Friday, December 05, 2014

Alumni from a small PhD program you never heard about got 4 ERC grants this year

Last Friday I heard the amazing news that a our group will be awarded an ERC starting grant to support our ongoing studies of the function and evolution of protein phosphorylation. I will write more about this soon. I also got the very exciting news that two other fellow alumni from the GABBA PhD program were also awarded a starting grant this year. Ana Carvalho and Nuno Alves both have their groups at the IBMC in Porto. Earlier in the year, another GABBA alumnus Rui Costa was awarded an ERC consolidator grant to support his neuroscience research at the Champalimaud institute in Lisbon. Rui had previously also received funding international funding from an ERC Starting Grant and from the HHMI international early career program .

I had mentioned the GABBA program before in a previous post. As I had described, this program has, for almost 18 years, allowed Portuguese PhD students to do their work abroad with no return clause or any strings attached. Unfortunately, this has changed a bit recently as the Portuguese government has been revising and seriously cutting science funding. GABBA students can still do their work abroad but they are now required to work between two groups with some time spent in Portugal. The funding was also reduced from 12 to 9 students per year.

This program is not the only one that has been allowing students to do their PhD thesis abroad and it is easy to question if the investment made by the government is worthwhile. Not surprisingly, many PhD students end up doing their postdoctoral work also away from Portugal and even fewer end up setting up their groups there. However, Portugal did create a pool of talented researchers and some do end up returning. Measuring the return on this investment is very hard since most of the benefit is a gain in knowledge and talent from those that return and network possibilities with those that stay abroad. This year's ERC grants are a very obvious demonstration that this investment pays off. The 3 GABBA alumni that have set up labs in Portugal are together going to bring in around 5 million Euro of EU funding. By itself, this funding does not cover the funding costs of the whole life of the GABBA program but it is a very concrete validation of the investment made that hopefully even politicians will understand.