We talk to Chair of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE) Dr Mangala Srinivas. Dr Srinivas, of Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, discusses the impact of being awarded an ERC Starting Grant, her role as the Chair of the Young Academy of Europe and why the YAE became involved in the debate on Plan S.
About Mangala Srinivas FYAE
Dr Mangala Srinivas works at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her work focuses on agents for in vivo imaging. She was elected chair of the Young Academy of Europe in 2018.
Your educational background took you across the globe. What was it that attracted you to Europe to continue your career in research?
“I did my undergraduate studies in Singapore, and then moved to the US for grad school. I thought it would be a great experience to live in Europe for some time, so I moved to the Netherlands for a postdoc position, only intending to stay for a couple of years – this was several years ago! Better chocolate and beer played no role in this move at all! Working in Europe is certainly quite different than working in the US or Singapore. Europe is relatively small, dense and well-connected so it is easy to build scientific collaborations.”
In 2013 you successfully secured an ERC Starting Grant. How has this impacted on your research and career?
“This was a huge step that allowed me to start my own research group. It also led to two ERC Proof of Concept Grants, which were instrumental in setting up my spin-off company. In terms of science, it allowed me to chase some crazy ideas which are now published. This led to several more projects, many of which are still ongoing.
While the ERC has been amazing in terms of advances on the scientific front, on the career front, it has had somewhat less impact. Where I work, being awarded an ERC grant does not mean a permanent position or job stability beyond the duration of the grant. Issues like this are discussed in our recent Nature Careers article which published the results of a survey undertaken by the YAE.”
Could you briefly summarise the results of the YAE survey. Were there any findings that surprised you?
“When the results of the survey were analysed, we were truly surprised at how much even very successful researchers struggle over issues such as excessive admin work, and especially finding a permanent position. This is a truly major issue – how can one run a group without some job stability? We hope that the article draws attention to these issues, and we will publicise these issues further wherever possible.”
You are currently Chair of the Young Academy of Europe. How did you first become aware of the YAE and how did you become involved?
“I was contacted by the YAE when I received my Starting Grant. One of the founding members was in my university at that time. He contacted me directly and was apparently very convincing! Initially, I thought the YAE would allow me to meet people from other disciplines, to inspire more interdisciplinary ideas. Since then, I’ve come to realise that this is just the beginning of how the YAE can contribute.
The YAE has helped me in several ways. It has enabled me to meet some amazing people that I would never have met otherwise. Many YAE members are truly exceptional researchers, and meeting them through the YAE (as opposed to directly through work) allows us to meet in a completely non-competitive and open environment. I find it extremely helpful to see how other researchers run their groups, their personal lives and seeing them gives me a better perspective on my own career.
Being part of the YAE has really expanded my network. I’ve been able to meet a lot of high profile people that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, including well-established researchers and also people working in the European Commission for example. Being involved with the YAE gives me an opportunity to actually do something to improve the situation. I know there is a lot that is wrong with academia currently; I have a lot of complaints myself. Being part of the YAE allows us to actually do something about these issues.
Some examples that stand out for me are the statements that we have published, and our recent article in Nature Careers. That was truly an eye-opener. Some of the comments that our own (highly successful) members put in were quite dire! The YAE is one channel that allows us to at least start solving some of these problems.
What are your priorities and ambitions for the YAE?
“At the moment, I think the most important thing is publicity. We do a lot of great work, but people don’t necessarily know who we are or what we do. The YAE is a group of very successful researchers who are early stage group leaders, from all fields, and are working in Europe. We differ from National Young Academies as we are not focused on a particular country. This means that we can focus on EU-level issues, and give an international outlook on these. At the same time, not having a local “home” makes it much more difficult to organise meetings, or to generate local publicity or interest in our activities.
We are working on our website as well, with a lot of support from the AE Cardiff Hub. We also need to be better-organised but it is important to realise that the YAE is largely run by researchers who do this in their “free time”, so unfortunately there are limits as to how much we can do.
We have high goals for the YAE, but limited resources. We have had to turn down some invitations to meetings and events, simply due to lack of time or manpower. If we had more of both, we would like to play a much stronger role in bringing our members together e.g. by organising local chapter meetings and forging stronger ties with other (Young) Academies.”
The Young Academy recently released a joint statement with other organisations on Plan S, the initiative to accelerate the transition to open access publishing. Why has the YAE got involved in the debate around Plan S?
“Open Science is where we all need to be; that is clear. However, the impact of Plan S on young academics may be very different than on more established ones. We felt that it was crucial that we would not be “stuck in the middle”, and that our needs were considered as well. For example, how do you deal with needing to publish in high impact journals that are not Open Access? This is why we teamed up with other early career researchers, with EuroDoc and the MCAA, to write our statements. We’re also organising an event on Plan S, together with the AE, in September this year in Leuven.”