“ENABLE is an exciting challenge for young researchers”

Clara Caminal discussing with PhD students the details of the ENABLE project
Clara Caminal discussing with PhD students the details of the ENABLE project

One of the faces behind EU Horizon 2020’s ENABLE (European Academy for Biomedical Science) project is that of Clara Caminal, Head of the Academic & International Scientific Affairs Office. She sees the coordination of this European project as “a great success” for the Institute and “a significant achievement” in her career. She is convinced that taking part in the organisation of scientific conferences, the focus of ENABLE, will be “a tremendous experience” for young researchers. “It'll be an opportunity for them to gain valuable experience in organising an international symposium with European partners,” she adds.

“It all began one afternoon in autumn, when I was sitting with Research Grants Coordinator Sònia Saborit and we started digging into the sections of H2020,” explains Clara. “We realised that the idea we had in mind perfectly matched the objectives of the Science with and for Society, “Celebrating European Science” section of the European Programme.”

“We wanted to set up a series of high-level European events, targeted at and organised by young researchers, just like our PhD Students Symposia,” says Clara. “We were looking to involve prestigious speakers, and connect aspiring European researchers of tomorrow with prominent scientists of today.” The proposal was especially attractive to the European reviewers because it included innovative elements above and beyond merely organising scientific symposia.

“We want to actively seek public engagement,” explains Clara. And the project includes activities aimed especially at primary and secondary school pupils. “At IRB Barcelona, the Office of Communications and External Relations has extensive experience with outreach activities,” adds Clara, “and we stimulate open discussion about challenging and ethical issues, ensuring effective knowledge exchange between those involved. Engaging in an open dialogue with the public and stimulating interactions between science and society are among IRB Barcelona’s strategic objectives”. One of the aims of ENABLE  is  “to promote effective cooperation between science and society, to  recruit  new  talent  for  science,  and  to  pair  scientific  excellence  with  social  awareness and responsibility.”

The third axis on which ENABLE is built is that of career options for young researchers. “Everyone is aware that realistically only a select minority of PhDs will ultimately obtain faculty positions,” says Clara. “We have to provide alternative options, just as we try to explain with our yearly Career Progression in Science sessions.”

The next step for Clara and the Research and Academy Administration Department was to find European partners to embark on this project. The first to get on board was the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (RIMLS), with which IRB Barcelona has a long-standing collaboration agreement. “They were enthusiastic and supportive from the very beginning,” says Clara. She then approached other centres the Institute interacts with. In the end, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research Center, the University of Copenhagen (CPR), the European School of Molecular Medicine in Italy (SEMM) and the Madrid-based communication and dissemination agency Scienseed joined the project and participated in designing the fine details.

The first ENABLE Conference will take place in Barcelona in 2017, and will be followed by events in Copenhagen (2018), Nijmegen (2019), and Milan (2020). The kick-off event will coincide with the 2016 IRB Barcelona PhD Students Symposium in November.

Clara is convinced that taking part in the organisation of the conference will be “a tremendous experience” for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows at the Institute. “It will be an opportunity for them to gain valuable experience in organising an international symposium that involves European partners, and it will give them the chance to network with students from other institutions,” adds Clara.

It is the first time that Clara has coordinated a collaborative European project. She is enthusiastic because it combines the tasks she oversees, namely broadening the internationalisation of IRB Barcelona and working with young researchers at the Institute. “ENABLE is a project organised by and for young researchers. It is challenging, but we are confident that by 2020 the four institutions will be a reference in Europe for the organisation of conferences for  young researchers,” she says. “Being granted this project has taught me that if you really believe in something and you work with a team of motivated people, you can make it happen.”