A coordinator’s point of view
In ITN-projects, the network-wide training events are an essential part of the ESR training – or the NWTEs, as we conveniently shorten the term in order to save time and fingertips when typing it. In fact, the EU Commission has directly recorded the NWTEs as a training tool to the project structure. Therefore, from the coordinator’s point of view, it is not a question of whether to have these events or not, but rather whether or not to have successful ones.
In our project, the objectives for the NWTEs are four-fold:
- To provide common scientific training to all our ESRs. These trainings contain topics that the consortium has found important for all the ESRs. They may not be in the core of each ESR’s studies and research but they aim at giving the big picture of the field to the true bio-fibre professionals that we are training. As different universities have different focus in their educational offerings, it is beneficial to select best lectures for each topic and to offer the training in a centralized way. Our main topics for the NWTEs are 1) multi-scale characterization, 2) surface functionalization, 3) multi-physics modelling, 4) manufacturing processes & applications and 5) paving the way for exploitation of the results (the last event is organized in connection with a conference).
- To provide transferable skills training to all our ESRs. Transferable skills refer to skills that are not related to the scientific substance. Instead, these are skills that one can take with himself/herself to any workplace irrespective of the sector or position. Such skills include for example negotiation skills, time management skills or knowledge on intellectual property rights. The main contents of our transferable skills training was fixed in the proposal phase and confirmed in the Grant Agreement that we made with the Commission. However, we constantly aim at improving the contents.
- To network. Although the NWTE as a term refers to training, the events also provide a platform for networking. Networking is an integral part of our project. We have been fortunate, since the consortium is really active and we have had good turnout in every event. We want ESRs to network with each other since they will form the core of a very uniquely trained future professionals in bio-fibres. We also want all the ESRs and the company and university representatives to network with each other – after all, we have brought together a nice collection of experts. The common events can also function as “a long job interview” for the ESRs.
- To offer possibility for ESR supervision on consortium level. Our project contains a fair amount of knowhow on bio-based fibres. We should definitely utilize this knowhow in the ESR supervision over the organization borders – and this is what we are doing! Each ESR has co-supervisor(s) from the consortium. Each ESR also has a mentor to give perspective to working on the other sector (a mentor from the industry to the ESRs working in the academic sector and from the academic sector to the ESRs working in the industry). As the NWTEs bring together the whole consortium, they are well suited for supervisory team meetings.
Fulfilling the above-mentioned goals enables the organization of a successful event but it does not guarantee it. What does then?
Well, high-quality trainers and extremely careful planning. It is important that the participants feel that the content of the event is beneficial to them and that the training is understandable, stimulating and maybe even entertaining. We can measure our success with the feedback that we gather – and based on it, adjust the future events. Not all elements of the network-wide training might seem interesting or useful for all, at least before the PhD studies are completed and the big picture is formed. However, all parts are designed by the consortium that has a front-seat-view to the needs of the field – both from the academic and industrial perspective.
For the organizer of the event, there are quite many boundary conditions and maybe even competing goals. For example: There is a budget inside which we must stay. We also need to minimize the time that the company representatives and supervisors are required to be present. Therefore, the Supervisory Board meeting, all the preparatory meetings related to future events or to the other common trainings need to take place within a narrow time window and parallel with the ESR training. We also need to include ESR presentations and supervisory team meetings to this same time frame because they involve partners and beneficiaries. Preferably, we should also include interesting social events since not all networking and fruitful discussions take place in formal settings… At the same time, we should maximize the time ESRs spend with each other and with the rest of the consortium. However, the days cannot be too fully packed – this we learnt from the first NWTE!
What exactly have we learnt then?
Besides not making the days too long – plenty!
So far, we have had two NWTEs. The average grade for the composition of the program and usefulness of the event to all participants was 4.7/5 in NWTE1 and 4.4/5 in NWTE2. The average grades for training were 4.3/5 and 4.6/5, respectively. So, many things must have gone well. We have also gotten a lot of useful comments and suggestions in the feedback. From the latest event, we have learnt that:
- We should increase the networking in all levels and in all directions. ESRs should communicate more with each other, but we should also offer more opportunities for the ESRs to discuss with the company representatives and with the supervisors from different organizations.
- We should improve the communication over organization borders related to research problems and to recognizing the exploitability of the results. This could be done for example by enhancing the activities on the work package level.
- We should have such content in the NWTEs that enable the cooperation between ESRs also after the event. We could also otherwise boost the cooperation between the events; maybe we should organize a workshop just for the ESRs.
- We should involve ESRs more in the actions related to our visibility outside; communication and public engagement.
- We could increase the amount of scientific training.
- ESRs would like to be more involved when selecting topics for transferable skills training. This will absolutely be done. However, since some content of the project was fixed once we got funding, removing topics can be difficult. We can always add contents, but this is then an optimization problem with other competing goals.
- ESRs are interested to visit companies outside the consortium.
Our next NWTE is already under preparation and all the feedback will be taken into consideration when polishing the program – and when implementing other parts of the project!
From the coordinator’s team at Tampere University
Researcher and the Scientific Project Manager of Fibrenet