CYGNA: Working in a Horizon-2020 project

Reports on our 37th CYGNA meeting dealing with research funding and working in large funded projects

Since founding CYGNA in 2014 we have had 30 physical meetings. When COVID-19 hit, we moved the meetings online and increased their frequency, offering a full year of monthly meetings. As always, we alternate topics related to gender in academia with academic skills development. We had never talked about research funding, so the January meeting provided us with a long overdue insight into what it is like to work in a large EU funded project.

Befitting the theme of mobility, nearly two thirds of the 32 participants (two without video/picture excluded above) were from outside the UK, including from Austria, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. A special welcome to Aurora Díaz Soloaga, Blanca Suarez-Bilbao, Cristina Fona, and Sai Yang, who all attended for the first time.

Presentation team and virtual backgrounds

Also new to CYGNA were the GLOMO early stage researchers (more on them below). The meeting was ably organized and chaired by CYGNA old-timer Cordula Barzantny (Toulouse Business School, France), with the CYGNA team, Argyro Avgoustaki, Shasha Zhao, and myself providing backup and technical support. CYGNA team member Linn Zhang had childcare duties and made a brief appearance with her son at the end.

We had a brief pre-meeting with the presentation and CYGNA team. For this meeting we had suggested participants to include a background reflecting their birth country (some 90% of us were not born in the country we work/live in) or a place special to them. After so many online meetings, we thought it would be a nice way to add some spice and interest to the pictures, and also give us a way to connect to each other without words.

As you can see above, the organizing/presentation team had been taking this seriously. And yes, these are all pictures of our birth or residence countries, not some exotic holiday destinations! Emilija found it so hard to choose between the countries she had lived in that she included a picture of an airport instead. Unfortunately, Acil had another meeting that was running late so she couldn't make it to our pre-meeting.

Global Mobility of Employees project

Cordula first provided us with an overview of the project: Global mobility of employees (GLOMO), funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, Innovative Training Networks (H2020), grant agreement No. 765355 (2018-2021). The full slides of her presentation can be downloaded here.

Cordula emphasised that you should always anticipate and make  time available for coordination and reporting activities, as they are expected in any funded research project. As a researcher at any stage of career you have to be able to deal with the accountability and coordination aspects in addition to your primary theoretical and empirical research work.

It is a good idea to incorporate a request for funding for institutional support for coordination and reporting activities in order to keep your workload manageable. This ensures you still have the opportunity to think deeply about your research as well as to foster dialogue with your research and administrative colleagues.

Part 1: Roundtable on GLOMO sub-projects

After Cordula's introduction. We started out with a brief introduction of the sub-project of four of the PhD students participating in the GLOMO project.The ESRs did a brilliant job presenting themselves and their project in just 2 slides and 5 minutes. Hats off for their time management.

All 15 PhD students, called ESRs (Early Stage Researchers) in the GLOMO project, had previously created really professional short videos on their projects. The full set of videos can be viewed on the GLOMO YouTube channel. Here are the project descriptions and videos of our four CYGNA presenters, in the order in which they presented.

Emilija Oleškevičiūtė

Emilija Oleškevičiūtė (Cranfield Management School, UK): Research on the International Transfer of Career Capital (CC) possessed by Self-initiated Repatriates (SIRs)

Emilija is focusing on the international transfer of career capital (CC), that was developed/advanced in the host-country, to the home-country organizations by self-initiated repatriates (SIRs). In her research she is looking at the micro, meso, and macro level factors affecting international transfer of CC. She is also addressing the time related inconsistencies in the current understanding and conceptualisation of international transfer of CC. She suggests that international transfer of CC covers more than just the direct use and applicability of CC upon repatriation, but it also might include past planning of the transfer and transfer of CC in the later career stages in the future

Giovanna Milani

Giovanna Milani (Airbus Group & Toulouse Business School, France): Global Mobility & expatriation compensations & benefits

Giovanna’s work focus on global compensation and rewards, specifically the remuneration policies of expatriates in a big multinational company. Her research aims to bring light to this complex topic by addressing barriers to the mobility of workers. She hopes to come up with innovative solutions in order to help companies to attract and retain the best employees.

