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MARIE CURIE and MOBILITY in times of COVID: the need for paid extensions

Blog post by ESR representative Tanja Hendriks

 

MARIE CURIE and MOBILITY in times of COVID:

the need for paid extensions

 

‘You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals’, Marie Sk?odowska-Curie famously said. She, the only person ever to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields, also argued that science and scholarly endeavours should not be tied to national boundaries: ‘after all, science is essentially international, and it is only through lack of the historical sense that national qualities have been attributed to it’. It is thus no coincidence that Marie Curie’s name was subsequently honoured by using it for research funding that focuses on mobility, the building of networks among academics and the importance of transnational scholarly collaborations. This is also how our ANTHUSIA program is funded: it is part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under the Marie Sk?odowska-Curie grant agreement number 764546. Unfortunately, being a Marie Curie fellow in times of COVID poses a whole range of challenges, precisely because of this centrality of mobility in our PhDs.

 

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, we have kept the EU informed about how it affects our work as PhD fellows. Our first request for a non-budget neutral extension of the research program and our individual projects was sent in April 2020. We then wrote:

 

(…)

 

As you know, mobility - both within and outside the European Union - forms a central part of our ANTHUSIA program. Unfortunately, this has been severely disrupted due to the corona crisis. This has led to several challenges and delays, which make it very difficult for us to complete our program within the set time frame.

 

Like everyone else, we have had to adapt to the ever-changing situation that has emerged since the corona crisis started. Some of us had to cut short our fieldwork, others had to cancel their secondment or their stay at their second university. These changes and disruptions have economic consequences for us: some ESR's bear the cost of double rent, repeated moving and expensive flight cancellations for plans that fell through or had to be changed at the last minute. Second, for those who have had to move back and forth as universities and countries of origin urged their employees and citizens to come home and borders closed, the hassle of packing up and re-organising oneself across different countries also takes a lot of time and energy - which could otherwise have been spent writing and working on the project. It disturbs all the routines that are so vital for writing and academic productions, also because it heavily impacts on our wellbeing.

 

Our productivity is also being hampered by the fact that we are all stuck at home, lacking some of the materials that are essential for writing. As universities have practically closed, we have not been having access to libraries - and this situation could be continuing for several more weeks or even months. This is proving to be a bigger problem than we initially assumed, as quite a lot of literature is not available online and it is expensive to buy (e-)books (and they also don't always get delivered within a reasonable time frame). In addition, while we are working from home, we are losing out on opportunities to discuss our work with colleagues, to present our work at university but also to disseminate our work at conferences and seminars around the world - as these keep being postponed or cancelled. Needless to say, working from home also comes with its own challenges as many ESR's have had to take up care duties in the household where they are currently residing and some are having to home school their children.

 

(…)

 

 

In the rest of the letter, we emphasized that many other funding bodies and agencies had already acknowledged the difficulty of producing high-quality academic work under the unprecedented circumstances. For example, the Wellcome Trust; UK Research and Innovation (UKRI); and the Independent Research Fund Denmark, swiftly announced several paid extensions for projects they were financing. Already then, at what turned out to be only the start of the pandemic, we firmly believed that as ANTHUSIAsts we should be considered for a paid extension because mobility is a core element of our programme and this is precisely what is severely hampered by the pandemic.

 

Unfortunately, we now find ourselves almost a year later, nearing April 2021, and the pandemic is still very much ongoing. It has profoundly affected us, as it has everyone, and we believe that the EU should recognize this more fully than it currently does: despite extensive international lobbying to grant paid extensions like other funding agencies have already done, the European Commission seems strangely unmoved.

 

Again quoting Marie Sk?odowska-Curie: we always knew that ‘the way of progress was neither swift nor easy’. But this past pandemic year has been extraordinarily hard. In light of the current COVID pandemic, we thus strongly call upon the European Commission to recognize the delays that we are dealing with and how this continues to negatively affect our work and wellbeing.

 

Our own ANTHUSIA consortium has recently formally recognized this as well. Please find their letter of support below. It is our hope that their support will inspire the EU to support us too.

 

After all, as Marie Curie said: ‘you cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals’. Providing paid extensions for researchers and research projects affected by the pandemic would be a chance for the EU to show that it feels strongly about supporting (early career) researchers in achieving their goals and as such contributing to the best of their abilities to our shared academic community and world.

 

On behalf of the ANTHUSIA Early Stage Researchers,

 

Tanja Hendriks

(ESR representative)