It's very important to ensure that researchers are not misunderstood
Makoto Yuasa, Representative Director, Cactus Communications Japan, is in conversation with Prof. Michael Matlosz, President of EuroScience. This is the second and final part of this series. In part 1, Prof. Matlosz shared the vision and mission of EuroScience - a not-for-profit grassroots association of researchers headquartered in Strasbourg. Here, Prof. Matlosz talks about the recent transformations in the scholarly publishing space and how they affect early-career researchers. He expresses his concern about how young researchers may find themselves caught between the more traditional approach to publishing and the newer trends. He insists that we understand the perspectives and aspirations of researchers before making policy level decisions that might affect them.
More about Prof. Matlosz: Prof. Michael Matlosz acquired his PhD in electrochemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in the US and went on to build a long and illustrious career. In 1985, he joined the department of materials science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Lorraine in France in 1993, where he currently serves as a Professor. He is also President of the UNIT Foundation and an elected member of the National Academy of Technologies of France. From 2014 to 2017, he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the French National Research Agency in Paris. From 2015-2017, he served as the President of Science Europe, an association of major organizations involved in research and research funding in Europe. In 2018, Prof. Matlosz began his four-year term as President of EuroScience.
EuroScience also actively seeks to engage with early-career researchers. What’s your approach with them?
We believe that the future of EuroScience, and the future of science in Europe overall, will depend on how we treat new young talent coming into the system. You may be aware of some of the more recent pressing discussions in Europe about open access, scientific integrity, societal accountability, and so on. I want to be very clear that I agree with the principles behind these discussions and movements, but we also have to admit that these new agendas or waves of transformation are causing ripples – creating new norms, new behaviors, and new ways of working. And one major area of concern for academics is that no one has discussed how the evaluation systems and reward systems should adapt to these transformations.
The risk is for a young generation of researchers to be caught between the imperatives of new professional norms (such as those regarding open access) while at the same time being evaluated by an older generation whose values are based on more traditional publishing practice. If not managed correctly, this transition may lead to a “lost generation” of researchers who are poorly evaluated and hampered in their careers precisely because they support the new approaches to scientific practice.
As the President of EuroScience, I strongly feel the need for us to engage with associations that represent early-career researchers. We work closely, for example, with Eurodoc, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Early-Career Researchers in Europe, since we have similar questions, issues, and concerns. By working together we can enhance and improve the transition towards the new framework for scientific practice.
Since you mentioned the recent transformations in the European scientific landscape, what are your thoughts on these?
What I sometimes find a little bit frustrating is that, in many cases, the people who are pushing for these new agendas are not scientists. I think it’s very important to ensure that researchers are not misunderstood. Let me be clear. I am not against open science, the scientific integrity agenda or the push for societal accountability. But I would like those people who are pushing for these things to remember that researchers and scientists are human beings who require respect and consideration. It is important to seek the views of all stakeholders, including scientists, when creating new rules that could affect them. There are not very many associations who can provide the necessary voice for scientists to be heard. EuroScience has an important responsibility in this context. Transformations cannot be planned and executed in an abstract fashion, and I believe it is extremely important to engage those who will directly be affected by major changes – in this case, early-career and young researchers.
The older and more experienced researchers may not be able to adapt to changes. Once they retire, the new practices will be able to come through with the new generation. But we should not damage their career prospects during the transition. The best and the brightest of minds should still find research an attractive long-term career option. This may not happen if we lose a generation of talented people. This is really where our focus becomes essential. We want to contribute to society, and we also want to help the scientific community to adapt to the new constraints and conditions. I feel very strongly about this – only by listening to the people and providing a voice to them can we also help them adapt to change. Simply imposing new rules will not be sufficient.
You work with a diverse set of people from different countries. How do you take care of the different requirements of various stakeholders?
Yes. I think the first thing you have to recognize is that all countries in Europe are not necessarily members of the European Union. What this means for us at EuroScience is that scientists from countries such as Switzerland, Norway or Iceland are also part of European research even though they are not members of the European Union. EuroScience will continue to be strongly engaged with British researchers regardless of the future status of the United Kingdom. We are very open to countries from Eastern Europe, and one of our most recent institutional sponsors is an organization from Georgia. EuroScience also includes representatives from European countries as far east as Russia and many other countries that are not part of European institutions.
Scientists from these regions are perfectly justified to call themselves European scientists. We should not confuse the European Union with European Science. European Science is being advanced in all of the countries that make up the European continent. All of those countries have their own national policies, laws, and unique approach to research – no two countries are the same. This diversity is part of our wealth. I think that we need to take these differences into account and respect them. Despite our diversity, we do believe that there are a number of issues that are common to all of the scientists working in all of the countries on the European continent. And at EuroScience we try to identify those issues and work with researchers to promote best practice and foster societal benefit.
