Newly elected Chair of the Young Academy of Europe, Katalin Solymosi, talks about her motivation for taking on the role and her plans for the YAE.
About Katalin Solymosi FYAE
Katalin Solymosi FYAE is a plant biologist and assistant professor at ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary. She is a founding member and a previous co-chair of the Hungarian Young Academy. Throughout her career, she has been awarded by several national scientific societies including the Hungarian Biophysical Society, Hungarian Society for Microscopy, Hungarian Society for Plant Anatomy and the l’ORÉAL-UNESCO Women in Science national scholarship. She likes to link science with the arts and has won prizes at various microscopy photo contests.
Professor Solymosi was elected the new Chair of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE) at the YAE’s AGM held in Munich in October 2023.
Congratulations on being elected the new Chair of the Young Academy of Europe. Why were you keen to take on this role?
“For me, this role is about serving the research community, so I felt a responsibility to take on this duty.
I was involved in launching the Hungarian Young Academy (HYA) in 2018. We conducted several surveys about the situation of early and mid-career researchers (EMCRs) in Hungary. Data from these surveys highlighted a number of inequalities and difficulties experienced by young scholars.
As a founding member of the HYA and its previous co-chair, I experienced first-hand how we made a difference, for example, by improving the situation of women in science in Hungary. I am therefore devoted to taking this next step of representing EMCRs at a European level.
I also feel honoured to be the first Eastern European chair of the YAE as I’ve always felt a responsibility to give a voice to researchers from this region.”
What would you say are the YAE’s key achievements so far and what are your next steps for the Academy?
“I think the most important achievement is that since its founding in 2012, the YAE has become an important stakeholder in the European science-policy landscape.
We are involved in a number of initiatives and collaborate with many stakeholders such as Academia Europaea, European Commission, Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE), International Science Council (ISC), European and Global Networks of Young Academies, Eurodoc, Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) and International Consortium of Research Staff Associations (ICoRSA).
We took part as some of the first signatories in the drafting process of the Coalition for the Advancement of Research Careers (CoARA), and we are now involved in the work of 3 different working groups within this initiative.
Since May 2022, we have also been officially involved in the European Science Advice Mechanism by being part of and hosting the Young Academies Science Advice Structure (YASAS), which is an official partner in the SAPEA project.
We plan to go ahead with all these collaborations and activities, and also organise events for our members.”
The YAE has become involved in policy-related work at a European level, through the SAPEA project. How do you think the YAE can further develop its role in science advice for policymaking?
“I think that one of the biggest achievements of the last 2 or 3 years was the launch of the Young Academies Science Advice Structure (YASAS), and its inclusion in the SAPEA consortium as an equal partner. Previous YAE chairs, and especially Moniek Tromp, played an important role in this process.
We are proud to have YAE as the legal entity of YASAS, and hope to see more YAE members, other European young academy members and early/mid-career researchers getting actively involved in science advice for policymaking in the future. Not only is this a good opportunity to train the next generation of scientific advisors, but we strongly believe that diversity in terms of career-stage can bring novel perspectives and added value to the way scientific advice is produced and delivered.
The most important role for YASAS and the YAE is to convince early and mid-career researchers to get involved and take up roles in the science advice mechanism, by showing them (and their supervisors and employers!) the impact they can make, which is different from, but not less important than that of writing scientific papers.”
How do you think the Young Academy of Europe can contribute to promoting diversity and inclusion in research and academia?
“YAE was involved in the CALIPER project promoting gender equality in STEM fields, through role model interviews of successful women and panel discussions. Outside of CALIPER, we are often invited to conferences and webinars related to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) topics, and actively initiate such events as (co)-organisers.
We have a useful document describing unconscious bias, and our survey undertaken in 2020 which was published in Nature outlined several inequalities among researchers, especially those with care-giving responsibilities. We think it is important to maintain dialogue about such problems and inequalities, provide evidence and data for them, and in this way help decision-makers and the academic community to address them. Otherwise, we’ll continue to lose great talent.
In addition, we also have a successful webinar series on ERC Starting Grant Mentoring through which we are trying to help candidates to successfully apply, especially those from Widening Countries. We are also working on launching a platform in early 2024 which will provide mentoring support for narrative CV writing. This is an initiative led by Sean Sapcariu (Luxembourgish National Research Fund – FNR) along with several funding agencies and other organisations such as the MCAA.”
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges that young scientists face today, and how can organisations like the Young Academy of Europe help address these challenges?
“Challenges of predatory publishing practices, the misuse of artificial intelligence, the persistence of the ‘publish or perish’ model, the low reproducibility of research papers, mistrust in science and disinformation are all important problems that affect not only early and mid-career researchers in Europe but the entire research community. Similarly, precarity and financial insecurity are huge problems, especially for those starting a family.
One issue I see as contributing to these problems is the fact that excellence-based basic funding has been mostly replaced by project-based funding. The latter brings uncertainty and stress, and results in the loss of a lot of valuable research time with grant writing and evaluation. YAE is involved in CoARA, which we hope will bring some changes at a system level in research and career assessment and emphasise quality over quantity and value diversity in impact.
As a positive outcome of our collaboration with other stakeholders including ISE in the organisation of the 4th GAGO Conference and in publishing a related Manifesto, we are now actively and officially involved at the European level in initiatives of the European Commission about how to make career paths in science more attractive and sustainable in Europe. We hope to use these opportunities to represent and serve the interests of the young researcher community.”
The Young Academy of Europe held its annual conference in Munich earlier this month. What were the highlights of this year’s meeting?
“In addition to reviewing our activities, board elections and greeting new YAE members, we also had fantastic and insightful research talks from three of our new members (Nuria Codina Solá, Bruno Ehrler, Philippa Warren). Susie Edwards from WonderIf provided us with inspiring leadership training and we had a wonderful interactive Arts & Science panel with our members sharing videos, drawings, microscopic image exhibitions, music and other artistic activities. We are grateful to LMU and the AE Munich Hub for helping us to organise our AGM in Munich.”
Although YAE is an independent organisation, it has maintained strong ties with Academia Europaea from the beginning. How do you see this long-standing collaboration between the two academies?
“We value the opportunity to co-organise our AGM with AE’s Annual Conference, Building Bridges. We enjoyed this year’s conference dedicated to scientific excellence, and the novel format of having research talks from each Class of Academia Europaea (AE) with speakers from both AE and the YAE. We had a brilliant talk from Professor Renaud Jolivet, awardee of the ‘André Mischke YAE Prize for Science and Policy’.
Besides the conference, we have several YAE members actively involved in the editorial board of AE’s journal, the European Review, as well as in task forces of AE, such as the HERCulES group or the recently launched Task Force of Environment, Sustainability and Climate (TFESC).
Some of our members also take part in activities of the various AE Hubs. For instance, our Vice-Chair Scott Bremer presented the AE Task Force for Environment, Sustainability and Climate at the Anthropocene Conference hosted by the Wroclaw Hub. YAE works closely with the Cardiff Hub on outreach activities, as well as EDI (e.g. related to CALIPER) and research culture and assessment topics. The AE Bergen Hub provides us with administrative support and of course Building Bridges 2023 was organised together with the Munich Hub. We are grateful to AE for supporting YAE over the years, and we’re looking forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration in the future.”