The Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) aim to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through international and intersectoral mobility.

Ana and Giacomo, who were early stage researchers on SUP&R ITN project, will finish their MSCA Phd this year at The University of Nottingham. They shared with us how this experience affected their both professional and personal life.

Giacomo D’Angelo is from Italy. He studied Civil engineering at The University of Palermo and got his second level master at The University of Rome, “La Sapienza”.

Ana Jiménez del Barco is from Spain, Granada, where she studied Civil Engineering and finished a Master in Structures. As she enjoyed university and research, she decided to pursue an academic career. PhD was the first step, and there is no better way to do it than with a Marie Curie Fellowship. She applied for the Marie Curie Programme SUP&R ITN in 2014 and moved to the UK to carry out her research at The University of Nottingham, in the Nottingham Engineering Transportation Centre, where she has spent the last three years.

Can you tell us something more about your project?

Giacomo: My project is entitled: “Optimisation of trackbed design and maintenance”. I am developing a new technology, namely Bituminous Stabilised Ballast, to make ballasted track more sustainable.

Ana: The research in SUP&R ITN is focused on the development and assessment of sustainable pavements and railways. In particular, I study the use of alternative materials in roads. Commonly, a pavement is made of bitumen (from petroleum) and aggregates. However, to move towards a non-petroleum society, I am studying the replacement of bitumen with bio-renewable and recycled materials.

What are the main advantages of MSCA ETN PhD?

Giacomo: A MSCA PhD gave me the opportunity to develop a project within an international network. I met experts in the field during different conferences and trainings which helped me to spread my work and have different point of view. The funding is very important in this regard, being able to travel and having all the material and equipment necessary to develop my PhD.

Ana: MSCA ETNs are focused on the training of the fellows, and improving their scientific and soft skills by attending training weeks which are specifically organized for them around the world. In this regard, undertaking a PhD in a MSCA ETN gives you the best possible education in your field.

In addition, the MSCA ETNs provide the fellow with the support of a multi-sector (academia and industry) network that no other PhD could have. During the three-year fellowship you are in touch with experts in your topic willing to help you with your development. For instance, every fellow has to do a secondment, taking advantage of the different expertise or research facilities within the institutions involved. I am undertaking my PhD in The University of Nottingham and had the opportunity to spend three months in Ifsttar in Nantes (France), which is one the biggest research centres for pavements in the world.

Finally, ETN are also focused on sharing the research with the non-scientific community. In my case, I participated in different Open Days in the university, explaining my work to children and teenagers. This experience enriches your view as a researcher and provides the perspective of delivering it to the society.

What were the biggest challenges?

Giacomo: The biggest challenge was to keep on track with the PhD while traveling around for conferences and training weeks.

Ana: Achieving a PhD is a challenge itself, but doing it while participating in a MSCA ETN is even more. MSCA ETN provides you with the best means to promote yourself by attending training weeks, conferences, writing blogs, etc. but because of this, you have be able to efficiently manage your time. A summary of what we have done in SUP&R ITN (apart from the PhD) is:

  • 8 countries
  • 15 cities
  • +50 flights
  • ~45.000 km
  • 350h of courses and trainings

How MSCA ETN influenced your professional development and your career?

Giacomo: After I finish my PhD I hope to be in a good position to find a job. Knowing people from industry and academia helped me decide which path to take in the future.

Ana: MSCA ETN has given me the chance to grow as a researcher and widen my professional objectives. At the moment, I am about to finish my PhD with several publications in international conferences and journals. Next, I will stay in The University of Nottingham as a PostDoc and project manager thanks to the different activities I have undertaken during these three years which allow me developing all my skills and potential.

Why would you recommend MSCA ETN fellowships?

Giacomo: It is a great opportunity to start a professional career. You have a lot of contacts that can help in the future and during the project you get to travel a lot. Salary is also good.

Ana: Professionally, the MSCA ETN fellowships are the best way to carry out a PhD due to the training and network that they offer. They allow you growing as a person establishing professional and personal relationships that will last forever.

If you are looking for unique experience and chance to take your career one step further, while being able to travel and build your professional contacts, then MSCA ETN is the right choice. Show that you are SMARTI enough and apply until May 31.