"We don't tell researchers, organizations, and policymakers what to do." Michael Matlosz, EuroScience President
One of the most essential things researchers need is a solid support system that focuses on their professional advancement. One association that focuses on the needs of researchers at the grassroots level is EuroScience. EuroScience, a not-for-profit grassroots association of researchers headquartered in Strasbourg, is open to researchers across all career stages and scientific fields as well as organizations supporting the cause of science. Its membership includes 2600 individual science professionals and 16 organizations that focus on initiating discussions on relevant issues in science and policymaking. EuroScience also organizes ESOF (the EuroScience Open Forum) and runs the free online magazine EuroScientist. It is also a partner in the European project NewHoRRIzon on responsible research and innovation.
Makoto Yuasa, Representative Director, Cactus Communications Japan, is in conversation with Prof. Michael Matlosz, President of EuroScience. In this interview, Prof. Matlosz talks about the vision and mission of EuroScience, how it has grown over the years, and the kind of contributions it has made. He also advises Makoto about the best way to set up a scientific society in today’s dynamic global scientific landscape.
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.
What is the main aim and mission of EuroScience?
The main principle behind EuroScience is to create an association of individual science professionals who are represented independently of their institutional or professional affiliation. Our work involves looking at professional practice in science and at the interface between researchers and other stakeholders such as science journalists, science teachers, science communicators, and science policymakers.
Our membership is composed largely of researchers but we have a significant number of science communication professionals and policymakers as well. We include researchers from all areas of science including the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Although the scope of our activities is fairly broad, our focus is on the common issues that are relevant to those involved in scientific research and policymaking. Our primary mission is to represent what scientists are doing and how science can bring about impactful changes in society.
We are also looking to see how science and the various activities undertaken by scientists can contribute better integration within the European continent and beyond the individual nations that constitute the continent.
Each country in Europe has its own traditions, methods, and approach to science, (i.e., how science is conducted, how research is organized, etc.), and we feel that it is very important to have a pan-European association that makes sure that science is seen, heard, and understood for its benefits and its interaction with society. Extending the focus in this context, I would say in that EuroScience focuses on making sure that scientists and other science professionals understand that they need to listen to society. We are very strongly committed to the idea of an open forum that facilitates and encourages dialogue. We don't tell researchers, organizations, and policymakers what to do. Rather, we encourage interactions among them. We give a lot of importance to aspects such as working conditions within academia, research environments, career prospects, and geographical and thematic mobility, as well as to the impact of larger discussions such as those around the open science agenda, scientific integrity, etc. Given that we have now been recognized as the voice of scientists and researchers across Europe, we are also involved in policy discussions with relevant stakeholders. For example, one of our major accomplishments has been our very strong contribution to the European Charter for Researchers and to the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.
And what is your role at EuroScience?
EuroScience has a very clear mission and vision. In my current role as President of EuroScience I need to orient our strategy so that we can be most helpful, impactful, and efficient in what we are doing. We want to provide a voice to the scientists working inside the lab or outside in the field. I also represent EuroScience at meetings like this one, for instance, as a spokesperson for our organization.
We work out of a small office in Strasbourg in France. My role involves ensuring the smooth operation of this office and improving the performance of our full-time staff working out of it. We organize interactions with our stakeholders and members and are currently strengthening and expanding our working group on science policy. In February 2019, we were involved in consultations around the implementation of Plan S for open-access scientific publication in Europe. Since we include scientists from all areas and levels of experience, our contributions and responses to this consultation were very different from those of others. Practically all of the other responses were institutional, looking at the importance of the business models, or focusing on funding. Our members were the only ones to indicate concerns about the quality of the research being published, the evaluation procedures, issues around career mobility, and so on. In a similar manner, we also contributed recently to the consultation on the future Horizon Europe program by surveying the responses of our members.
With respect to EuroScience, my situation is unique. I am a university professor on half-time secondment from my university (the University of Lorraine) as an in-kind contribution to EuroScience. In other words, the university continues to pay me and does not ask for financial compensation from EuroScience. The university believes that it is important for academics to contribute in areas such as those promoted by EuroScience. This opportunity is very precious to me and I am thankful to my university for it. I am also very thankful to the wonderful staff at EuroScience who are so committed to our mission and vision.
