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Catalyst for partnerships

Workshops promote interaction among young researchers in São Paulo and in the United Kingdom

fapesp-provazi-final01Nelson ProvaziA partnership to encourage international cooperation between São Paulo and the United Kingdom has recently borne new fruit. On February 16, 2016, the results were announced on yet another call for proposals issued by FAPESP and the British Council, a UK organization that promotes education and culture. The institutions selected two workshops for promoting collaboration between São Paulo and British researchers who are just beginning their careers. The first event, to be held May 30-June 3, 2016 on the Jaboticabal campus of São Paulo State University (Unesp), will discuss different approaches to molecular genetics in animal research. It will be coordinated by professors John Hickey from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and Lúcia Galvão de Albuquerque from Unesp. The second workshop is planned for June 6-8, 2016 at the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture of the University of São Paulo (ESALQ-USP) in Piracicaba, and will discuss the effects of phosphate fertilizer as a soil nutrient. It will be coordinated by Elke Jurandy Bran Nogueira Cardoso of ESALQ-USP and Paul Withers of Bangor University, in Wales.

Since 2014, the state of São Paulo has hosted a total of 23 of these joint workshops, involving topics on research in fields such as the environment, public health, energy, and the media. The complete list can be accessed on the Foundation’s website. These events are financed under Researcher Links, a program launched three years ago by the British Council using resources from the Newton Fund, a British government tool for supporting international collaboration on science and innovation developing countries. The program is offered in 15 countries, including South Africa, India, Turkey, and Malaysia. Its purpose is to encourage the formation of networks of international cooperation in various fields of knowledge.

The workshops are intended to encourage researchers to establish international cooperation arrangements early in their careers. Each event can accommodate 34 participants, 17 from the United Kingdom and 17 from São Paulo. All participants must have earned their PhDs within the past 10 years. “Thanks to the workshop, I was able to expand my network of contacts with British institutions,” says Danilo Rothberg, a researcher at the School of Architecture, Arts, and Communications at the Bauru campus of Unesp. From December 2014 to January 2015, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at King’s College London after becoming acquainted with researchers from that institution who had attended a Researcher Links workshop in São Paulo. The training, which was supported by FAPESP, investigated the social mobilization of groups devoted to environmental conservation. “The group with whom I interacted in the United Kingdom already had expertise in methodologies used for research in social memory as it relates to sustainability. That helped me delve more deeply into the subject,” says the researcher, who continued the partnership with the British after finishing his post-doc. That was not the only benefit he received from the event. In 2015, Rothberg also started a project with Joanne Garde-Hansen from the University of Warwick, in England, this time under the FAPESP São Paulo Research in International Collaboration (Sprint) program. He spent 10 days in Warwick in late 2015. In March and April 2016, Rothberg will host a British researcher at Unesp.

The workshop that helped Rothberg forge those partnerships was organized in 2014 by Joanne Garde-Hansen and by Professor Gilson Schwartz from the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) of USP. “The international seminar served as incentive for researchers from both countries to engage each other in formulating new collaboration projects,” says Schwartz. A year after the event, which dealt with the relationship between social media and collective memory, Schwartz was invited to Warwick as a visiting professor. “There I helped design a research program.” According to Marilda Bottesi, an advisor on collaboration in research in the Office of the Scientific Director of FAPESP, the program also seeks to stimulate the formation of new research groups. “The goal is to enable young researchers to visualize the possibilities for collaboration with international partners from the outset,” she explains.

fapesp-provazi-final02Nelson ProvaziFAPESP was one of the first institutions to join the British Council to put the program into practice, after a cooperation agreement was signed during FAPESP Week London, held in the British capital in September 2013. In 2015, the British Council also signed an agreement with the Brazilian National Council of State Funding Agencies (CONFAP) to take the experience to other Brazilian states. “The United Kingdom is interested in working with Brazil in all fields of knowledge, since it recognizes the quality of science and the strategic importance of this country,” says Claudio Anjos, British Council director of education and society in Brazil. According to Diego Arruda, manager of the Newton Fund in Brazil, the program is part of a broader strategy. “The initiative interacts with a larger effort by the British government to strengthen scientific collaboration with Brazil and other countries through the UK Science and Innovation Network,” he notes. Established by the UK ministries of foreign relations and business innovation and training, the network maintains connections to public and private institutions in 28 countries.

