Starting from the new academic year, Master’s and PhD students at ITMO University will be given the opportunity to participate in academic exchanges and internships at the University of Lorraine (Université de Lorraine, UL), one of France’s largest and highest-rated universities. Moreover, ITMO and UL will be able to exchange professors who will give topical lectures on a wide range of subjects. Such an expansion of the mobility opportunities available has been made possible thanks to an Erasmus+ program grant. We spoke to Alexandre Nominé, a senior research associate at ITMO University’s Faculty of Physics and Engineering and ITMO Fellow, to find out more about the cooperation, requirements for participating in the Russian-French mobility program, and its future prospects.
The University of Lorraine (Université de Lorraine) is one of largest higher education institutions in France, dating all the way back to 1572. With several spacious campuses in the cities of Nancy and Metz, the university is among the leaders of French national academic rankings and places among the top 5% of international university rankings.
According to Alexandre Nominé, the collaboration between ITMO University and the University of Lorraine started in 2017, when the two universities’ scientists engaged in joint research in the field of Photonics and Materials Science.
In 2018, the two organizations earned first place in the funding competition within the framework of the federal targeted program “Research and development on priority directions of scientific-technological complex of the Russian Federation for the 2014-2020 year period” and received financial support for high-priority research with participation of research centers and universities under the Russian-French Hubert Curien Partnership Program “Kolmogorov”. Among other activities, included in this grant’s remit is support for short-term mobility of researchers, ranging from PhD students to professors, working in Russian and French laboratories.
For us, this has opened a whole range of new topics for joint research. We also understood that the next logical step in our collaboration was to expand on the opportunities we offer to students. The main philosophy of ITMO University’s International Research Center for Nanophotonics and Metamaterials, and that of Institut Jean Lamour, our partner in France, is to actively involve our students in real-world research projects. That prompted us to search for ways to achieve that in the most effective way possible,” says Dr. Nominé.
Contributing to the expansion of academic mobility opportunities for students and staff is Erasmus+, a European Union program that aims to support collaborations in the field of education, professional training, and sport. Its main goal is to create an effective instrument facilitating the development of human and social capital in Europe and beyond.
ITMO and the University of Lorraine launched a joint application to partake in the program, which was then approved by the program’s coordinators. To that end, the two universities organized a consortium made up of several laboratories. As noted by Alexandre Nominé, both universities are interested in the development of interdisciplinary research, which is why their cooperation encompasses a wide range of fields, including not only Photonics but also IT, Robotics, and Life Science.
A particularity of the partnership between UL and ITMO lies in the fact that it developed very rapidly. From our very first exchange, there has been a positive and constructive working atmosphere, and this helped to include more and more people (and therefore skills) in the project. From the very beginning, we had strong support from the director of Institute Jean Lamour (one of the largest Materials Science research institute in France) – Prof. Thierry Belmonte – and from Pavel Belov (Dean of the Faculty of Physics and Engineering). I presume they immediately saw the interest in combining our skills in Nanoscience.
“Then, we continued step by step with new ideas, new experiments, new calls for proposals but at this stage I also have to say that we also benefited from a strong support from the administrative staff of both universities and also from the Scientific Department of the Embassy of France in Russia whose team has always been ready to help us. The fact that beyond the simple research contacts, our university staff also know each other and participate in International Days (UL sent 4 members to ITMO International Days in 2018) is an asset for the construction of a wide-ranging collaborative program. This made it possible to join within this Erasmus+ project such different disciplines as IT, Materials Science, Nanophotonics, Chemistry, Pharmaceutics, and others. When he visited ITMO in 2018, the Vice-Rector of UL proposed to develop and integrate partnership with ITMO with joint research teams, joint Master’s, regular staff exchanges, etc… As researchers, we definitely hope to see this come true and this multidisciplinary Erasmus+ project paves the way to fulfilling this objective.”
The two universities’ consortium reflected this aspiration; representing ITMO apart from the Laboratory of Nanophotonics and Metamaterials is the university’s SCAMT Laboratory, which specializes in the creation of smart nanostructured materials and their practical application as well as the School of Computer Technologies and Control.
Opportunities: studies, internships, teaching
Under the framework of the Erasmus+ program, students, staff and young scientists (PhD students) can receive funding to offset a significant part of study and accommodation costs related to pursuing an exchange at one of Europe’s universities, while universities can invite leading professors to give lectures on relevant topics.
For instance, Master’s and PhD students going on an exchange to a partner university abroad can receive 850 euros a month to cover their expenses; the grant will also cover all transport costs for traveling to and from their exchange destination. As per their application, ITMO University and the University of Lorraine have the opportunity to organize academic mobility of 14 students within a two-year period (seven students per year). Therefore, some four Russian students will get the chance to go on an academic exchange to France, while three or four of their French counterparts will come to Russia.
According to Alexandre Nominé, the program accounts for the following types of mobility:
1) Mobility for Master’s students
Under this type of academic mobility, Master’s students pursue a semester-long exchange at one of the partner universities. As explained by Dr. Nominé, the French university offers several programs that can be of interest to ITMO students. One of those is the program “Multiscale Materials”, and a Master’s program in Big Data, all implemented in the English language.
Apart from studies, students can also participate in an internship at a research laboratory. This will qualify them for additional funding of 500 euros per month (on top of the regular sum of 850 euros offered under the Erasmus+ program). Internship opportunities can be found at France’s leading science and research centers, for example at Institut Jean Lamour, one of the country’s largest and most cutting-edge laboratories in the field of Materials Science.
This will allow students to work on real-life projects under the guidance of two experienced scientists, one from the French side and one from the Russian. Alexandre Nominé emphasizes that internships like these will not only provide young researchers with valuable experience but also pave the way for new joint projects between the two countries’ scientists.
2) Mobility for PhD students
PhD students can benefit from a similar mobility scheme; the only difference is that in this case, the mobility period is shorter and implies a research internship two to four months in length. A young scientist’s visit is funded by their home university, but the Erasmus+ grant can reimburse some of the travel costs involved (850€/month + transport).
3) Mobility for professors
The Erasmus+ program also gives the universities an opportunity to invite each other’s professors in order for them to give lectures in a range of relevant fields. This is a popular practice among many universities partaking in the EU program, which encourage their staff to enrich their expertise through teaching in another country.
How to participate in the exchange
Among the main selection criteria for students and researchers wishing to participate in the program are a successful study record, significant academic results, relevance of their research topic, and, last but not least, motivation.
“For both of the universities, an internship is, among others, an opportunity to launch a new joint project. This is not just a student or staff exchange and nothing more. We plan to strengthen our cooperation, including through the projects conducted by our young scientists, and to support the existing projects and initiate new ones. That’s what makes such criteria as the relevance of a student’s topic, as well as their motivation, willingness to ask questions, and understanding of where they are going and what results they want to achieve so important in the selection stage,” says Alexandre Nominé.
As for the criteria for the teaching staff, what matters is their academic results, as well as the relevance of the course they are offering and the feasibility of integrating it into existing programs.
Students and staff will be able to participate in an exchange at the University of Lorraine starting from the second semester of the 2019-2020 academic year. Candidates interested in participating in this program can already contact Alexandre Nominé (firstname.lastname@example.org).