I am conscious of the fact that everyone involved with EuroScience activities has other commitments as well. I am also a university professor, and the board members are all volunteers. We all work very hard but we also have a life outside of EuroScience. This awareness also helps drive better engagement with our members and volunteers.
So how did you build your membership? Also, what are the benefits of membership?
The principal benefit is that joining EuroScience helps you become part of a movement, where you get to contribute to the advancement of science and have your voice heard. I’d like to add that a EuroScience membership is not expensive; there’s no paperwork involved – everyone is digitally connected as part of our community! Also, it’s great that our members come from so many different countries, because it adds to the diversity we need. As to how we have succeeded in attracting so many members, the major vector for promotion is our ESOF conference, held every two years with registered participation of more than 4,000. As mentioned earlier, we have recently reinforced our working group on science policy, to increase engagement among our members. This can also be seen as a direct benefit of EuroScience membership.
I would like to focus on Japan. I don't think there are organizations in Japan that function like AAAS or EuroScience, but I’d like to know more from you. Do you think Japan has an organization like EuroScience? If not, why do you think this is the case? And does Japan need one?
It’s interesting that you ask me about Japan. I actually spent some time in Japan during a sabbatical in 1990. Unfortunately, the time I spent in the country was short and I don’t know enough about the scientific landscape in Japan. I know much more about what is happening in Europe. It would be hard for me to make a definitive statement about whether there are organizations like EuroScience in Japan today.
But I am sure that if you’re looking to set up a similar organization in Japan, this would be a great time to do so. Based on what I see, Japan encourages greater collaboration in and discussions around research and science policy. I would recommend that you make sure you include people from different sectors and professions – I feel the diversity may be easier to achieve in Japan because of the focus on collaboration.
Would it be useful to set up an organization focused on researchers and scientific advancement in Japan? Certainly! But it won’t be easy! There’s no magic formula for setting up a grass-roots member-based organization, creating its vision and mission, increasing its membership and engaging its members. You have to be clear about what you want to achieve and focus on meeting your goals. Remember that the size of the organization does not matter – the most important thing is to focus on your mission and on the quality of your contributions to scientists and to society.
One very important aspect you should consider when planning to set up a similar association in Japan, or in any other country, is the question of belonging. When trying to get people to join your organization, try to translate the sense of belonging into something concrete. Today, people have access to many social networks and different types of interactions, and so a simple membership is not enough. There has to be something more, something real, subjective, and qualitative that goes beyond having your name on the list of members. So I would urge you to think what would entice Japanese scientists to join your association and have meaningful discussions and interactions with others.
A lot of Japanese researchers I have spoken to have expressed the need for a Japanese equivalent of AAAS or EuroScience. But the biggest challenge we face is that of execution when it comes to setting up an organization. How did EuroScience deal with this?
I was not part of the initial phases when EuroScience was being set up, so I can only tell you what I have learned from my conversations with people who were present when the organization was founded in 1997. It is important to remember that the scientific landscape, trends in publishing and scientific practice were quite different back then. For one, the countries in Europe were more closely knit. Looking back at some historic and momentous events: the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, connecting Central Europe to Western Europe; the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 leading to the creation of the Euro as the principal currency across Europe. In short, at that time, there was a feeling that Europe was growing and that it was necessary to do something to make sure that, in addition to politics and economics, the actions of science and scientists would also be a strong driving force behind the vision of a United Europe.
My predecessors at EuroScience have told me that this was something they were deeply committed to. They wanted to create a pan-European organization to show that science had European values and could contribute to a United European continent because science is inherently international. Breaking down national boundaries was important for European integration and science could contribute to that goal. This was the vision in 1997 when a small group of enthusiastic, passionate, and committed people got together to set up EuroScience. Their approach was to think big and start small, which is no doubt one of the keys to success.
The organization received a big push in 2004, when we organized the first ESOF conference in Stockholm. This was the biggest multidisciplinary scientific conference in Europe to focus on science and society as well as the role of science and scientists in Europe. More than 15 years later, ESOF is still growing and offers a wonderful opportunity for exchange and dialogue, at the interface of science, scientists and society.
This concludes Part 1 of this interview.
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