Michela Bertero
Mar 24, 2020 · 4min read


Today we start a new series of articles within our ISA blog, “Ex Novo – Science behind the scenes“. This series is dedicated to the young women at Collegio Nuovo– Fondazione Sandra e Enea Mattei in Pavia, who are at the first steps in their scientific career. Personally, these articles will also be a nostalgic way to remember when I was a Collegio Nuovo student myself, and connect with the emotions, feelings and friendships of those fantastic University times. Together with my Collegio, we hope the series can be of interest to many other students and junior researchers who are passionate about science.

The Rose Garden named after Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini (who met the Collegio Nuovo students in 2009) donated by Alumna Natalia Lugli, biologist.

Why “science behind the scenes”? Because science is research, long hours to carry out experiments in the laboratory or in the field, but science is also communication, grant writing, entrepreneurship, administration, teaching, project management, leadership and many other facets. We will post articles, interviews and short stories on these multiple aspects of the scientific endeavour.

At some point in my scientific career, after hopping around from lab to lab, in different countries, I decided to dedicate myself just to “science behind the scenes”, and that is what we do at the International and Scientific Affairs team (more friendly ISA).

Sometimes, I find it difficult to describe who we are. Our “official” mission is to develop new opportunities for research and researchers. We also use the metaphor of ISA as generator of spin-offs, not in terms of new companies, but rather new projects, new collaborations or new funding. Let´s imagine a hypothetical week at ISA to get things down to earth.

ISA team plays with science all over the world.

Monday. Mondays are challenging but it is always nice to arrive at the office and exchange with your ISA colleagues. Some people are very early birds, others a bit less. Joaquim needs concentration as he is organizing the next meeting of SOMMa. SOMMa is an alliance of more than 50 research centres and University departments in Spain, spanning very diverse disciplines, from life sciences, chemistry, nanoscience to astrophysics and economics. The meeting will be in Madrid, bringing together the directors of SOMMa and the Spanish Ministry of Science. Joaquim works on the agenda, coordinates the logistics, collaborates with Karel on the communication plan and prepares some presentations. He will also have to present himself some preliminary work of the alliance. The meeting will be the first step to reach the SOMMa´s long-term objective to convince the Ministry to improve policies and funding for Spanish research.

Tuesday. The team is at full speed. Natalia, Angèle, Alex and Jonas are actively working on the international projects they are managing with the invaluable support of Ester. Thanks to the funding from the European Commission, their projects bring together research institutes and industries from different European countries, with interesting and challenging scientific objectives. Natalia is facilitating collaborations among academic partners and industry to build a new high-throughput super-resolution microscope to analyse the finest details in our cells. Angèle is orchestrating a new call for projects, which, if successful, will provide access to next-generation sequencing and other high-end genomics applications at top facilities in Europe. Jonas is organizing a science communication workshop with PhD students who are carrying out their research in the framework of a new European training network. Together with the ELISAVA School of design, they will achieve a science campaign in the middle of Barcelona “Las Ramblas”. Alex is wrapping up a 5-year project to achieve new vaccines for farm animals.

Wednesday. This is my favourite day because we have ISA meeting at 10:00. Our weekly meetings are highly inspired by lab meetings that most of us experienced when we were doing research in the lab. One person presents her or his project, followed by a rich discussion. Every two weeks we also have “journal clubs”. One ISA member selects and presents an article. It can be a scientific article or an article on European science policy, gender equality, open science, research integrity or other topics that are of interest for the team. The journal clubs stimulate our creativity, critical discussions and internal interactions.

Thursday. Damjana and Anna are very busy in organizing the international course on Nextflow, a pipeline for reproducibility in computational biology. It will be an intense week with practical sessions and lectures, hosting teachers and junior researchers from many different countries around the world. Damjana is making sure that the teachers will engage effectively with the participants, using new methodologies such as hackathons. Anna is organizing “fun” sessions, like a paddling course at the beach (yes, we are very lucky in terms of location!). It will be exhausting, with working hours during the week end, but the outcomes will be rewarding, contributing to developing new skills and knowledge for the group of junior researchers and maybe new friendships.

Friday. After days of meetings to coordinate and exchange with other departments, finally I can work from home. I can focus on writing and revising the institute´s report for the Spanish funding agency, analysing the main achievements in different areas, in science as well as in policy, management, collaborations and communication. I will include Thomas´s latest analysis of the institute´s scientific publications, highlighting the increasing percentage of Open Access publications. Finally, I have an important grant to work on to propose a new collaboration that will facilitate personalized medicine, among different biomedical institutes in Europe.

Our week is a bit different now in these challenging corona´s times. We are exploring how to keep up with our work through digital media. We are holding online meetings every day for exchanges among ourselves as well as for our international projects (check latest Jonas´s blog post), and we have coffee times in the morning and in the afternoon for “virtual” social breaks. Our (no-) routine continues rolling the best we can.

Keep tuned for other “Ex Novo – Science behind the scenes” articles. You can also leave a comment if there are specific topics you would like to know more about.



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