COST Celebrates Women in Science


International Women’s Day

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, we highlight three dynamic young women from the Western Balkans who have excelled in the field of science through their active participation in COST Actions. COST has not only boosted their careers but has also contributed to the scientific progress of their home countries. Let’s celebrate the achievements of these young women in science.

Opportunity to communicate

Dr Lejla Gurbeta Pokvić is a Director at the Verlab Research Institute in Sarajevo and is the Science Communication Coordinator for the COST Action ‘3Rs concepts to improve the quality of biomedical science (IMPROVE)’. This Action is establishing a network dedicated to the refinement, harmonisation and promotion of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) concepts in animal testing to improve the quality of biomedical science.

“I am by training an electrical engineer,” says Lejla. “But I got my PhD in Biomedical Engineering so that interested me in getting involved with this Action.” She was already working on some international projects and knew Professor Winfried Neuhaus, Chair of the IMPROVE Action. “He contacted me to be involved in the Action because Bosnia and Herzegovina don’t currently have 3R centres and our team is good at networking in the country.”

Lejla participated in writing the Action proposal and after its approval, Professor Neuhaus suggested that, as Lejla was young, motivated and with some experience in science communication, she should apply to be the Action’s Science Communication Coordinator.

“So basically, what I try to do is translate the very complex scientific research findings to be understandable for the general public,” says Lejla. “I am in my early 30s, so it is a huge responsibility for me and was a huge leap into the unknown.”

A main benefit of her involvement in IMPROVE has been training in leadership skills and especially communication expertise. “The media training helped me to understand what specific aspects I should pay attention to, for example, when doing an interview, and how to say something informative – but easily understandable – in just a couple of minutes,” Lejla explains.

Lejla sees benefits for herself personally but also for Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I got to expand my professional network throughout Europe, but what is more beneficial is that I got to be recognised by my colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina as someone who can help connect with European partners,” Lejla explains. “And through holding an IMPROVE meeting in Bosnia and Herzegovina we raised awareness on 3Rs and opened a new field for researchers in the country.”

Machine language

The ‘Enabling multilingual eye-tracking data collection for human and machine language processing research (MultiplEYE)’ COST Action is bringing together research groups with the objective of creating a comprehensive multilingual eye-tracking database. For Dr Evis Trandafili of the Polytechnic University of Tirana, the Action is her first-ever engagement with COST. “I had a part in writing the Action proposal as it aligned with my previous research background,” she says. “When it was approved, despite being still a young researcher, I was appointed a Management Committee Member for Albania and later took a leadership position as the Science Communication Coordinator.”

“The science communication leadership role made me grow professionally – it was like a school to me. My participation in MultiplEYE made me see things from a new perspective – to see the vital connection between research leadership and science communication and dissemination.”

Dr Evis Trandafili
Photo of three young women with long dark hair looking at a laptop screen.

And Evis took full advantage of the training opportunities offered through the Action. “I have attended several trainings at the COST Academy and every time it has been an invaluable experience,” Evis says. “My latest training was on WordPress, which gave me a practical skill that will help reduce costs and enable better management of the Action website.” Like Evis, 44% of young researchers who followed the leadership programme of the COST Academy ended up in a leadership position.

Through the Action Evis has progressed personally but her institution has also benefited. “Traditionally universities in Albania have relied on formal publication channels for dissemination, but today we must increase the visibility of research to inspire students and researchers and enhance the reputation of academic staff and the universities,” explains Evis. “It is not easy to make changes in a conservative culture, but I have managed to raise awareness and develop a new communication and dissemination strategy within my institution, which is a novel thing for public universities in Albania.”

The COST Academy supports lifelong learning by teaching transferrable skills that not only benefit the Action but also the participants’ career development.

China calling

Europe’s relationship with China is a multifaceted, complex and often controversial topic and is the subject of COST Action ‘China In Europe Research Network (CHERN)’. This Action aims to pool existing research and knowledge on China’s deepening ties with Europe to establish a more holistic view and help formulate effective policy responses and enable constructive engagement with China.

Jelena Gledić from the University of Belgrade is a Serbian Management Committee Member and also Science Communication Coordinator for the Action.

“As well as the usual benefits which one gets from any kind of international project, such as extending your international network, I am grateful for the independence COST provides,” says Jelena. “The bottom-up mechanisms that COST has, minimises the red tape required for reimbursement and other administrative aspects.”

“I was able to connect not only with scholars but also business people and policymakers and to understand better how science feeds into the more practical aspects of how society works – and all of this at a very interesting time in EU-China relations,” she continues. “This is my main field of interest and I have benefited immensely from the Action.”

Photo of a young blonde woman standing in front of a black bord.

“I am grateful for the independence COST provides”

Ms Jelena Gledić

Specifically, the science communication role has opened a new direction for Jelena. “Through the role, I have found a new vein of interest which is this gap in science communication when it comes to sensitive topics – such as China and also race and gender – where many people have strong opinions.”

Due to COVID most of the COST Academy trainings Jelena experienced were online. “But that meant I could do all of them – which was amazing!” she says. And in each session, she could ask for specific advice on CHERN’s communications issues. “The usual examples given from astronomy or biology are not appropriate when people have a lot of opinions and the advice was to look into crisis communication, which is a completely different area of communication,” says Jelena.

The CHERN Action is ending in May, but Jelena is working on a COST Innovator Grant application to continue work on issues around polarisation in communication involving vital societal issues.

Additional information

LIVE BLOG: gender equality month 2024This live blog compiles all gender-related activities from COST Actions, including MOOCs, publications, infographics, testimonials, advice, videos, social media posts, news, and interviews. Take a look!

Read more about COST Action 3Rs concepts to improve the quality of biomedical science (IMPROVE)

Read more about COST Action Enabling multilingual eye-tracking data collection for human and machine language processing research (MultiplEYE)

Read more about COST Action China In Europe Research Network (CHERN)