EGU General Assembly 2020
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Understanding the complex east-west relationships in the European geoscience research landscape

Liviu Matenco
Liviu Matenco
  • Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht, Netherlands

We know that national research priorities across the European continent are markedly different in many situations. However, there is little understanding at the level of defining major collaborative research programme and professional associations, where, for instance, EGU has showed for several years an increase in disequilibrium for homogenizing priorities and leadership interest. The variable rate of success in west to east European funding leads to polarization rather than integration of science and research approach in an European landscape that becomes less homogeneous. Such unfortunate trends lead at the extreme to major collaborative disagreement, where the recent delay in setting the EU research budget by objections of Central European countries is a prime example. I examine here the state of the Western European often unconscious bias in research priorities across the continental and what can be done more effectively to avoid scientific nationalism and polarization of interest. A beneficial combination can be achieved only by knowing and understanding the national specificity of each other in both directions, east- and west-wards.

How to cite: Matenco, L.: Understanding the complex east-west relationships in the European geoscience research landscape, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-13587,, 2020

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Presentation version 2 – uploaded on 01 May 2020
  • CC1: yes, it is a problem of funding, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

    Thank you for bringing this issue to discussion again. I listened also to the presentation last year and made already a comment to Hungarian colleagues' presentation on what I've learned.

    The problem of funding is two-fold. Indeed, there is little institutional funding at least in Romania. For example if there is no project to fund conference participation, it is very cumbersome to get some from the institution. Apart of this, in Romania in the past years there were so called mobility projects, but the EGU takes place in the time of the year where one cannot participate with these. Same applies in my case if I'd want some from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as ethnic outside borders. I've managed to get some from COST, and I welcome that there is a session on COST actions in geosciences, which was really my good funding when coming back from the West (see my comment at the Hungarian colleagues) - I meant the ITC conference grants. But soon I am out of the experience limit for those. And other than that I had the EGU support and also from the Marie Curie Alumni Association, which however gives 500 eur per travel, and with the fee is difficult. Also I could go to one conference with my postdoc, but fees were not eligible. This is why I say about the partial funding.

    Given these funding problems, and that in the reporting at least in Romania ISI conference proceedings are considered, of course scientists prefer those conferences when the funding only allows one conference.

    I hope I could be of help. 

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Liviu Matenco, 02 May 2020

      Thank you Maria, this is very interesting to learn and the feedback very much appreciated.

      I just note that funding limitation is not necessarily an Eastern European problem. We are all limited, to la smaller or larger degree, to participate at coonferences. Just to give an example, a typical NL national funding project gives quite a limited bench fee (which includes everything from conferences to materials, laboratory, or fieldwork expenses) that complements the personnel costs. An early career researcher (PhD, postdoc) has to make quite some choices and is strongly limited in the number of conferences can participate. In DE where splitting funding to multiple human resources is allowed, sometimes a scientist is event more limited. Such scientists are less eligible often from support because they come from "rich" countries. At EU funding level, the support for conferences is relatively equal, so I do not see the need for a comparison there. Sure that funding is better in the West and depends very much on politics and policy everywhere, but there are not only "roses" on the other side and often situations are comparable. Which seems to be in agreement with some statistics. But this is just my experince shifting between sides.

      Otherwise, the key issue in the presentation is that EGU is Western-biased (unconscious or not) towards an East that is becoming gradually equal in research impact, which is incorrect. They are nicely aware and trying things, in particular the EGU president has given us excellent feedback, but it does not seem to be succesful. Maybe is a matter of time.

      Thank you! Liviu.

      • CC2: choices, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

        Well, there is still a difference if one has a project which provides for a number of conferences, or if one must apply for a travel award for each single conference. When I talk with my former colleagues in Germany they cannot keep wondering that one has to write a complete proposal (several pages), then attend with attendance list and finally write a report for every single conference. And on the top of that this is mainly for early stage researchers, so my time is soon over. 

        Now with COVID 19 I reflected a lot on this. Since many conferences are digital, I have time (and no need of funds) to participate to more, as physical presence is not required. But some people wonder why I am doing this, because given the conditions above, people did not think that thare are travel awards and sometimes whole projects (ex. the Romanian "proiecte de mobilitate" was called so, there were overheads for the institution, etc. but the funding was just for the travel, day money, fee, and accomodation; or the COST actions) which do not fund the research but just the mobility. People were thinking that I have projects for which I have to travel and I do this because surely there is some salary. In Romanian HE if there is a research project on the top of teaching duties this means up to 50% more work time for which salary is paid. Now they wonder why am I doing this when I obviously don't travel and thus not get paid ;)

        Also, a project which funds salary, travel, some infrastructure it is more and more difficult to win in Romania. There are whole successive years with no calls. The funding agency recognised this, and now, unlike before, at COST actions it is not anymore required to have a national project providing the funding for research (as COST doesn't fund research, just networking) but a declaration on the strategy of the HE, research institute or academy institute instead.

        Also with EU projects does not look better.

