Interview with Angelika Kędzierska-Szczepaniak, BSN Project Leader, Deputy Dean for Student Affairs and International Cooperation, Faculty of Management, University of Gdańsk
It has been a while since the flagship – Baltic Science Network (BSN) – was explained in greater detail to the EUSBSR PA Education audiences. If taking a look back at the interview with project director Klaus von Lepel titled “Baltic Science Network | Establishment of the network” which was published back in December 2016, it is worth pointing out that there are many more achievements BSN has delivered over the last two years. The recent approval of the extension phase titled “BSN_Powerhouse” is the right moment to acquire a more extensive insight from one of the most active members of the BSN on what have been the major success stories of the recently concluded phase of the network.
It should be pointed out right away that the majority of aspects discussed in this interview are modelled according to the most recent call of the Let´s Communicate team to share more in-depth insights on the project-based developments which help to bring the overall aspirations of the EUSBSR into reality. BSN submission for this particular call serves as the key reference point for the interview´s structure. The Let´s Communicate call was kept in mind in order to demonstrate to the wider audiences those specific BSN angles which have been less pronounced in earlier publications but are important to promote as key components for a successful establishment and operation of an outstanding transnational domain-specific hub for expertise, networking and joint actions.
Baltic Science Network in Brief
BSN serves as the transnational forum for higher education, science and research cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region. This network assembles ministries, funders and universities based in the Baltic Sea Region. The consortium is a springboard for targeted multilateral activities covering three domains – research and innovation excellence, mobility of scientists and widened participation. These joint activities are modelled with an overall aim to ensure that the Baltic Sea Region remains a hub of cutting-edge scientific solutions. BSN is also a platform tailored to provide advice on how to enhance a macro-regional dimension in higher education, science and research collaboration. It builds on the existing transnational structures of the Baltic Sea Region, as well as learns from the on-going initiatives related to higher education, science and research policy.
The successful collaboration established during the implementation of the initial BSN project phase will be continued from August 2019 onwards with an extension project titled “BSN_Powerhouse”. While BSN has provided science ministries, governmental/funding agencies, university networks with a general platform to devise joint strategic approaches, BSN_powerhouse will now go one step further to implementation.
The main objective of BSN-powerhouse is to enhance the competences of the science ministries/ funding agencies to design and implement transnational programmes to support research infrastructures (RI) to become better transnationally interconnected and to develop R&I excellence. This will be achieved by practically implementing, testing and evaluating 2 concrete support instruments: LaunchPad:RI_Connectors – a support action for widening participation of research infrastructures in the field of photon-neutron science, as well as the BSR Researcher’s Internship Mobility Programme (BSR-RIMP) modelled to enhance brain circulation in the Baltic Sea Region in the three earlier chosen domains – welfare state, life sciences, as well as photon and neutron science.
1) What are the key components of the Baltic Science Network communication and activities aimed at promoting public awareness about research potential and cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region?
During the initial stages of the project implementation the Baltic Science Network Communication Strategy was prepared and subsequently updated to ensure that the consortium would have a comprehensive and well-coordinated approach to its outreach. Bearing in mind that Baltic Science Network addresses a great diversity of audiences, a constant multilateral interaction among the Baltic Science Network is a daily routine.
Among the audiences of the Baltic Science Network are key institutions of the European Union involved in steering and overseeing the research cooperation in Europe, such as the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, as well as the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.
Baltic Science Network is well known among the stakeholders and key multilateral forums of the Baltic Sea Region, such as the Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and National Coordinators of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. In addition, BONUS, the joint Baltic Sea Research and Development Programme, and the Baltic University Programme are among the members of the Baltic Science Network.
Baltic Science Network has been regularly presented and discussed among the administrators of higher education, research centres, established researchers and academics, students – starting from high school pupils (during the annual Europe Day celebrations in Latvia), up to 2nd and 3rd cycle higher education students and postdoctoral fellows. In Gdańsk specifically, examples of such constant outreach efforts are the international conference “Modelling and Forecasting the National Economy” which took place on 29–31 May 2017, the conference “Value Management” on 7–10 October 2017, the conference “Corporate Governance and Finance Conference” on 19–20 October 2017.
