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ERA-Link: Defining the dimensions of a transatlantic research bridge

The European Commission is in the process of canvassing European researchers in the United States to help it to design an ambitious transatlantic network for the EU’s expatriate research community. ERA-Link seeks to meet the needs of US-based European researchers and contribute to EU-backed research efforts.

The survey - which was launched on 14 October 2004 - is part of the design phase of ERA-Link (European Researchers Abroad-Link) and aims to determine the needs and expectations of European researchers working in the United States from a transatlantic network. "This survey has been launched to find out how the network should be developed and the types of information and services that would be useful to European researchers [in the United States]," notes Alessandro Damiani, the EU's head of Science, Technology and Education in Washington.

The study is based around a simple questionnaire – targeted at a representative cross-section of the 100 000-strong US-based European research community – which, the Commission estimates, will take a researcher only ten to 15 minutes to fill out. This means that it will intrude as little as possible on these professionals’ busy schedules, while providing the EU executive with high-value information on their needs and background.

The survey will run for five weeks, after which the data will be analysed. The results are due in January 2005. In addition to the on-line questionnaire, over a thousand have been mailed directly to researchers. The questions have also appeared in selected scientific publications.

The questionnaire is divided into three main sections: background information on the researcher, how researchers would perceive such a network and communication tool as ERA-Link, and questions on the evolving reality of research in Europe (jobs, mobility and collaboration opportunities). The survey will not only help the Commission to build a more dynamic and useful ERA-Link network, but it will also assist it in constructing the necessary networking and communication tools for US-based EU researchers, thus reflecting their specialities, needs and views.

Creating new assets
“This project stems from the idea that the many thousands of European researchers who work in the US are not a loss but an asset,” Damiani explains. “One way to organise this potential and meet their needs is to build links for communication and networking among them and across the Atlantic.”

The Union already has numerous career and mobility initiatives in place to make the most of the European research pool. These include ERACAREERS (the Researcher’s Mobility Portal) and ERA-MORE (the European network of mobility centres), as well as the Marie Curie grants and fellowships.

While several initiatives aim to lure European researchers back to Europe, ERA-Link seeks to benefit from US-based researchers in their host country. “The purpose is, of course, to make career collaboration opportunities in Europe more visible and accessible. But this doesn’t necessarily mean only attracting our expatriate researchers back to Europe,” Damiani points out.

Due to be launched in the autumn of 2005, ERA-Link proposes to create an electronic communications tool to keep European researchers in the United States abreast of developments and opportunities in EU research. “Europe has more to offer its expatriate scientists today than ever before,” Damiani observes.

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last update: 22-10-2004