other EU countries can make this difficult. Researchers from the UK getting a job in Bulgaria, say, would find it almost impossible to maintain a mortgage back home, Gill says. Researchers travelling the other way can find it hard to swap their generous grant for the average Bulgarian scientist's wage on their return.

But the main reason junior researchers want to move country is not money but the chance to network and collaborate with the best people in their subject, Gill says.

"Most conferences are organised for senior scientists, and the others just go along to listen," says Nancy Rothwell, vice-president for research and Medical Research Council research professor of physiology at Manchester, who will give a talk on science communication at the conference. "Those that are designed for junior researchers don't necessarily have the best speakers. But the speakers in this are good."

Other speakers include Istvan Palugyai, president of the European Union of Science Journalists Associations, and Tim Hunt, Nobel laureate and principal scientist at Cancer Research UK's Clare Hall Laboratories at South Mimms in Hertfordshire, who will present a sideways look at how to become a Nobel prizewinner.

Early sessions concentrate on science communication - perhaps to make the rest of the conference flow more smoothly. Then there are a number of personal success stories from scientists. These range from Vladimir Demidyuk, who was born in Ukraine and is now a senior research fellow at Manchester, to Nathalie Moncel, a senior researcher at CEREQ, a French public research institute, and Curtis Dobson, director of a biotechnology start-up.

The final two sessions look at the history of the Marie Curie Fellowship Association, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and the future of research careers in the EU, including the likely impact of Framework 7.

Interspersed with these will be training sessions helping delegates to develop skills that range from putting together a research proposal to presenting a CV. The delegates will also have the chance to present their research in poster displays and panel discussions. Here, the emphasis will again be on communication.

"We want them to present their research in a way that will interest people who aren't necessarily their academic peers," says Liz Fay, EU funding and development manager at Manchester and organiser of the conference.

This mirrors exactly the hopes of the Commission in its work to promote academic mobility. "The whole purpose of Marie Curie fellowships is to foster collaboration in Europe," Rothwell says. "What a great idea to bring them all together to foster collaboration between each other."

The Marie Curie Conference (MC2) takes place at Manchester University from April 10 to 12.

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