Acil Abdul Hadi

Acil Abdul Hadi (Toulouse Business School, France): Career Capital Development and Individual job performance: a comparative study of local-plus, assigned and self- initiated expatriates

Acil Abdul Hadi is interested in the construct of career capital as applied to self-initiated expatriates, assigned and local-plus expatriates. She aims at understanding how expatriates develop their global skills and abilities, their work motivations and build their social networks. The different level of support that organizations provide to each type of expatriate could create discrepancies in career capital development. Current research findings about the outcomes of expatriation on career capital accumulation during and after international assignments are still mixed hence the reason behind her proposed study. Since in addition to bringing career capital gains to expatriates at the individual level, international assignments are also an added value to the capital of the entire company, we will evaluate all processes from both individual and organizational levels.

Monique Raupp

Monique Raupp (Cranfield Management School, UK) Towards a more comprehensive understanding of Hostile Environments to expatriates, beyond man-made physical hostilities.

Monique is studying expatriation to hostile environments (HEs) - according to the expatriates' perspectives. She is addressing the topic looking beyond physically HEs, by also discussing host environments that might also be perceived as hostile due to psychological and institutional threats. Her work aims at bringing up a more comprehensive discussion of the topic in the expatriation field - what might be the types of HEs to expatriates, how these global workers are affected by the perceived threats posed by their host countries, and how they cope with them.

Part 2: EU Horizon2020: Personal & PhD Experiences

Subsequently, the PhD students shared their personal experiences of working on the GLOMO project. We were treated to very interesting reflections on topics as varied as: identity, the interface between industry and academia, migration, mental health, and researching in a BREXIT and COVID-19 area.

Emilija Oleškevičiūtė: Pressures of merging identities

Someone said that PhD is a solo journey and that is true. You spend a lot of time on your own, doing the research, quite often slightly lost in the circle of reading and writing. Adding an international project to this brings a bigger workload, more strict deadlines, and pressures of the additional responsibilities and deliverables: additional papers with no added time, pressure to publish, regularly giving reports, planning additional events, disseminating your research, etc. Living and working abroad, far away from your family and friends does not make it any easier.

Of course, all of these are choices, my choices and I do not regret them. However, reaching a burnout and having to stop working for more than three months taught me that you cannot underestimate the pressure of merging identities. All of them require attention and are equally complex, tense, and heavy in themselves, not even to mention when combined together. I have learned the importance of putting myself above all – I can do only the best I can and not more than that, and nothing of this will matter if I will not feel well.

Most importantly, I have learned that I am not alone, and doing a PhD does not have to be so isolating. So many academics experience mental health issues: stress, anxiety, and even burnout, more often than it is being talked about. I believe that sharing such experiences and talking about it out aloud can connect us and prevent painful outcomes. We are stronger when we support each other. Please reach out via email or LinkedIn if you can relate to my story and/or I can be of any help.

Self-initiated Dutch and Lithuanian repatriates: call for interviews

I would like to extend an invitation for qualitative interviews (1-1.5 hours) on the topic of self-initiated repatriation and career experiences before and after the return to the home country. I am looking for Dutch and Lithuanian people who were living and working abroad for at least 1 year and have returned to their home country at least 1.5-2 years ago on their own initiative and without organizational support. If you meet the above mentioned criteria or know anyone who does – please contact me and we can discuss further details!

Monique Raupp: a self-initiated expatriate in a BREXIT and COVID-19 era

When deciding on joining an international research project in Europe, I, a Brazilian self-initiated expatriate, took some steps in order to consider and prepare myself for this journey: I did some research on the country, talked to people who lived there, and so on. It all seemed to predict an amazing and smooth 3-year truly international experience for me (see picture of one of the GLOMO project meetings below).

An international experience for someone like me, coming from a country where the incentives for higher education are so low, and who decided to go abroad to pursue such development; someone like me, who knew that a lot of international highly skilled workers decided to go to the UK for some reason; someone like me, who considered the salary and benefits I would have as more than enough to give me a good quality of life, career and personal development, and allow me to continue on doing the things I have always loved to do (e.g. travelling, socializing, going to a good gym).