Likewise, the University of Gdańsk had the pleasure of hosting one of the most content-rich working level meetings of the Baltic Science Network, which was also mirrored in the Baltic Science Network two submissions to the “EU in My Region” 2018 photo contest organised by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.
Moreover, thanks to the much-appreciated analytical accomplishments of Kazimierz Musiał, Associate Professor at the Institute of Scandinavian Studies of the University of Gdańsk, the University has extended its geographical outreach far beyond Sopot and Gdańsk. Kazimierz Musiał co-authored the explorative study “Scientific Excellence: Joint Potentials in the Baltic Sea Region” commissioned by the Baltic Science Network, took part in the Baltic Science Network Welfare State Expert Group and contributed to the Working Paper “Fostering Sustainable and Inclusive Labour Markets in the Baltic Sea Region: A Life Course Perspective” (a Baltic Science Network publication which was promoted also during the #EUSBSRBetterTogether social media campaign).
Both of these publications in draft and final editions have been presented and discussed by Kazimierz Musiał on a number of occasions, such as the 8th Annual Forum of the EUSBSR held in Berlin, Baltic Science Network brainstorming seminar held in Hamburg, Riga Readings in Social Sciences 2018 and Baltic Science Network Final Conference in Riga. The explorative study turned out to be a highly impactful analysis since it paved the way for the Baltic Science Network prioritisation of three thematic research domains. The University of Gdańsk is thrilled about the achievements of its researcher and his noteworthy potential to contribute to the shaping of the multilateral collaboration patterns in the Baltic Sea Region.
Last but not least, it shouldn´t be neglected that the academic staff of the University of Gdańsk was taking an active part also in another Baltic Science Network Working Group. Krzysztof Bielawski, Vice-Rector for Development and Cooperation with Business and Industry, and professor of molecular biology at the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of University of Gdańsk and Medical University of Gdańsk, was a member of the Baltic Science Network Life Sciences Expert Group.
All in all, the stated examples show that the University of Gdańsk has shown a model combination of joint efforts conveyed in a framework of one specific project by its administrative and academic staff. University of Gdańsk looks forward to building on this success story and explore applicability of such highly effective collaborative practices of its housed human resources in the future implementation of the Baltic Science Network, perhaps also other relevant macro-regional or European initiatives. Some of the engagements listed in the earlier paragraphs were also brought to the attention of the social media users interested in the Baltic Sea Region-wide collaboration by being shared not only on the Baltic Science Network website but also via the @CBSS_SRIA Twitter profile.
2) What kind of results are foreseen in the continued implementation of the flagship?
Baltic Science Network resulted in various outputs, such as publications capturing the research findings and certain common denominators among research administrators and policy makers, which fully respect the reservations of the institutions and organisations which are members of the consortium. Most of the Baltic Science Network related publications are listed on the project´s website. It is a tacit result in terms of the considerable investment made in shaping some degree of like-mindedness and better awareness among various actors what is considered a good practice in research cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region specific setting. Publications commissioned by the Baltic Science Network indicate what might be the most fruitful ways forward in practical collaborative actions aimed at bringing tangible benefits to the science excellence delivered by the macro-region.
University of Gdańsk was actively involved in the production of two reports published this year – “The Baltic Sea Region – A Science Powerhouse” and “Baltic Science Network Learning Experiences”, which were disseminated during the Baltic Science Network Final Conference and the CBSS Baltic Sea Science Day 2019 held on 22–23 February 2019 at the Nature House of the Academic Centre of the University of Latvia. The analysis captured in these publications hold a potential to shape the collaborative ties of the University of Gdańsk with other relevant partners based in the Baltic Sea Region with a more pronounced support to the brain circulation. Baltic Science Network might serve as a source of inspiration how to mitigate the present risks of westward brain drain.
