An interview with Dr. Catarina C. Ferreira, an MSCA Post-Doctoral Fellow at Trent University, Canada and UFZ, Germany

Horizon 2020’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) provide grants to researchers seeking international and interdisciplinary mobility experiences. The MSCA also enable research-focused organisations (universities, research centres, and companies) to host talented foreign researchers and to create strategic partnerships with leading institutions worldwide. Dr. Catarina C. Ferreira, a Portuguese citizen, was awarded an MSCA Individual Fellowship to complete post-doctoral research from January 2015 to December 2016 at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada and at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ in Leipzig, Germany during 2017. She shared her experience with us.

What made you decide to apply for an MSCA grant?

Definitely the huge prestige and the excellent package the MSCA grants offer. I knew this grant would enable me to work in different research environments around the world, while acquiring new knowledge and expertise in a diverse set of innovative methodologies, and expand my network of research collaborations. I chose the Biology Department at Trent University and the UFZ because these institutions are among the world’s leading research centres in the field of environmental research. Ultimately, this grant will help raise my profile as a researcher in applied conservation science, and hopefully lead to my integration into a European research institution as a leading scientist.

Tell us about your research. What does your MSCA project involve?

Landscape fragmentation, exacerbated by climate change, has intricate and still unpredictable effects on biodiversity, especially in complex landscapes. In a nutshell, this project investigates how wild felids populations are connected across the landscape, using the four extant Lynx species in North America and Europe as models. Specifically, the project links ecological information on Lynx species (namely physiology and genetics) across multiple scales to understand what features of the landscape and/or biological mechanisms determine large scale population connectivity. By comparing North America and Europe we can study this important topic under various fragmentation and climate change scenarios and conservation philosophies, thereby refining the design of biodiversity conservation policies and interventions in both continents. Right now I’m carrying out the integration of Lynx ecological data with environmental data (climate but also human activities, etc.) to investigate the drivers influencing Lynx sp. population connectivity in North America.

What would you say has been the highlight of your MSCA experience so far?

I would say the possibility of working in vibrant and resourceful research environments, both at Trent University and at the UFZ, and the close contact with worldwide recognized experts in the fields of eco-physiology, spatial ecology, genetics, and landscape connectivity. I have been learning a lot from this experience and meeting some great people!

What do you find most challenging with international research collaborations?

Establishing and managing international collaborations can be time-consuming and increase a project’s complexity but they are also key to enhancing your scientific capabilities and extremely enriching from a personal standpoint. In a global world where it’s a lot easier to network and create synergies, I think the hardest part of establishing new collaborations is that first step of strategically selecting the connections that will be the best match and will add value to your research. In the specific case of my MSCA grant, and in addition to the two host institutions, I rely on a network of renowned scientists based in the UK, Spain, Norway and Sweden that is invaluable to the success of the project. Managing relationships established within different socioeconomic backgrounds will sometimes call for your creative inter-personal skills but my experience has shown me that most challenges will be overcome by a common thread: the passion for science and knowledge!

What recommendations would you have for others thinking of applying for an MSCA grant?

The application process has been streamlined but it can still seem daunting if you’re not familiar at all with these types of grants. I would say give yourself enough time (typically 1-2 months) to read the application package and to prepare your proposal. Attend the info sessions and ask for help and tips from previous Fellows and the competent entities – like ERA-Can+ but also National Contact Points in Europe. Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up! These grants are extremely competitive but highly rewarding!


Photo: Dr. Catarina C. Ferreira

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