My name is Monika Zawadzka. I am currently on a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Fellowship which is a training programme for scientist wishing to develop their career in an agency providing funding for science. On a daily basis we are receiving numerous research proposals in various areas such as chemistry, biology or engineering, and my role is to assist in evaluation of the best scientific concepts to be funded. Every day, I learn about new, often transformative ideas, which makes the job really interesting. I have been interested in STEM since early ages and can not imagine my career outside STEM.
Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?
I have always been interested in STEM and I have not changed my interest since. I am happy to see that STEM is being more and more widely promoted which results in broader social awareness and interest in STEM.
Describe an interesting day in your current position.
Meeting scientific leaders and attending to the discussion on research project is a very interesting, eye-opening experience, giving deeper insights on the science from a global perspective.
What do you love about your current role?
Being involved in proposal evaluation, I am exposed to the very recent scientific ideas which are yet to be explored and proved through experimental work. This gives me an insight into what science can bring in the near future, which I find very exciting.
What kind of other experts do you work with on a day to day basis?
On the daily basis I am working with a group of PhDs with background in a variety of sciences, having previous industrial, academic or another STEM experience. The broad range of expertise is needed for the team to manage grants incoming from researchers from different scientific fields. Working with an interdisciplinary team provides an exciting and motivating environment to carry out everyday tasks.
Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?
SFI supports Irish science through different funding schemes dedicated to young or established researchers and research centre. Our role in SFI is to develop such schemes which will maintain and strengthen scientific ecosystem in Ireland. This in turn makes difference in Ireland and also in the world – it brings worldwide recognition to Irish science, helps to find solutions to societal problems, and contributes to economical growth of the country.
Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?
I am not aware of any stereotypical description of a person working in a funding agency and I must admit that I was not fully aware of big diversity of tasks being carried in such an organisation on the daily basis, before joining SFI. The job involves a big variety of tasks such as reading and analysing scientific project proposals, writing reports and reviews, attending to and organisation of workshops, meetings with scientists, contribution to the development of the strategies and funding programs, to a list a few!
What are your priorities for the year ahead in your role?
The SFI Fellowship, which I am currently perusing, is focused on personal training and development of competencies such as communication, teamwork, personal effectiveness or project management. I plan to further improvement of these competencies through my involvement in different programs which will be run this year in SFI.
Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?
During my studies I was on two placements working in chemistry and physics laboratories abroad which gave me experience and ideas for my future research which I carried out during Master of Science and doctoral studies. Early stage experience is highly important to help to develop one’s interest and vision on the career path. The experience gained in the course of my career allowed me to obtain my current position in SFI, which requires scientific background. Without a doubt, STEM education offers a broad range of careers in academia, industry, and other places such as scientific consulting or publishing companies, or funding agencies like SFI.