Here is an interview with Dr. Ubaldo Cella, researcher at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Project Manager of the MeDiTATe project.

The MeDiTATe project is one of the largest Industrial Doctorate Programmes funded by the EU Commission. As Project Manager, what are the key points to keep in mind when dealing with the management of such a large Consortium?

One determining factor is having the support of a team specialized in covering all the aspects that a project like MeDiTATe involves. Our consortium is composed of 12 beneficiaries and 13 partners from eight countries, including Australia. It is a broad Consortium that involves institutions with different backgrounds (academic, industrial, manufacturing, medical) and heterogeneous dynamics both in the administrative procedures and in the scientific focus. The complexities of interacting with so many subjects, and of fulfilling the several requirements that a mobility-based project requires, is clearly a demanding task. Furthermore, the large number of Individual Research Projects, in which 14 Early-Stage Researchers are enrolled, involves a heavy administrative burden. The University of Rome “Tor Vergata” has significant experience in managing all the aspects of big projects such as this one. The coordination of MeDiTATe is based on a structured organization in which a large competent staff from offices focused on international research, privacy policy, recruitment, and legal aspects support the PI and the PM in solving all tasks of the project management. Furthermore, the day-to-day coordination is shared with four partners and members of the steering committee, who are responsible for recruitment, training, communication, scientific dissemination, and ethics protocols. Another crucial factor is the very productive communication channel created by the EU Project Officer. In the last two years we had several complex situations to manage. His support was decisive and always promptly available.

The entire project is based on the collaboration within the members of private and public companies, hospitals and research institutions and universities. How can the Project Manager facilitate the cooperation and the communication amongst these different realities?

The MeDiTATe project is an extraordinary environment in which scientists with very different backgrounds in different disciplines share their competences to pursue a common objective. This is not common in the research world and represents one of the added values of our project. We are doing our best to create a network, organize meetings, develop connections and to stimulate collaboration between the fellows. All the Supervisors are invited to identify common interests and propose further research, expanding the connection to projects other than MeDiTATe. Unfortunately, the pandemic situation has created many obstacles most notably the importance of human contact. To remedy this, we have utilized digital platforms to facilitate the communication but inevitably many opportunities have been lost. Today we are pushing to organize activities in presence in order to stimulate more productive and satisfying opportunities for communication and collaboration at Consortium gathering events in the same period and location (e.g., progress meeting and training events).


The start of the project unfortunately coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you tell us how this impacted on the activities of the project? How did you cope with it?

The Kick-Off meeting of the project was held in Rome January 31st, 2020. One month later, mobility across the entire world became severely limited which made it impossible to organize in-presence meetings within the Consortium for almost two years. Italy was particularly impacted by the pandemic, having imposed a lockdown from the beginning of March 2020. It was a very difficult period in which most organizations were not ready to face an evolving situation in which remote work was a key component. All administrative processes were delayed, and in many cases, essential services were also hard to access. This happened in a period in which we were recruiting researchers from all over the world (imagine working with administrative offices to obtain visas, deliver documents, sign contracts). All these processes had to be performed remotely, including bureaucratic procedures that were quickly rearranged and adapted to the new reality. It was an unprecedented situation and that posed a challenge even for the most optimistic, however thanks to the support of our administrative staff we managed the difficulties and mitigated the most serious disruptions. It was a success to have all the 14 ESRs regularly enrolled in February 2021, only one month later than planned.


Fourteen Early-Stage researchers were selected for this PhD Programme. Could you describe how the selection process of the Fellows was planned and took place?

The ESR positions were published on EURAXESS and by distributing the information via the contacts of the network. The announcements remained open for a minimum of one month. We received 258 applications from 32 countries all over the world. 14 selection commissions were constituted including the Supervisors of each Individual Research Project and the chair of the Ph.D. program in each school (in general between four and six members). One criterion, in conformity with the instructions of the EU “Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers”, was defined to select the candidates to interview. The process was based on the assignment of a score aimed to quantify the relevance of the candidate’ studies or other research/work experience, technical competences, and publications. It was decided to interview the candidates that ranked above a minimum score. At the end of the selection process, we succeed in selecting 14 highly qualified researchers.


Specifically about the Students, do you think that at the end of this Programme they will be able to pursue their career in either academic or industrial fields? Do you think that the Fellows will have a complete set of skills making them suitable for both areas?

Unfortunately, the pandemic limited the fellows’ opportunities to exchange ideas and experience on their research. Most of them were forced to work alone from home for long periods of time. Their activity began without close contact with their supervisor, which instead had to conducted remotely. They were very unlucky to begin such an important path of their research career interacting only via a computer. The original design to provide an international and multisectoral education became an environment that forced isolated them, and often at a significant distance from their families. Despite such difficulties they were able to create a strong network and to interact as a team, showing a surprising capability for resiliency. This is not only due to the innate flexibility of their younger generation compared to older ones but also is a confirmation of the value and quality of the group we had formed, which was in turn confirmed by the high quality of the work they managed to produce in such an unfavourable situation. What I have seen during the last technical meeting dispels any doubts about the capability of the researchers we are educating to make the difference both in the future academia and in industry.