Gemma Modinos, new Chair of the Young Academy of Europe, talks about her vision and priorities for the YAE in our first video interview.
About Gemma Modinos
Gemma Modinos completed a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Applied Neurosciences at the University of Barcelona in Spain. She received her PhD in Neuroscience (Cum Laude) from the University of Groningen. As a postdoctoral researcher, she moved to the UK. In 2016 she received two prestigious awards, the King’s Prize Fellowship followed by the Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society, allowing her to build her career as an independent scientist at King’s College London. She is currently a Senior Lecturer and Principal Investigator at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.
Dr Modinos’s lab research uses neuroimaging and behavioural assays to characterise the relationship between social and emotional information processing in first-episode psychosis and in the development of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
Dr Gemma Modinos was the first woman to receive the Schizophrenia International Research Society SIRS Rising Star award in 2019.
As the new Chair of the YAE, what are your priorities and ambitions for the Academy?
“I am deeply honoured to have been elected as new Chair of the YAE and I see this position as a service to the community of young scholars in Europe.
My vision for the next year of the YAE revolves around three main topics: collaboration, inclusivity and mobilising our youth.
In terms of collaboration, it is a priority, for example, to strengthen a closer partnership with the Academia Europaea. This brings our members fantastic opportunities for visibility, mentoring and sponsorship and the exchange is beneficial for both organisations.
Another priority is to join efforts with National Young Academies and we are now very close to guaranteeing an independent voice for young scholars in European scientific policy mechanisms.
Finally, I also have as a priority to enhance communication and transparency within the Board and between the Board and the wider membership, to make us even more efficient to represent the interests of YAE fellows.
In terms of inclusivity, my ambition is to continue to increase our membership, seeking diversity and equality of representation, and we are also now working with the AE (Eva Kondorosi in particular) for widening participation to young scholars in Eastern European countries.
Finally, on mobilising our youth, I envision the YAE as an advocate for further grassroots movements to give a voice for scientific advice to the even younger generations, in particular those exceptional high school and undergraduate minds with outspoken views. So we are working on an exciting proposal to discuss these plans with the EC at the moment.”
How do you think young scientists can contribute to science advice for policymaking?
“The question is about how and I will refer to European Scientific Advice Mechanisms. So until now, how we’ve been working on this is as soon as calls for expert scientific advice on a given topic had been put out, we cascaded these down to our membership and also to our collaborators in National Young Academies and then put forward the relevant experts so that the input from young scholars can be incorporated in science advice. We’ve also been active in nominating members for the SAM and the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, whose current Chair Nicole Grobert (we like showing off Nicole very much!) is a founding member and a former Chair of the YAE. Very excitingly, we are now close to putting in place a more established mechanism for young scholars to provide advice as an independent body, which has been an unprecedented and highly rewarding step from joining efforts between National Young Academies that the YAE had been advocating for for some time.”
What are the challenges that young scientists face in the post COVID-19 era?
“The research shutdowns caused by the pandemic have generated a great deal of professional and emotional distress to young scholars. It is important to realise that many young researchers have temporary positions, even when holding an ERC or other prestigious grants, and even when they are leading they own research groups. So a delay in their research, or a freeze of research investment, blocks their career progression and this damages science as a whole, not just the individuals. Having to worry about whether their contract will be extended or whether they can get a new job in the near future on top of the uncertainty around the research being delayed has been adding additional mental strain for this group, who are already at a stressful career stage.
The Young Academy (of Europe) ran a survey to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the research and careers of young scholars as part of our CALIPER Project – a Horizon 2020 project. Our preliminary findings show that the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, that is the main message. Levels of stress have increased, people work more hours but less on research, struggled with work life balance and felt less motivated. And the situation has been worse for people with caring responsibilities, and specially women. We need to keep in mind that ECRs are the future of our research landscape and they must be supported to ensure the prosperity of European research portfolios in a post-pandemic world.”
The YAE is involved in gender equality. How can the YAE play a role in inspiring more young women into STEM careers?
“Gender equality is a core mission of the YAE. At this point, we have an equal distribution of females and males in our membership, but there is still a gender gap in STEM careers and much work to be done. The YAE continues to advocate for the role of women in science, to promote their careers, protect their interests and highlight inequalities where there are. For example, we participate in the Horizon 2020 project CALIPER with the goal to make research organisations more gender equal by increasing the number of female researchers in STEM, improving their career prospects and integrating a gender dimension in research.”
About the Young Academy of Europe
Established in 2012, the YAE is a pan-European non-governmental academy of top young scientists and scholars with outspoken views about science and science policy. Its mission is to provide input to scientific exchange and science policy across all member states of the European Union or an Associated Country. YAE members are experts and leaders in their respective fields, who seek to provide a ‘younger’ perspective about the future of science and academia in Europe. Read more.