Today, there is much greater focus on collaboration than in the past, and researchers are actively seeking opportunities outside their home countries. While geographical mobility has its advantages, there are also some aspects that need closer attention. For example, social welfare systems differ across European countries, specifically those related to health insurance and retirement. And this is a big challenge because we want to encourage researchers to move from one country to another, but in some cases, they may incur a penalty due to the differences in social systems? This renders the entire endeavor counterproductive and is discouraging for researchers. These issues are not related to science as such, but rather to the social conditions of living in one country compared to another. At EuroScience, since we focus on the professional working environment and career prospects of individual researchers, we are trying to constructively contribute to the discussions in those areas. I am myself very sensitive due to my own career trajectory. I am currently living in France and am now a French citizen. But I started out living in the United States and began my career in Switzerland. My case is far from unique, since science is a truly international undertaking and geographical mobility is a major part of scientific collaboration.
You work with European authorities like the European Parliament and the European Commission. Could you share a few examples of conversations you have had with these bodies?
Our strongest relationship is with the European Commission, which has recognized us as an important stakeholder. We have provided our opinions on the Horizon 2020 program, and the transition to the new framework program Horizon Europe. Although these programs are developed by the European Union, their impact is much broader, since there are possibilities for non-European Union countries to join as associated members. Countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland contribute financially to Horizon 2020 and participate directly in the program. This will also be the case for Horizon Europe although these countries are not, strictly speaking, members of the European Union.
We feel that our interactions with the European Commission are extremely important because many of the ongoing initiatives that are impacting the work of scientists are going to be influenced by European Commission policies. The European Commission has been very positive and constructive throughout the last 22 years (since EuroScience was formed), listening to us and providing us with an opportunity to express our concerns, needs, and opinions.
We also have a very dynamic long-term relationship with the Science and Technology Options Assessment Office (STOA) of the European Parliament. The STOA office is a group of members of parliament from within the European Parliament who have a specialized interest in examining options in the science and technology area, as well as foresight and projections on future science and technology.
We work regularly with STOA and the Science Media Hub created by STOA to address questions related to science communication and science journalism. I was recently involved in a summer school for science journalists organized by the STOA Science Media Hub, where I represented EuroScience and gave a talk about the impact of artificial intelligence on journalists and science journalism.
That sounds interesting! Any similar events we can expect in the near future?
Yes! Next year, we plan to organize a special event with some of our corporate contacts. The idea is to set up an event that focuses on the importance of science in industry. We feel that working with researchers in the industrial sector will complement our efforts to support the academic community. This is why we are also working with Science Business, which is one of the major supporters of science in the industrial sector. At our EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), we endeavor to establish a 360° interaction among all of the major stakeholders. The ESOF forum is attended by representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, representatives of the member states and other European countries. We have participation from researchers in both academia and industry, science writers, journalists, communicators, policy-makers and others, including interested citizens.
What are some of the biggest challenges for EuroScience?
When EuroScience was created in 1997, the idea was to create a European equivalent of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the United States. We cannot claim to have the same level of representation, since we are a much smaller association. The big challenges for us today are to significantly increase our membership and keep our members engaged. It will be difficult to match the AAAS membership numbers, but we must remember that AAAS has been around for more than 150 years, while EuroScience is only a little more than 20 years old. Perhaps in 150 years, we will be as big, or even bigger. In the short term, we can try to significantly increase our membership. Every ESOF event attracts several thousand science professionals. We need to engage better with those participants and form a longer lasting relationship with them.
Engagement is a challenge. While we have almost 3,000 members, not all of them are engaged. This is common with associations such as ours. Most people commit to do something voluntarily, because they believe in the cause. They contribute their time and energy to making it work because they feel it’s important. You will find this everywhere, even in the case of large organizations like AAAS where all of the board members are volunteers. So the real challenge is to engage these volunteers and create a group that allows you to maintain the professional qualities that you need to drive the activities that are aligned to your mission. We are trying to find ways to encourage our members to use EuroScience to help advance their concerns. We also have a small but successful web magazine called EuroScientist, which enjoys a monthly readership of 8,000 to 10,000. It provides our members a convenient platform to express their views and share their perspectives on things that matter to them.
Thank you, Prof. Matlosz, for this great conversation. Your passion for achieving EuroScience’s mission is inspirational!
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