Opportunities Under Horizon 2020 (1)

(September 12th, 2014) Axelle Viré has benefited from Marie Curie Actions twice throughout her career. Since November last year, she has been the vice chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association, MCAA. Lab Times talked to her about her MC experiences and her role in shaping the MCAA.

The Belgian Axelle Viré is assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, and vice-chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association. Axelle graduated in Mechanical Engineering in 2006 and received her PhD in Physics at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, in 2010. Thereafter, she joined Imperial College London for a postdoc sponsored by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship. Axelle moved to the Netherlands to her current position last October and is currently partly supported by a Marie Curie Integration Grant worth €100,000. Her scientific focus is the numerical simulation of fluid-structure interactions for innovative wind energy concepts, including airborne wind energy.

Lab Times: Please tell us about your first Marie Curie Fellowship!

Towards the end of my PhD, I was willing to pursue an academic career while expanding my areas of research. I was particularly interested in offshore renewable energy. In 2009, I came across research on ocean modelling at the Imperial College London while attending an international conference. A few weeks later, I read on the news about the deployment of the first prototype for a floating wind turbine. I did some research and came up with the idea of developing high-fidelity computational models for studying these floating wind turbines. I suggested writing a postdoctoral Marie Curie project on this subject with the Applied Modelling and Computation Group at the Imperial College London. The group and university were both very supportive during the application process. I submitted the application in August 2010, which was accepted in December 2010, and started on the fellowship in October 2011. I actually finished my PhD in September 2010 but thanks to an award received from the Belgian Vocation Foundation and a full-time research associate position, I was able to start immediately thereafter at Imperial College London.

How did the fellowship help you to advance in your career?

The fellowship gives researchers a tremendous opportunity to expand their expertise by providing mobility both geographically and scientifically. The fellowship enabled me to work with researchers with different backgrounds, to be involved in a wide variety of research projects and to see different ways of managing research projects. There were not many activities offered specifically for MC Fellows but I have had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of events and career development courses with other postdoctoral fellows.

What were your major reasons for joining Delft University?

I was eager to secure a lectureship position in computational modelling for wind energy systems and to establish my academic career in this field. The Delft University of Technology is well-renowned in this area and leads several research programmes on wind energy. I applied to the Wind Energy group and was offered a position of Assistant Professor. During the interview, I mentioned my willingness to apply for the MC Fellowship in order to get additional financial support for my activities. Although my previous success with the MC Actions was certainly an asset in getting the position, it was surely not the only reason why I was offered the job.

You have benefited twice now from Marie Curie Actions. What are, in your opinion, the great advantages of MC and where is there still some room for improvement?

Through attractive working conditions, the MC Actions encourage researchers to be mobile geographically and/or scientifically. In my opinion, mobility is extremely beneficial in an academic career. My different working experiences in Brussels, London and Delft make me a unique researcher. Through these experiences, I have acquired a unique set of skills and knowledge, on which I build my own ideas and my research group. Importantly, I still work in close collaboration with my former colleagues. Thus, the MC Actions also help in building new scientific networks internationally. These are the main reasons why I would encourage all young researchers to experience different research environments during their career. Of course, there is always some room for improvement. In terms of eligibility, the criteria of having at least four years of experience after a Masters Degree could be reduced to three years. This would encourage people to submit an application well ahead of finishing their PhD and would, therefore, reduce the need to find gap funding between the end of a PhD and the start of the fellowship. There are also discrepancies in the fellowship conditions (e.g. pension, social security, level of taxation) depending on the host country. This means that a Fellow will have different conditions/support depending on the country he/she is in. It is, of course, difficult to manage this at a European level but I think that some work needs to be done in this area.

How did you become involved in the Marie Curie Alumni Association?

I heard about the establishment of the MCAA through my Fellowship and quickly registered as a member on the web portal. Ahead of the first general assembly, I submitted my candidacy to be Vice-Chair of the Association. 

What is your function and motivation as Vice-Chair?

I applied for the Vice-Chair position because I wanted to be at the core of an association that represents the voice of the Alumni and bridges the gap between the researchers and the European Commission. Since I already benefited from two different MC Actions, I wanted to bring my experiences to the MCAA. I will further enhance activities between Alumni at a national level, through the recent creation of a BeNeLux chapter of the MCAA. Finally, the challenge of helping shape a new and large international not-for-profit association also appealed to me.

When was the MCAA founded and does it receive direct support from the EC? How many members do you have?

The MCAA is officially recognised as an AISBL (international not-for-profit association) since the 7th of February 2014 and currently receives direct support from the European Commission. The number of members is growing every day. As of the 14th of August 2014, there are 4,872 registered members.

Is there really a need for an Alumni Association? Many other organisations offer support and informations concerning MCA.

The MCAA provides a platform to connect Marie Curie Actions Alumni, for example, through online discussions, thematic working groups, or regional chapters. It also encourages Alumni to stay active in the community, well beyond their MCA project. This is achieved, for example, by offering micro-grants to members who want to disseminate their work and are not receiving support from the EC. As opposed to existing organisations, the MCAA is open to any researcher irrespective of career stage, who is benefiting or has benefited from any of the MCA funding.

What are your possibilities to influence the layout and the implementation of Framework Programmes?

The MCAA has established various working groups (including one on science policy) and regional chapters. One of the objectives of these groups is to identify issues faced by Alumni and report to the EC. These activities are just starting and we hope that our work and feedback will be valuable to shape the Framework Programmes in years to come.

How do you interact with your Alumnis?

The main interactions with our Alumni are via the web-portal, emails, online meetings and the General Assembly. The establishment of regional chapters also promotes local networking events between the Alumni.

Interview: Ralf Schreck

In a second interview to be published next week, Brazilian Laura De Vargas Roditi talks about her experience with the ETH Zurich Postdoc Fellowship Program, which received about €5 million from the Marie Curie Action “Co-funding of Regional, National and International Programmes”.

Last Changes: 10.22.2014

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