During the project 86 existing mobility tools in the Baltic Sea Region were identified in the mapping exercise (presented in the Baltic Science Network study “Researcher mobility tools for the Baltic Sea Region” (Sepponen, Roschier, Bröckl, Mikkola and Hjelt 2018)). Only a few of the identified mobility tools were dedicated to or tailored specifically to the particularities of the Baltic Sea Region.
Baltic University Programme (represented in the Baltic Science Network by Åbo Akademi University) conducted the study about the wishes and needs of its member institutions concerning mobility and research cooperation. The Baltic Science Network publication “Baltic Science Network - Learning Experiences” captures the essence and further details on this outreach activity. One of the important aspects that the Baltic University Programme recommended was focusing on Master´s and PhD level mobility tools. It can help the students and scientists to make contacts early in their careers.
Three mobility tools were proposed:
a) summer schools for large research infrastructures,
b) research internships,
c) short-term PhD visits.
The details on each of the tools are captured in the Baltic Science Network reports “Mobility Funding Instruments” and “Baltic Sea Region Needs More Powerful Researcher Mobility”. Baltic Science Network continues its work towards the practical feasibility and implementation aspects of the prioritised tools.
The extension phase “BSN_powerhouse” builds on this thorough analysis. During the extension phase BSN will test two mobility support instruments:
- LaunchPad:RI_Connectors – a support action for widening participation of research infrastructures in the field of photon and neutron science. EU13 small-scale research infrastructure will be matched with large-scale research infrastructure, and supported to become dedicated partner facilities. This initiative is aimed at overcoming the gap in research & innovation performance in the Baltic Sea Region.
- BSR Researcher’s Internship Mobility Programme (BSR-RIMP) in the field of photon and neutron science, life sciences and welfare state. BSR-RIMP will enhance the brain circulation among research infrastructures within the Baltic Sea Region and thus build the basis for future research cooperation that will strengthen the excellence of the Baltic Sea Region in the selected three science domains. This overall initiative is aimed at increasing the interconnectedness of research infrastructures in the Baltic Sea Region.
3) Are the results possible to be illustrated in numbers?
Baltic Science Network has published:
• 20 Working Papers, Studies or Reports;
• One position paper and one non-paper;
• Two summary brochures.
Baltic Science Network has been featured in a number of other publications, such as the DAAD Annual Report 2017, 1(24)/2018 edition of Latvia´s Interests in the European Union (Latvijas intereses Eiropas Savienībā – in Latvian), EL-CSID Working Paper 19 “Council of the Baltic Sea States: The Role of a Sustainable and Prosperous Region in Bringing Science Diplomacy Forward”.
The focus on numeric representation of the publications featuring BSN is chosen on the basis that those serve as the most enduring resources for any interested parties to familiarise with the thinking unleashed by the consortium. This body of analysis remains an important reference point also during the extension phase “BSN_powerhouse”.
4) What kind of an effect does the flagship have on daily lives of a group of people?
BSN sparked many ideas among the staff and researchers of the University of Gdańsk how to further facilitate research cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region and what role this consortium has played in their professional paths. Thus, BSN has been a good example not only of a scrutinised delivery of an Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme funded project, but it has generated a broader brainstorming about the achievements reached so far in the multilateral research cooperation and the potential next steps which should be evaluated to strengthen the outreach of the University of Gdańsk within the Baltic Sea Region. For further details with specific individual perspectives please consult the testimonials presented at the end of this interview.
The selected testimonials also show the strong co-ownership of the BSN at the University of Gdańsk. It allows to familiarise with those people who have helped in the initial stages of the BSN project preparation and implementation for BSN to become the Baltic Sea Region success story as we know it today.
In a long run, BSN has been one of those cumulative steps taken by the institution, which are directed towards strengthening the research excellence and international competitiveness of the University of Gdańsk.
