The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship
22 November 2022
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship programme is one of the European Union’s flagship programmes for postgraduate and postdoctoral training of researchers.
At the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, two new postdocs have been accepted with the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship (MSCA PF): Mafalda Ferreira at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology and Femke Geusens at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health.
Mafalda Ferreira is an evolutionary biologist with a PhD in biodiversity, genetics and evolution from the University of Porto in Portugal. She has used genetics to study how species evolve and adapt to their environment. Mafalda’s research project is called INVERT2ADAPT with supervisor Leif Andersson, Professor of Functional Genomics at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology at Uppsala University.
“During my research studies, I focused on two main topics,” says Mafalda Ferreira. “One was the importance of hybridisation between species during evolution, and the other was the evolution of colour variation in nature. My model organisms were hares. Another interesting aspect was how they responded to climate change, as we expect the snow cover to decrease in the future.”
Genetics influences environmental adaptation
In the INVERT2ADAPT research project, Mafalda Ferreira will study adaptation and evolution in herring, a very important fish species in the Atlantic Ocean. Previous research has shown there is a link between differences in the genetic makeup of different herring populations and their adaptation to distinct environmental conditions such as temperature, salinity or light conditions in the sea. That means, for example, that there are individuals living in warmer temperatures that carry genetic variants that differ from individuals living in colder temperatures. These differences in genetic makeup are considerable and can involve rearranged DNA regions, known as inversions. In Atlantic herring, four major inversions are associated with populations living in different seawater temperatures.
“In my postdoctoral project, I am studying different aspects of the evolution of these inversions,” says Mafalda Ferreira. “These include when they arose during the evolution of Atlantic herring, related species and how natural selection influences evolution. I am also interested in identifying which genes inside these inversions may allow fish to adapt to different temperatures in the sea. Understanding the genetic basis of adaptation in Atlantic herring, and indeed in general, is essential for concluding how species can survive in their natural environments. It is the knowledge that often can be used to conserve the species.
“My main expectation is to learn more about evolution, new tools and new genetic data on the subject. Uppsala University also has excellent resources for teaching skills that may be important for researchers at the beginning of their careers in science. Eventually, I want to become an independent researcher and lead my own research group. I am also looking forward to making new contacts with colleagues who I am sure will become important collaborators in the future,” concludes Mafalda Ferreira.
YouTube and pregnancy-related anxiety
Femke Geusens is a researcher in media psychology, with a focus on health communication. She has a PhD in communication studies focusing on media effects and has studied how social media use is associated with alcohol consumption among young people and students. Femke will start in November as a postdoctoral fellow in the Pregnancy- and Childbirth-Related Media Use to Support Maternal Mental Health (PACMUM) research project with supervisor Alkistis Skalkidou, Professor of Obstetric and Reproductive Health Research at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health.
In the project, Femke will study how women with pregnancy-related anxiety use YouTube to search for information about gestation and childbirth.
“I want to know what role such videos can play in these women’s pregnancy experience and whether watching these videos can reduce their anxiety,” says Femke Geusen. “I will study whether different types of content create different effects on the underlying mechanisms that cause pregnancy-related anxiety. For example, whether a video with tips from a midwife has a different impact compared to a childbirth vlog shared by another mother.
“I believe my research will be both insightful from a scientific perspective and helpful to women suffering from pregnancy-related anxiety. I expect the research to be challenging but fun, and I hope to make new friends along the way. I hope that it will open new doors for me. My dream is to one day be a professor, and I hope that my postdoc in Uppsala will show the recruitment committees that I am ready for the next step in my career,” concludes Femke Geusen.
Research support at Uppsala University
Anna Lobell is a project coordinator at the Research Support Unit at the Faculty Office for Medicine and Pharmacy. She is responsible for accepting postdocs through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship research programme and advises and assists researchers at Uppsala University who wish to apply for the grant together with foreign postdocs.
“This EU programme is an excellent way to obtain funding to recruit foreign postdocs to Uppsala University. The grant can also be used by researchers at Uppsala University who wish to go abroad for a postdoctoral stay. An international postdoctoral stay provides an opportunity to broaden and develop your skills and is important if you want to continue your academic career after the PhD. Students in medicine and pharmacy who have completed their research training are welcome to contact me if they have any questions or concerns about the grant,” says Anna Lobell.
“The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship is a good asset if the postdoc is going to apply for a grant from the European Research Council (ERC). It also offers the opportunity to develop skills needed outside academia, thereby increasing the chances of employment in industry or the public sector afterwards.”
Workshop and personalised application support
Competition for Marie Skłodowska Curie grants is quite fierce, and a successful grant provides an international seal of quality for a researcher’s future career. The research support units at Uppsala University offer a lot of help to those interested in applying for the grants. They organise an annual workshop for two half-days in May/June for applicants and their hosts at Uppsala University. Invitations to the workshop are sent with the research support newsletter and can be found in the University’s calendar.
“All research support units at Uppsala University offer personal application support to all applicants and their hosts at Uppsala University,” says Anna Lobell. “The earlier you contact us, the more support we can provide. I recommend all applicants to attend the workshop and to contact us well in advance, preferably six months before the deadline, so that the application can be planned and written in time. The contact person for researchers at TekNat is Elin Forslund, and the contact person for HumSam is Anna Holen.
“Uppsala University usually awards several Marie Skłodowska-Curie grants, and this year two have been awarded at the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy. Many people apply, and those who score more than 85% receive a ‘Seal of Excellence’, which they can add to their CV to apply for other grants. Vinnova usually funds some postdocs who get on the EU reserve list. In other words, by applying to the EU, applicants have more chances of getting a postdoc grant,” concludes Anna Lobell.
About the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship is part of Horizon Europe, one of the European Union’s largest research programmes for postgraduate and postdoctoral training of researchers. Through this grant, the EU aims to support excellent research and promote the international mobility of postdocs. Therefore, you may not apply to do research in the country where you have lived for the last three years.
Grants are open to applicants who have completed their PhD no more than 8 years ago in any field of research, and who wish to develop their skills through a post-doctoral stay abroad. At the same time, the grant allows research group leaders to recruit excellent postdocs from abroad to their research group at Uppsala University.
All nationalities are welcome to apply, and the grant is usually for two years. You apply together with your host at, for example, Uppsala University. It covers a large part of the postdoc’s salary for up to two years, but a small amount of co-funding is required
For those going from Uppsala University and Sweden, both European Fellowships and Global Fellowships are available to apply for, depending on which country you plan to go to. If you have difficulty finding a suitable host for your postdoctoral stay through your research network, you can look for a host on Euraxess (euraxess.ec.europa.eu).
Usually, the deadline for the call is mid-September each year.
About Marie Skłodowska-Curie
Marie Salomea Skłodowska (later Skłodowska-Curie) was born in Poland in 1867. She was a physicist and chemist who researched radioactivity.
In 1903, Marie Skłodowska-Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for her research into radioactivity, along with Henri Becquerel and her husband Pierre Curie.
In 1911, she received her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium. Marie Curie had the element curium (Cm) and the measurement unit curie (Ci) named after her. She died of aplastic anaemia in 1934. Probably a result of the ionising radiation she had been exposed to in her laboratory.