A significant percentage of the workshops have resulted in partnerships. Since September 2015, Diogo Vasconcelos, a researcher from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at USP (ICB/USP), has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, having received a grant from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). His initial contact with the institution had occurred seven months earlier, when he attended a meeting on metabolism at the ICB-USP. “During the event, I had an opportunity to discuss aspects of my post-doc project face-to-face with researchers from the United Kingdom,” Vasconcelos says. “And they were also able to see what Brazilians have to offer.” Investigating how micro-RNAs evolve in situations of insulin resistance among animals born of mothers who receive a diet rich in fat and sugar, Vasconcelos says collaboration is a determining factor in ensuring the progress of his study. “The University of Cambridge is a center of excellence in biomedical science. The institute where I work is at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, a world leader in metabolic disease,” he explains.

Vasconcelos had been invited to attend the workshop by his doctoral studies advisor Rui Curi, a professor at the ICB-USP, who coordinated the 2015 event with Susan Ozanne, a Cambridge researcher. “I was familiar with Ozanne’s work, but we had never worked together,” Curi says. The group he coordinated decided to use a model that had been developed by the partnership in the United Kingdom for inducing obesity in laboratory mice. “The study of metabolic programming is pursued vigorously in both countries,” Ozanne says. “The workshop helped consolidate my relationship with Brazilian research,” she concludes.

Another workshop that has produced results addressed qualitative studies in control of infections related to health care, organized in 2015 by Maria Clara Padoveze, a researcher at USP’s School of Nursing, and Stephen Timmons of the University of Nottingham in England. During the event, six preliminary research projects were developed involving personnel from the two institutions. Three of these obtained financing and attracted the participation of researchers from other universities, like the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and Unesp, as well as British institutions such as King’s College of London and Queen’s University, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. According to Padoveze, these research groups are employing a multidisciplinary approach to subjects such as surgical and urinary infections. “One of them is conducting research in the field of public policy for the prevention and control of that kind of infection,” she says. “The interface between the countries has expanded exchanges among post-graduate students. This means that the model adopted at the workshop has proven to be efficient for building sustainable research teams and networks.”

Sergio Salles-Filho, a professor at the Geosciences Institute at Unicamp, believes that the driving force of the workshops is that they can not only spur ad hoc partnerships on specific projects but also foster an environment that results in long-term cooperation among institutions. “The main outcome of the event was the closer relationship between Unicamp and other researchers in São Paulo and at the University of Manchester,” he says. In March 2015, Salles-Filho, in partnership with Jakob Edler, director of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at the University of Manchester, coordinated a workshop on the evaluation of scientific and innovation policy. As a result, Edler invited São Paulo researchers to join a global network that evaluates innovation policy on all seven continents. “A group was formed that will be responsible for collecting and analyzing data from Latin America,” the Brazilian says. “What began as an incidental acquaintance formed for the purpose of organizing the event turned into stable and ongoing cooperation that now involves several activities and individuals,” he reiterates. The approximation has led to even closer ties between the two institutions that besides undertaking research projects together, have held joint courses and seminars in recent months.

The goal of Researcher Links is to spur collaboration between researchers in Brazil and the United Kingdom, but the program does not finance joint research projects. “The objective is to create conditions for partnerships to get started,” Bottesi, from FAPESP, emphasizes. “It is an efficient way for people to get to know each other, but specific calls for proposals are still needed in order to finance international projects,” says Marcos Buckeridge, a professor in the Department of Botany at USP, which coordinated a workshop on the cell walls of plants in March 2015 under the Researcher Links program. According to Bottesi, one path is for researchers to submit projects to the respective funding agencies on their regular lines of financing. “In those proposals, researchers can report that they have a partnership with someone outside Brazil and that the project is the result of a contact established previously at the workshop,” she suggests.

FAPESP and the British Council are developing other initiatives for expanding contacts between São Paulo and British researchers. One of these is the Researcher Connect program, under which the first call for proposals was issued in 2015. It consists of a series of courses in scientific writing and communications in English aimed at researchers in all stages of their careers. In February 2016, a call for proposals also went out to identify and assist students for FameLab, an international science communication competition introduced in the UK in 2004 by the Times Cheltenham Science Festival, and currently active in 32 countries. The Brazilian phase will be coordinated by FAPESP.