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Raising researchers’ voices in Europe

Diana Jane Beech

Research in Europe is increasingly targeted towards fostering excellence. At the heart of this policy drive is the concept of researcher mobility, which requires researchers to work not just across borders but also across disciplines and sectors.

The demands on modern-day researchers are high. Yet the existing research infrastructure in Europe often hampers researcher mobility and renders research careers in the European Union (EU) less attractive.

Obstacles include inadequate social security schemes, the prevalence of short-term contracts, insufficient gender equality practices and an inability to move freely between academia and industry.

With the forthcoming Horizon 2020 framework programme (2014-20) specifically earmarking ‘Excellent Science’ as a priority policy area, it is more urgent than ever that European policy-makers recognise exactly what is needed to attract and encourage researchers to stay and work in
Europe.

And what better way to do this than listening to the views of researchers themselves?

On 21-22 November 2013, Brussels will play host to the EURAXESS – Voice of the Researchers – conference, the first event of its kind to give EU-based researchers a prominent platform from which to highlight the most pressing issues affecting their careers, and to put forward concrete policy suggestions directly to the people that matter.

The aptly named “Raising Researchers’ Voices” conference will comprise almost 200 researchers working within the 28 member states of the EU, of all ages, nationalities and disciplines. Hosted by members of the Voice of the Researchers, or VoR, multipliers group, participants will be encouraged to speak out on the most contentious issues for research careers – including job instability and the challenges posed by new trends in open access and applied research agendas.

 

European Research Area

Established in March 2012 via an open call from the European Commission’s EURAXESS team, the VoR multipliers group comprises approximately 25 EU-based researchers, dedicated to acting as a bridge between grassroots researchers, decision-makers and other relevant stakeholders in the European Research Area, or ERA – ultimately allowing researchers themselves to determine the most important issues to be addressed.

The “Raising Researchers’ Voices” conference is an expression of the VoR’s steadfast commitment to bringing together researchers across the EU – from academia and industry, and from the arts and the sciences – and enabling them to take an active role in shaping the ERA.

In keeping with the VoR’s bottom-up ethos, the conference promises a highly interactive and varied programme of events. Rather than following the traditional humdrum format of panel debates and keynote speeches, the conference agenda will largely be set by the participants themselves.

At the start of the event, delegates will be encouraged to make use of electronic polling stations to cast their vote on issues of concern. These results will then be collated and used to generate discussion topics for small-group workshops, loosely bracketed around the central themes of jobs, services, rights and links.

It is from these discussions that concrete policy recommendations will be made and put forward to a variety of key policy-makers and stakeholders at the end of the conference. VoR member Suzanne Miller-Delaney explains:

“The idea is to identify the biggest issues affecting researchers and their careers in Europe, and to come up with changes the researchers themselves want, delivering them in person to the policy level.”

 

Storytelling

The conference is ultimately about giving researchers a voice in decisions that concern them. This will also be done through elevator pitches and ‘ERA Slams’, in which researchers will take to the stage to present their views and ideas on career-related topics using an eclectic mix of role-play, video and storytelling.

As well as hosting the final of the European ‘ERA Slam’, the conference will welcome the winners of international ‘Science Slams’ from North America, Brazil, India, the Association of South East Asian Nations countries, China, and Japan – helping to build links and share ideas with researchers from outside Europe.

This, says VoR member Maria-Christina Georgiadou, is the main benefit of the event – “the diversity of opinions; getting to know the views of different researchers from different backgrounds, disciplines and career stages; and formulating ideas together to inform policy-making in some practical way”.

Through its integrative and holistic approach, the conference offers a real possibility to overcome the lack of harmonisation that exists in the ERA today.

For the VoR multipliers group in particular, it also offers a chance to showcase the significant role it can play as an effective interface between researchers, professional organisations and the policy level, as well as helping to attract new and active members as it seeks to establish a strong presence in ERA decision-making processes in the future.

As a result of the conference’s bottom-up agenda, there is no telling what its outcomes will be, or indeed how the policy level will react. Yet, whatever the eventual policy suggestions, they are sure to address issues that will have a direct impact, not just on individual researchers within Europe but also on the EU’s future research output as a whole.

If European officials really are committed to creating a truly ‘unified research area’ in which “researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely”, then it is essential that they start listening to the concerns of the researchers they rely on in pursuit of Europe’s scientific success.

 

* Dr Diana Jane Beech is a research associate at the Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge, where she is currently exploring the relevance of developing a value-driven approach to future European science policy-making processes. As well as being an active member of the “Voice of the Researchers” multipliers group, she is the communications coordinator of a collaborative research network dedicated to the study of the European Research Area, generously supported by the University Association for Contemporary European Studies, UACES.

 

* The “Raising Researchers’ Voices” conference will take place on 21-22 November 2013 in Brussels. Registration for the event is now closed, but readers can keep up to date with conference developments (#vor2013) on Facebook and on Twitter @Research_Voice.

 

This article was originally published in University World News.

 



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