Baltic Science Network Alumni Testimonials
Elżbieta Niemirycz, Faculty of Chemistry, University of Gdańsk
Elżbieta Niemirycz, Polish scientist, professor of agricultural sciences, cooperating mainly with the University of Gdańsk, Faculty of Chemistry and Faculty of Oceanography and Geography. She engaged in the preparatory phase and implementation of Baltic Science Network in 2015–2016.
During the Brainstorming Seminar at the Hamburg Senate Guesthouse in February 2015, a group of wise men and women demonstrated the necessity and purposefulness of establishing a scientific network connecting the entire Baltic Sea macro-region. The name of the Baltic Science Network project was created along with its intention to engage more actively in strengthening science-related cooperation. From 2009 she has been Rector's Adviser of Foreign Affairs. Her main research interests are discharges of anthropogenic substances (sewage) to the marine environment, interactions between contaminants of emerging concern and the environmental matrices as well as coastal zone research. She is a co-author of National Implementation Programme for the Stockholm Convention.
In the recent years, her research team has strengthened cooperation with scientists from Finland, Estonia and Norway, resulting in common, international publications and conferences, showing the purposefulness of the activities undertaken in the frames of the Baltic Science Network project, since unfortunately, the number of potential risks in the Baltic Sea Region increase.
Grzegorz Węgrzyn, former Vice-Rector for Research (2008-2016), University of Gdańsk
The group of countries located directly on the shores of the Baltic Sea includes nine Baltic States (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Poland, Russia, Sweden), Norway is also an important country for the Baltic Sea Region as a whole. The level of science and innovation of the Baltic Sea Region´s states is one of the highest in the world. So where are the problems with environmental cleanliness and sustainable well-being?
Mobility of researchers, joint use of research infrastructure, creation of common research and innovation strategies ensures a more effective representation of the issues shared by a number of stakeholders based in the Baltic Sea Region in the European Union forum, especially in relation to the catchment area of the Baltic Sea. These findings were presented at the Council of Baltic Sea States (1st CBSS Science Ministerial) in June 2016 in Kraków where the importance of science and innovation in a wider policy context has been highlighted. University of Gdańsk engaged in the Baltic Science Network Political Kick-Off Event, which took place back-to-back with this high-level gathering.
Grzegorz Węgrzyn, Polish scientist, professor of biological sciences, former Vice-Rector for Research of the University of Gdańsk (2008-2016), is a world-renowned molecular biologist. He led an international team of scientists who developed a new and, at the same time, the first effective method of treatment of Sanfilippo disease, allowing stopping its debilitating processes. His knowledge and experience in international cooperation contributed to the effective organisation of initial meetings of the Baltic Science Network project in Hamburg and Gdańsk, as well as preparation of the meetings of Deputy Foreign Ministers, Ministers for Culture and, for the first time in history of the organisation, Ministers for Science, reviving the political dialogue in the macro-region.
As the Chairman of the Committee for Molecular Cell Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, he is the organiser of the 4th Congress of Baltic Microbiologists (CBM2018) at the University of Gdańsk. The history of the Congress of Baltic Microbiologists had started in 2012 in Riga, with subsequent meetings organised in Tartu and Vilnius. There are therefore grounds for the creation of the Baltic Microbiologist Network.
Marta Kobusińska, PhD candidate, University of Gdańsk
Marta Kobusińska is a PhD candidate from the University of Gdańsk, Faculty of Oceanography and Geography. Her main scientific activities comprise distribution of organic pollutants, particularly dioxins and their precursors in the marine environment, particularly in the Baltic Sea Region. With regard to this, she was involved in the Baltic Science Network as a representative of the University of Gdańsk. She has been participating in the Political Kick-Off of the Baltic Science Network, and project workshop session
These efforts have contributed to the Baltic Science Network project being acknowledged as a flagship of the Policy Area Education, Research and Employability of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, as a project that reveals the political will of the Strategy´s Member States to take proprietorship of the macro-regional governance. Baltic Science Network serves as one of the most recent patterns how this commitment is translated into practical steps.