        I was living 12 years abroad. In Germany we had funds for one conference, but we were a bunch in the research training network and I could go to everything I liked because some colleagues did not want to (there was a condition to present) and so at the end of the year I could get from remaining funds. And should have not been any remaining funds, one could ask individually travel award from the DFG. With the EU project in Italy there were about 500 eur a month (now Marie Curie I think has even higher). Now I am sorry I went on all to conferences, instead of using some to attend training courses and job interviews.

        Apart of that I worked with a colleague in Portugal, and in Portugal HE have decent funds, who also goes just to ISI conferences.

        • CC3: EU projects, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

          I wanted to say that EU projects are not so frequent in the East. For example whole FP7 there was no winning ERC in Romania. Some people thought there was no application, but there were. The success rate H2020 is one digit if I am not wrong. Whole years with no winner. In Vienna there are training courses for Eastern Europeans who want to apply for ERC in order to increase this. 

          My university for example has mainly Erasmus+ (and predecesors) projects, which are similar to the ones I have (I forgot the ESF RNP), namely paying mainly for travel. I am wondering how will this change after COVID 19, especially since having several Marie Curie fellowships I am biased with mobility (I was taught long time that it is good).

          • CC5: Reply to CC3, Ira Didenkulova, 05 May 2020


            I think, in this case every coutry should be considered separately. The reasons may be different for different Eastern countries and it is not only funding. Liviu considers also Baltic countries, which are also underrepresented at all levels, even though they do have funding.



            • AC4: Reply to CC5, Liviu Matenco, 05 May 2020

              Thank you Ira. Obviously, you are very right.

              • CC7: my participation to EGU over the 20 years: Germany, Italy, Romania, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 05 May 2020

                Dear Ira, dear Liviu,

                since my affirmations are general

                I've made a list of what funding I had over 20 years to participate (I was really ambitious to continue, since it is a conference which offers more value and also my head of department is happy that I do the session). In the materials to my session (NH9.4) you will find also a scientific report of the session over these 20 years. Apart of that session in 2006 I had a second session at ERE on materials and in 2017 one on gender at EOS.

                2000  - receiving a doctorate scholarship in Germany

                2001 - I had travel funds from Graduiertenkolleg (Germany), but limited, and since it was the first year, I did not know yet that at the end of the year there will be remaining funding from the not travelling colleagues, so I was in such a cheap hotel (in Nice) that the taxi driver did not know it, and there was no electricity stecker. That time I had no Laptop, Videocamera, and the Photokamera was also mechanical, but I had a mobile phone and this was a problem.
                2002 - I was in connection to my travel to Rome to a friend so I did not sleep in Nice, I was between two night traings Rome-Nice and Nice-Strasbourg
                2003 - I was with a Marie Curie host in Pavia from where I went to Nice with my mother. Funds were not covering breakfast.
                2004 - the doctoral scholarship was over, so I was on my own savings (no other income either, but I continued as if I was). I even had a Greek solicited speaker in the session for whom I wanted to pay from my savings as well the travel, as I thought I have to support researchers like Humboldt, luckily he did not accept.
                2005 - still haven't started the next scholarship, the MC IEF, further no income and paying myself (in this 1 1/2 years all my savings were gone). In the meantime the EGU moved to Vienna, where I found a cheap hotel for 35 eur the night, bathroom on the corridor, close to Praterstern, but it had to be booked months in advance (when one did not know yet the exact day of the presentation). No, I did not apply for EGU support, as a guy from Australia (46) wanted it to come, and he was the solicited speaker in the session.
                2006 - It was more or less OK, my mother came with (and had a poster at the EGU), but we were in separate hotels at Praterstern, as no second room at my hotel when she decided to come.
                2007 - This one was really OK, I further had the MC IEF, and a double room with my mother.
                mid 2007 I moved back to Romania
                2008 - I was afraid to ask for a leave from the university to travel, as just employed.
                2009 - I managed to ask for a leave (unpaid holiday from the university. At the begin I thought researchers have Easter vacation - it was that time - but it was only for teaching). I could report it for Marie Curie reintegration, but money being limited, this resulted in less salary overall. In the meantime since 2008 I had a friend in Vienna at whom I could stay.
                2010 - same as 2009.
                2011 end of the Marie Curie reintegration grant 
                2011 - I had EGU support for myself (the second one was for a Turkish girl who did not accept it because it was not covering all expenses). Staying at my friend it was just enough for the travel expenses.
                2012 - I was finishing my PhD and did not attend.
                2013 - I was in Lisbon with a COST short term scientific mission and hence did not attend.
                2014 - I organised a session and had a poster, but no funding.
                2015 - Last year just at the edge of EGU I've got a postdoc from structural funds, and this year some funds remained from my conference budget. Registration fees were however not eligible, and also daily money was not granted (just accomodation and flight). In the meantime I found a student college where I could stay, so not anymore at my friend. I also held a lecture at a second conference in Vienna on the last day.
                2016 - This year was my 4th EGU support (in the meantime luckily the ECS definition changed). My mother was with me and she paid her own accomodation, as we could not go to my friend both. I came from my postdoc in Rome (which was a monthly lump sum plus accomodation in Rome) and we met there after not seeing each other for more than half an year.
                2017 - This was when it was 2nd time OK. I had a really good ITC conference grant from COST. My mother came too.
                2018 - I had a limited grant from the Marie Curie Alumni Association, half from the Romania chapter, half from the Gender group. I also held a lecture at the Austrian chapter. 
                2019 - I had again a limited grant (500 eur total) from the Marie Curie Alumni Association as micro-grant. The abstract fees were covered by sponsors, but even so I exceeded the sum. 
                2020 - I found no source for funding anymore, but since 1st week of May was nice, I thought I will go on my one funds. Since now it is online, only the abstract fees remained from my own money. But I had booked a flight, which I could only postpone, so maybe I will loose that money as well. 
                2021 - It looks like it will be again an occasion to go on own money ;)
                • CC8: Reply to CC7, Ira Didenkulova, 05 May 2020