And, then, this international experience started, and with it, many unforeseen challenges (and even hostile threats): being home-sick, learning how to cope with a demanding work together with all the responsibilities that my personal life brought to me... and on top of that, a pandemic! My perceptions of the host environment that I chose to expatriate to started to change its form. Suddenly, the coping strategies I have chosen to deal with the "downsides" of this rich international experience were no longer available, and I didn't fit anymore to some parts of my expatriate life - there was no travelling, no gym, no socializing... but that is okay.

The same challenges that negatively affected me, have also prompted positive outcomes, such as being even closer to other expatriates facing similar challenges. In a time when we could say that the entire world has become a hostile environment, it is important to remember the good aspects of it, and always look at the glass half full - never the other way around! 

Giovanna Milani: the industrial PhD experience

When I was recruited, taking part in an industrial PhD seemed to provide me with the best of both worlds: a rigorous academic program and job market skills. I was requested to move to the south of France and work part of my week in the company and the rest of it at the university. I explained that French was not one of my spoken languages but they assured me it would be fine as I would be working and studying in English. That could not be further away from the truth.

I’ve worked in multiple European countries before but the cultural shock I had when moving to France was intense. There was a whole new set of rules to learn, expressions to avoid, cultural practices to settle in. Things didn’t follow the logic I was used to. It took me over a year to adjust to this new way of doing things, but now I’m quite comfortable. Well, as comfortable as one can be during a pandemic.

Being part of this project has been the most challenging experience of my life, although really rewarding. I’ve learned to compromise and to push through. What nobody really tells you is that when you are part of an industrial PhD, you have to have both the academics and the industry on board with your project. So my everyday work consists in finding a broad enough solution to please the academy (that requires me to develop theory) and the industry (who wants practical applicable contributions). I have one more year to go, wish me luck!

Acil Abdul Hadi: personal reflections on pursuing a PhD after a corporate career

I still remember my very first day in the corporate world, I directly felt that the environment has a lot to offer, but I also knew that this was not the place where I could project myself 10 years later. I hence learned to the best of my knowledge until I found it was time for me to step out of the corporate path to delve into the academic world. In my view, the corporate world is very far from the academic world on several levels.

First of all, as mentioned by Emilija earlier, the PhD exercise is a solo journey since we are the  only owners of our project. Therefore the feeling of loneliness easily comes in, not to mention the additional effect that the pandemic had on that feeling of solitude. On the other hand, teamwork is a foundation and a pillar of the corporate world. Indeed, individual jobs are very rare in organizations and teamwork is a necessary condition for the success in organizations. Moreover, the daily - if not hourly - support you usually get from your manager will have to be replaced by your ability to find your own solutions and to discipline yourself. In return, the academic experience is highly rewarding, because you reap the benefits of your personal and individual contribution.

Second, both worlds require different skillsets. While the academic world requires a lot of focus and concentration along with excellent writing and analytical skills, my own experience in the corporate world showed me that a fast pace, and an ability to quickly execute tasks is the priority. Moreover, you are not expected to keep on learning new skills all the time because learning might slow down your productivity at work! You are first given a couple of months to master the tasks that you will be doing over the next years, whereas in Academia learning and intellectual stimulation never end.

Finally, in order to illustrate how different the two worlds are, I would like to conclude with a little story that happened to me while I was conducting an interview with an expatriate as part of my research: The interviewee was surprised that his company had arranged for this interview with me because they had not asked him for any feedback about his foreign journey while I was thoroughly going through his expatriate journey. This is just to illustrate that the corporate world is so fast that employers sometimes forget to get feedback and reflect on their own strategic and human decisions such as sending an employee on an expatriate assignment.

In conclusion, my advice to any person willing to pursue his/her PhD is to try to be part of a bigger research project, such as GLOMO in my case (see picture above), because this will provide him or her with a supportive framework, the needed guidance, and a safety net along the research journey.

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