What does it take to secure a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship? Everyone's path to their Fellowship is different. Ka Man Parkinson from the EURAXESS UK team spoke to current grantee Tomislav Stojanov to hear about his academic journey from Croatia to the UK, as well as his personal mission to support fellow researchers along the way.
Could you tell us what attracted you to Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship and how that fits into your research career path?
I had a promising research idea and I wanted to get the most out of it. I compared many postdoctoral opportunities and I eventually came across the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowships (MSCA-PF).
I believe that the MSCA-PF offers ultimately the best career prospects. It is truly international, researcher-focused, highly rewarding and prestigious – and with an excellent alumni network.
Fellows are awarded a generous amount of money to make their dreams come true – conducting research of their choice while undergoing training programmes, again on their choice, to complement what could benefit their skills and expertise to become an independent researcher.
“I applied to the programme three times before securing my Fellowship. For anyone else is facing challenges and obstacles like I did, I would like to offer this advice: do not let negative emotions - stemming from for example your own preconceived limitations, fears or workplace challenges - beat you. A setback does not mean you cannot win this prestigious grant. I would like to encourage all early career researchers to give themselves a chance and to apply.”
I have shared some of my personal experiences on my YouTube channel to help those interested in applying to the MSCA-PF Fellowship.
Could you tell us a little about your research?
I want to document how powerful our language and language ideology is. I am researching how spelling reforms/changes are related to identity in South Slavonic languages (Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian).
Many European languages have undergone spelling reforms/changes in the last 30 years (e.g. French, Danish, Dutch, German, Portuguese), but the South Slavonic languages are very special because of the wars during the 1990s, mutual intelligibility, and the re/standardisation processes.
The birth of a standard language, such as Montenegrin, is a historical moment for us sociolinguists and I do not want to miss it. If only we could have observed how Latin had become a standard language of the Romans.
This is the first multiple comparative and comprehensive sociolinguistic research on spelling reform/change phenomena in the countries of the former Yugoslavia that will include the international questionnaire survey, discourse analysis of media articles, and studies of the sociopolitical and sociocultural context.
Why did you choose to come to the UK to undertake your Fellowship?
Finding the supervisor and the suitable host institution is not an easy task for a postdoctoral researcher, so I was guided both by my instinct and rationale.
A sentence on my supervisor’s webpage was something I had been looking for: Professor Nicola McLelland at the University of Nottingham invited other researchers to collaborate on the subjects I am interested in. You might be surprised now how rare the statements like these are!
I have to also mention that the School of Cultures, Languages and Arts of the University of Nottingham is a place with a century-long tradition of teaching and studying Slavonic languages.
The pandemic delayed your fellowship start date until March 2021. Is the pandemic presenting any other challenges for your research and how are you overcoming them?
It has affected - and it continues to affect - my research plans to a great extent. My project requires fieldwork and secondment research in the former Yugoslavian countries, which have among the lowest vaccination rates in Europe.
I hope I will manage to collect all the data I want. Fortunately, the most important datasets are not in danger as my survey research and media articles collection will be processed online.
However, I have to add there are some positive developments during this time: training and conferences are held online, saving both time and money, and also comes along with less pollution.
How are you benefiting from the research environment at the University of Nottingham?
The University of Nottingham offers so many interesting training and development courses for their staff that you can easily get overwhelmed.
In the first five months, I have already taken three courses: how to talk to journalists, how to organise a fully virtual event, and about research management and leadership skills.
Just recently the University of Nottingham has published the Statement on Free Speech and Academic Freedom in which I was also invited to participate. This is an excellent showcase of how the principles of inclusivity and transparency are being cherished at the University.
I feel privileged to work with a supervisor who is genuinely interested in my research and supports my career. This research environment holds formal annual meetings in which you discuss issues related to your career development with you supervisor or line manager.
To be frank, it was depressing to me to realise that it took me 20 years to discover what a Career Development Plan is, but now I am pleased to be able to experience such a stimulating work environment. Personally, I believe that a course on researcher’s career planning should be offered on postgraduate studies everywhere.
What would you like to do on completion of your Fellowship?
I would like to continue researching. I already have a new promising idea for my next research project on language evolution.
Being a Principal Investigator on a research project is an extraordinary privilege due to work autonomy, creativity, social importance, and work benefits.
I deeply believe the world needs more engaging researchers who are willing to expose themselves to the public interests by offering the best asset they can provide: critical thinking. This is vital in the era of global climate change, the pandemic, living standard disbalances, fake news, global security threats, and other great societal instabilities and challenges.
I see myself to be ready to influence the part I am most interested in: the further development of fair, open ethical practices across national and European research and innovation and higher education systems.
I also feel strongly about researcher mental health and currently I undertake work within the Researchers’ Mental Health COST Action to play my part in supporting researcher wellbeing.
Tomislav Stojanov is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions 2019 grantee and is the Work Group Policy Vice-Chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association.
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