Mentoring Austrian Scientists in North America – ASciNA Program Presented in Vienna with Alumni Club MedUni Wien

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad
By Elke Wagner and Michael Graf

logo smallOn March 21, 2012, the Alumni Club MedUni Wien and ASciNA held a presentation about the ASciNA Mentoring Program (AMP) in the form of an information and networking event at the Medical University of Vienna (MUW). Professor Karin Gutiérrez-Lobos, vice chancellor of the MUW, kindly opened the event in the Rektoratssaal, which was decorated in ASciNA colors and provided a very sympathetic and exchange-fostering ambience. Professor Karin Gutiérrez-Lobos is also president of the Alumni Club MedUni Wien and is actively involved in promoting the AMP with the sponsorship of two mentor-mentee pairs. This sponsorship helps to continue the program itself, and also provides an important motivating factor for ASciNA to continue its work. Professor Gutiérrez-Lobos emphasized the benefits of participating in such a mentoring program, helping scientists to cross borders and giving them assistance and encouragement to gain professional and personal experience in North America.

Hubert ZajicekHubert Zajicek, the president of ASciNA and an alumnus of MUW, presented the AMP and gave a short introduction to ASciNA with its 12 chapters and more than1000 members across North America. One of his key messages was the mission of ASciNA: to support young Austrian scientists and scholars in North America by establishing contacts and exchanging experiences, and also by providing efficient career planning for Austrian academics during their stays in North America.

In the AMP, a mentor who has already gained academic experience in North America will support a mentee – a student, postdoctoral fellow, research associate, or new assistant professor. This mentoring lasts for one year. After successful matching of the mentor-mentee pair and their first personal contact, a career workshop, suggested bimonthly meetings, and at least one sponsored personal meeting are scheduled for long-distance pairs. The goal is personal benefit for both mentee and mentor, as well as a long-lasting contact between the two. A few mentor-mentee pairs were presented in Dr. Zajicek's talk, demonstrating the success of the AMP. One of the mentors even made the trip from Canada to Vienna to give his personal impression of the mentoring program:

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Dr. Alexander Rauscher, a physicist (TU Wien) and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), talked about his personal impressions of the AMP and how he became part of ASciNA. Dr. Rauscher has specialized in MRI, first in his thesis work that partially took place in Jena, Germany, and later in Vancouver, where he ended up through a job offer and learned about ASciNA from other Austrians. Because he thought the AMP was a great idea for connecting people, Dr. Rauscher decided to join in as a mentor and assist Austrians who are new to the North American system. Interestingly, he noted that the mentor actually profits as much as (or even more than) the mentee, because the mentor is confronted with questions that also affect his or her own career advancement.

Impressions from the ASciNA Mentoring Event in Vienna, March 21, 2012

Impressions ASciNA Mentoring Event

He mentioned that the "mentor part" was consistently in the back of his head, and whenever he made "unconscious" strategic decisions he automatically forwarded the idea to the mentee – whether it was grant-writing advice or where to place a publication. One of his suggestions was to take university rankings into consideration when searching for places in one's area of interest in North America. This is not applicable in Austria and Germany as demonstrated, for example, by the excellence of research in quantum physics at small Austrian universities.

Subsequently, the Secretary-General of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research Mag. Friedrich Faulhammer emphasized the importance of giving young scientists a solid perspective for their careers, as well as a perspective for returning to the Austrian scientific world. While global competency and mobility must be fostered by Austrian universities, another goal is to enhance the attractiveness of Austria as a location for scientific research. He noted that research time at renowned universities in North America can facilitate the realization of a scientific career, and the AMP is a great way of assisting young scientists to go abroad and work on their careers. Therefore, he wants to continue to support the ASciNA award, an endowment of €10,000.

At the end of the presentations, Professor Christoph Kratky, president of the FWF (Fonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung; Austrian Science Fund), highlighted the situation for young researchers as follows:

• a US research career is tough but clear

• a European research career is tough but unclear

• an Austrian research career is maybe tough but certainly unclear.

Subsequently, he introduced the work of the FWF and different programs for funding Austrian researchers such as the Erwin-Schrödinger-Scholarship for postdocs. Impressive statistics of this scholarship showed that 50 percent of Erwin-Schrödinger scholars over the past 15 years now hold a full professorship (not exclusively in Austria!). Therefore, Professor Kratky emphasized the importance of a research stay abroad to promote a scientific career. Last but not least, Professor Kratky talked about his approximately 1½-year stay as a postdoc at Harvard, in Massachusetts, in the US. According to his experience, one should look not only at the reputation of the institution abroad but also at the situation within the future working group (e.g., is the supervisor available for discussion, etc.).

The event was officially closed with an open discussion between the speakers and the audience.

vlnr: Gutierrez, Faulhammer, Kratky, ZajicekMany specific questions were answered in this open forum, and even more during the subsequent networking and buffet. Four members of the Vienna chapter of ASciNA were present at this event. Together with Hubert Zajicek, they provided information about ASciNA in general, mentoring, and experiences abroad, while Professor Kratky was surrounded by students with rather grant-specific questions. All speakers were personally available and gave the impression that fostering academic mobility and sound career opportunities was their concern. In a nutshell, we would call this evening a very realistic and comprehensive glimpse into the possibilities available for young Austrian scientific scholars.


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