Moniek Tromp is the new Chair of the Young Academy of Europe. In this first interview since becoming Chair, she tells us about her ambitions and priorities for the YAE.
About Moniek Tromp
Professor Moniek Tromp is the new Chair of the Young Academy of Europe. She is Chair of Materials Chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and throughout her career, has been awarded prestigious fellowships/awards such as the EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship, NWO VIDI and the NWO Athena prize. She is active in numerous science advisory and a strong advocate for gender equality in the R&D community.
Congratulations on becoming the new Chair of the YAE. Tell us a little about your background and the key highlights from your career so far. What led you to your new role as YAE’s Chair?
“I trained as a physical and inorganic chemist and am now Chair of Materials Chemistry at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. The research group works on energy materials, such as catalysis, batteries and fuel cells, with a focus on operando characterisation. This means that we develop techniques and instrumentation for looking at materials under actual working conditions, trying to understand their performance and then further optimising them. A focus is on X-ray spectroscopy techniques, which allow time- and spatial-resolved characterisation of the materials during their operation. We have obtained vital insights into reaction and deactivation mechanisms, for important industrial catalysts as well as batteries.
I did my PhD (obtained in 2004, with highest distinction) in Utrecht, the Netherlands, after which I moved to Southampton in the UK. I first worked there as a postdoc, before being promoted to Lecturer. In 2010, I became Professor of Catalyst Characterisation at the Technical University of Munich, and in 2014 moved back to the Netherlands.
Throughout my career, I’ve received some important grants and prizes, for example an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship, a NWO VIDI, and the NWO Athena Prize.
As well as research, I’ve always been interested in policy and management. I’ve been active on many international science advisory boards, as well as boards of funding agencies and societies, etc. This is what brought me into contact with the YAE. Convening early- and mid-career researchers to be heard and have influence is crucial for the future of science and for our future. And when I sign up for something, I want to make a difference.”
What opportunities does YAE membership provide to early-career researchers, and how did it benefit you? What were the highlights of this year’s YAE conference in Barcelona?
“Our members benefit from access to a large network of excellent early- and mid-career researchers throughout Europe, including those from outside their own subject area, with whom they can interact and collaborate. Moreover, our close connections with Academia Europaea, the European Commission, the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE) and now SAPEA and the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM), enable us to be a part of science advice mechanisms and truly make a difference.
In Barcelona this year, we’ve held our AGM. Alongside that, we’ve had great research contributions from newly-elected members, as well as time for exchange and brainstorming, including via our taskforces. The highlight has been the Science Communication Lab with expert guest speakers David Budtz-Pedersen and Rolf Hvidtfeldt. In the evening, we celebrated our 10th anniversary over dinner. We are, of course, also part of the Building Bridges 2022 conference, which includes two YAE-led sessions: a debate titled “Towards an inclusive and representative academic landscape” and the 2022 André Mischke YAE Prize lecture by this year’s awardee Gergely Toldi. And I myself am contributing to the panel discussion on the Future of Science Advice.”
What are your priorities and ambitions for the YAE over the next few years?
“The world is changing, and the academic landscape is changing with it. Funding is tight and there are major crises, such as war, climate and health, which require action. The pressure on scientists in their many roles is therefore increasing. Open science and also aspects of researchers’ careers, such as recognition and reward, research assessment, mental health, diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda of national governments, as well as the European Commission’s. There are important actions where the YAE has already been involved and where cultures are finally changing, so much of the work will start now. The YAE wants to:
1. Play an active role in the Recognition and Rewarding movement, for example by being active in the research careers assessment coalition of the EC
2. With the Young Academies Science Advice Structure (YASAS), ensure early- and mid- career researchers are represented at all levels of science advice and that procedures are transparent
3. Work together with the ISE and also other young scientists’ networks to become a united and strong voice in policy for science discussions with the EC (for example, the research budget, research careers, etc).
4. Strongly engage in widening participation, to ensure scientists in all countries and cultures can flourish and produce their best science.
5. Further optimise our communication with and involvement of all of our members.”
Both the YAE and AE Cardiff are involved in the CALIPER project, and you are a strong advocate for gender equality in the R&D community. What has led you to taking this stance?
“I am a woman in the male-dominated fields of physics and chemistry, and have mostly worked around men. During my undergraduate studies and PhD, I was fortunate to have very supportive male colleagues around me. Once you go up the ladder, there are fewer women around and I’ve learned how women are often treated. They are not taken seriously, not encouraged to grow, or worse. Moving up the ladder gave me more “power” and influence to actually do something, and I see it as my responsibility to use this to enforce change. I’ve taken up special roles, for example Gender and Diversity Officer in Germany, and on the board of the Dutch Network for Female Professors in the Netherlands. In these roles, we don’t just help individual women, but, more importantly, we try to change policies and culture. So, by speaking to and working with university management, funding agencies and academies, we are keeping EDI on the agenda and providing advice.”
The YAE has become involved in policy-related work at a European level, through the SAPEA project. Could you tell us more about the specific role of the YAE and why it’s so important?
“The YAE is one of the now 15 partners who form YASAS, the Young Academies Science Advice Structure, a virtual network of Young National Academies, plus the GYA and the YAE. This network was established to become a formal partner in the SAPEA consortium. The YAE was chosen as the legal partner, and as of this month, I am also the elected president of YASAS.
While the YAE has been involved in SAPEA through our partnership with AE, a strong and formal role of early- and mid-career researchers in SAPEA was missing. Since SAPEA provides scientific evidence that forms the basis for policy advice to the EC, a diversity of scientists and advice is required. This diversity should include, of course, younger people. They bring a different perspective, and moreover, it is their future. The YAE has been one of the driving forces behind the establishment of YASAS and it is great that this is now coming to fruition.”