The Science must go on! Despite the COVID-19 - NAWA

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Online seminars, publications, classes with students – these are just some of the scientific activities taken up by NAWA fellowship holders during the pandemic.

Dr. Kinga Kamieniarz-Gdula from the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, winner of the Polish Returns programme, has been conducting online classes with students since the very beginning when the university’s teaching activity was restricted due to the spread of the coronavirus. There are 22 students in her group.

‘These are English-speaking Journal Club classes with students of the fourth year of biology and biotechnology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. The classes are supposed to teach critical reading of scientific literature in English, train presentation skills and hone “scientific” English,’ says Dr. Kinga Kamieniarz-Gdula. ‘The students are very active during classes. I am impressed by their generally very good command of the language,’ Dr. Kamieniarz-Gdula praises the participants of her classes.

KKG zajecia

According to a survey carried out by Research Gate among more than 3 thousand scholars from all over the world, scientific activity during the pandemic does not decrease, but changes its form. Researchers do not meet with students at universities and they spend less time in laboratories. However, remote work on scientific projects continues and international cooperation develops online. Scholars spend more time than before the pandemic on collecting materials, writing research articles, reviewing papers as well as planning their careers and looking for development opportunities in that they follow the situation at other research centres.

We have asked fellowship holders of our programmes for scientists – the Polish Returns programme and the Ulam Programme – about their research activity in the situation of constraints on account of the pandemic. At present, more than 30 foreign researchers who have stayed in Poland carry out their research projects at Polish universities under the Ulam Programme.


Research Projects in Virtual Space

Prof. Tomasz K. Wojdacz from the Pomeranian Medical University, winner of the Polish Returns programme, described for us one of his meetings with a students’ research group at the Independent Clinical Epigenetics Laboratory, which he heads: ‘The research group continues to work without any disruption. It practises social distancing and meets online. Today, we discussed the importance of epigenetics in clinical practice. Now that we work remotely, we finally have a moment to follow the newest publications and plan new post-pandemic projects.’

Researchers admit that carrying out projects remotely is easier in some disciplines than in others. ‘In my case, research is going on unchanged. Most of the work is done online,’ says Dr. Paweł Caputa from the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, winner of the Polish Returns programme. Dr. Caputa is a theoretical physicist. During the quarantine, he completed a project which is now becoming the basis for a publication. In addition, he interviewed candidates for the scientific team he leads as well as prepared applications for a doctoral school at the University of Warsaw with one of the PhD students.

The coronavirus has not affected the schedule of scientific work under the direction of another winner of the Polish Returns programme, Prof. Jerzy Weyman from the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science of the Jagiellonian University. During the pandemic, the professor works remotely with other scientists. ‘Mathematical studies do not require classes in a lab, so it is easier than in other fields,’ Prof. Weyman admits. The algebra seminar dedicated to the project ‘Applications of Lie algebras to Commutative Algebra’ led by Prof. Weyman takes place online. Its formula is constantly expanding, with new guests being invited to give lectures.

Jerzy Weyman Screen Shot 2020 05 05 at 10.02.32

The algebra seminar  led by Prof. Jerzy Weyman takes place online.

Similarly, videoconferencing platforms enable regular meetings of a research team including Prof. Dr. Luís António Dias Carlos, visiting professor at the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Wrocław, a fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme. The meetings have resulted in three scientific publications for the prestigious Journal of Materials Chemistry C. Virtual seminars with scientists from China, Singapore, Italy, France, Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Poland, among others, are held regularly, as well.

The laboratories where our fellowship holders work have not been completely deserted, either. Grzegorz Pasternak, PhD, Eng., head of the Laboratory of Microbial Electrochemical Systems at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, a fellowship holder under the Polish Returns Programme, uses the time of the pandemic to prepare in his laboratory further stages of work in his project. Dr. Charles Odeh, visiting professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Automatics at the Gdansk University of Technology and a fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme, likewise continues to work on his project in the lab.


Experience of Work during the Pandemic for Future Use

Researchers note that some of the online activities have worked out and that they will continue to use them once the restrictions on international movement and university activity are lifted. ‘Together with a group in Potsdam, I organise joint online seminars for our two research groups. We intend to continue to hold the meetings,’ declares Dr. Paweł Caputa.

Dr. John Clarke, a fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme and visiting professor at the Faculty of Biological and Veterinary Sciences of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, remarks that despite the challenges, the new situation gives a new perspective of scientific work. In his opinion, it creates the opportunity to establish new research contacts, as it will be possible to attend more conferences and meetings online and thus to establish further cooperation. Dr. Clarke believes that this experience may lead to a change in thinking about how to perform certain aspects of academic work. According to Dr. Clarke, the best example is that isolation has shown how easy it is for academics from all over the world to attend international seminars and even PhD dissertation defences. Dr. Clarke thinks it is good to remember such experiences for the future.


We invite you to watch videos made by our fellowship holders in which they talk about their scientific work during the pandemic.

Grzegorz Pasternak, PhD, Eng., head of the Laboratory of Microbial Electrochemical Systems at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, NAWA fellowship holder under the Polish Returns Programme


 Dr. Zehra Taşkın,  Visiting Professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, NAWA fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme


 Šárka Jelínková, PhD, Visiting Professor at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, NAWA fellowship holder  under the Ulam Programme


Hasan Maridi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Visiting Professor at Univeristy of Warsaw, NAWA fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme


 Dr Charles Odeh, PhD, Visiting Professor at Gdańsk University of Technology, NAWA fellowship holder under the Ulam Programme