                  EGU recognizes the problem with travel money for some countries. It is not only Romania, also Ukraine. We are discussing this in Council and hopefully next time we come up with some support.

                  It is good you are talking about it! Your voice has been heard.

                  Best wishes,


                  • CC9: Reply to CC8, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 05 May 2020

                    Dear Ira,

                    as you have seen, it is not necessarily for me the problem, as I managed a couple of times on my own money, and when I did not go, it wasn't for other commitments.

                    But there are people in Romania who hardly can afford it, and I guess this is why they are not going.

                    thanks a lot


      • CC6: Reply to AC1, Ira Didenkulova, 05 May 2020

        It is a matter of time. The problem is recognized and it is important to talk about it. Only then the situation may change. This year I am introducing the second EU13 person as a medal committee chair. Very happy and proud of it. Things are moving. Now I will not be alone in the statistics.

        • AC5: Reply to CC6, Liviu Matenco, 05 May 2020

          Great Ira! We need indeed more awareness and people like you.

  • AC2: Comment on EGU2020-13587, Liviu Matenco, 02 May 2020

    Multumesc! Actually, I do not agree with you, we are all subjected to the matter of success and adapting research. ERC statistics show that there is some increase in the degree of succes of CEE, including Romania (see multiple presentations of Claudia Jesus-Ridin). But ERC is NOT the standard that we should necessarily analyse because this is only the top blue sky research. If we look to the entire H2020, there are CEE institutions (including in Romania) that are quite succesful in having tens of EU research projects, from leading major pan-European infrastructure projects (Danubius-RI, ELI-NP) to other coordinations or participations (take a look on H2020 statistics). If this success is enough is a matter of discussion, but data say that the succes is rapidly increasing, you should not debate that. Their research may be more fashionable or societal-relevant or political-driven, but this is what we all have to do also in the west: adapt to the ever changing needs of society, funding directions and policy. I have encountered such succesful situations in many of the 12 CEE countries I work, their representativity in major EU or national projects highly coompetitive at EU level is increasing, which is normal due to their increase in income. Bottom line: we may complain, but not in the same way as 10-20 years ago. 

    Cu stima, Liviu.

    • CC4: European research, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

      Well, just today morning I read about the success of Baden-Württemberg at ERC, for which reason it is now partner of the Marie Curie Alumni Association


      Yes, I graduated in Baden-Württemberg so I am KIT alumna, and I also did research there, so I am iForscher.

      I am attending the EGU since when I was there, meaning 2001. I wrote to the Hungarian colleagues, so I am not repeating it here, I am convening since 2003 my session, 2002 I was chairperson. I am since 2007 in Romania, and attended with 3 different affiliations. Between Baden-Württemberg (which is only a land in Germany) I was in Italy with Marie Curie (first as a doctoral exchange, then with individual fellowship, at an institution from where 3 people received EGU awards), and then the first 3 years in Romania I had the Marie Curie Reintegration Grant. It was easy to go to conferences as I disposed freely of the means in my project. But since 2010 I did not have any big projects anymore in responsibility, so I applied as described for travel awards, which worked, because I've got my doctorate in 2012. Now I am at the limit. I had 3 postdocs, one from structural funds (the one where only hotel and flight were eligible), one Vasile Pârvan in Italy again, and one from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (the last two with no funds for travel).

      Now specifically to EGU: last year I was in the session on geoheritage presenting the workshop I've organised in Rome with EGU funds (the year before I applied with Bucharest but was not funded; however, in Rome it was easier to be international with all the academies like the one I was at). The session had a splinter meeting presenting the new UNESCO landscape near Clermont-Ferrand. A year before I was lucky to attend a COST conference there. However, at the programmed excursion to see that great landscape it was raining. With such travel awards as I say one has to sign a signature list and sits all the time inside. Other people on projects saw that it will rain and made the excursion during some other talks than their own ;)

Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 01 May 2020 , no comments