Polish Returns – a Passport to Scientific Success in Poland - NAWA

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Poland has been subject to brain drain for years. Today, thanks to programmes such as Polish Returns NAWA, we are in a position to halt this trend. Having furthered their careers abroad, Polish scientists can now come back and carry out research at Polish universities or research institutes. The Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) has just announced a call for applications under another edition of the programme.

The objective of Polish Returns NAWA is to enable Polish scholars to return to their home country and become employed at Polish universities and research institutes. Funding under the programme covers remuneration for the returning scientist, the members of the project group, and the inviting person, as well as the costs of the returning scientist’s resettlement. Under the Polish Returns Programme, researchers can gain attractive and stable employment at Polish scientific institutions.

“Thanks to Polish Returns NAWA, the most talented scientists can count on conditions comparable to those that they enjoyed at renowned foreign institutions. And that is in terms of not only remuneration, but also, for example, the opportunity to establish their own project group. As a result, they can carry out their own bold and often groundbreaking research ideas. In turn, Polish higher education institutions strengthen their position and recognizability around the world by employing scientists who have already made a name in the academic and research environment,” says dr Grażyna Żebrowska, Director General of NAWA.

At the same time, NAWA encourages researchers to actively apply for research grants that will provide additional research funding. The starting grant allows them to begin their research immediately upon their return to Poland before obtaining further funding. In the NAWA Polish Returns Programme, from 2020 onwards it is possible to obtain a starting grant for fundamental research in the form of research component financed from the budget of the National Science Centre (NCN).

In response to the demand reported by the scientists, NAWA and the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) have opened such a possibility also for applied research. It is a starting grant, funded by NCBR, for winners of Polish Returns who plan projects in the area of applied research and development work.

“For the first time, the National Centre for Research and Development together with the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange invite researchers of Polish origin from abroad to carry out, upon their return to Poland, scientific research in the area of applied research and development work. This will be possible thanks to grants offered by NCBR in the application component of the programme. The support amount for one scientist can be up to PLN 400,000.00. I hope that this activity will contribute to the emergence of groundbreaking domestic solutions that will be applied in the Polish economy,” says dr Remigiusz Kopoczek, acting Director of the National Centre for Research and Development.

The call for proposals will be conducted from 9 May 2022 until 25 July 2022, 15:00:00 local time (Warsaw).

For detailed information click HERE.

From prestigious centres to Polish universities

So far, thanks to Polish Returns, as many as 63 scientists have received funding for their research. They are scientists with recognized achievements who have returned to Polish universities from academic and research centres in Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, Oman, Singapore, the United States of America, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, among others.

Some have previously conducted their research at, for instance, the University of Oxford, King’s College London and Yale University. Now they work at Polish universities and research institutes. They claim that – thanks to Polish Returns NAWA – today, the domestic conditions for scientific development are not worse than those abroad, which makes them willing to work in their home country.

“Mobility of researchers has always been conducive to the exchange of ideas, gaining new experience and collaboration. Polish scientists have been going abroad for years and so it was with me when I went for a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh eight years ago. However, I always wanted to return to Poland and start my own research group here. And Polish Returns offered me this opportunity, together with excellent working conditions,” says dr Tomasz Turowski, employed at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences.

The programme provides excellent conditions for career advancement, stable employment, and thus the opportunity to focus on research work – very often on the state-of-the-art technologies in a number of fields. Needless to say that at present, the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences, at which Tomasz Turowski (until recently at the University of Edinburgh) is employed thanks to Polish Returns, is a modern Polish centre, conducting, among others, research on the COVID-19 virus and improvement of existing antiviral drugs.

“In our work we combine methods of molecular biology, data analysis, so-called data science, and mathematical modelling. This leads to the discovery of new regulatory mechanisms in the virus replication cycle. We are keen to find such mechanisms that are essential for SARS-CoV-2 to replicate efficiently and can be used to develop new classes of antiviral drugs. Importantly, we are working on proteins whose genes mutate most slowly in coronaviruses and should be common to SARS-CoV-2 variants and other coronaviruses, the more deadly ones such as SARS or MERS and those that cause the common cold,” explains dr Tomasz Turowski.

Dr Przemysław Gaweł, who works at the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences (formerly at Cambridge Display Technology), is engaged in such “trendy” subjects as new materials for electronics and photovoltaics and their sustainable production.

In turn, professor Wojciech Stępniowski from the Jarosław Dąbrowski Military University of Technology (MUT) and his team are working on copper catalysts for electrochemical CO2 reduction. This is, on the one hand, a solution to the carbon dioxide problem and, on the other, the production of alcohols that can be used, for example, as fuel (in some countries, such as Brazil, many vehicles use ethanol derived from sugarcane as an alternative fuel) or as disinfectants.

In turn, the work of dr hab. inż. Sabina Rosiek-Pawłowska, formerly of the University of Almeria in Spain and now of the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, focuses on solar and cooling technologies for the food industry.

“The proposed measures and the introduced improvements in the energy efficiency of individual devices have made it possible to minimize the operating costs of the systems,” explains the scientist.

Sabina Rosiek-Pawłowska’s major projects include a study of the bioclimatic aspects of architecture and solar cooling, during which the energy performance of office buildings was measured. In addition, the scholarship holder participated in the development of an autonomous cold storage facility for fruits and vegetables powered by renewable energy sources and worked on an innovative refrigeration solution for dairy cattle, among others.

“The subject explored during the project supports the strategy of sustainable development, aiming to improve animal welfare, while taking care of the optimal use of energy and resources in livestock premises with the use of renewable energy sources, as well as improving the milk yield of cows, which overall translates into significant economic gains for the farmer. This solution represents a particular implementation potential in the livestock market,” says dr hab. inż. Sabina Rosiek-Pawlowska.

Previous edition of Polish Returns NAWA

In the previous edition of Polish Returns NAWA, 11 male and female scientists came to Poland.

Two candidates chose the Jagiellonian University and Adam Mickiewicz University as the centre for their projects. In addition, winners of the programme will also be hired by: the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, the University of Silesia in Katowice, the University of Warsaw, the Jarosław Dąbrowski Military University of Technology (MUT), Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Mathematics, Polish Academy of Sciences.

When it comes to the disciplines in which this year’s winners conduct research, the chemical and biological sciences (2 in each field) have the highest number of researchers. In addition, the projects in the following disciplines also received funding: mathematics, physical sciences, chemical engineering, materials engineering, earth and environmental sciences, and languages and literature.