“Bingo” and “Banana” for the Mid-term Meeting!
By Lara Lopez Escobar and Wing Hin Yip
One day, our network manager, Lara Hassan, sent us an email saying: “please book the day on the 24th of February as we will be having our virtual mid-term meeting on this day”. I was surprised for a moment because I did not realize how time flew. During the mid-term meeting the project officer from the European Commission (EC) will hear about our research projects and evaluate the progress of our network. When we read the email, we knew that we have to be prepared and present our research projects to the whole network (management board, PIs, all the ESRs, and the partners) in addition to the EC project officer. However, at this point, with few months ahead, we just highlighted the date in our calendar and went on with our research life. Slowly the day came closer and closer, and we started to prepare our talks to have them perfect for the mid-term.
Few days before the meeting, we practiced and went through our presentations again and again with our supervisors and lab groups. Lara was so kind to spend hours allowing us to rehearse the presentations with her and make sure we would have a smoothly flowing day for the mid-term. That actually made us realize how important this meeting was. The agitation started coming up.
Ding ding! The reminder popped up on my computer, and I knew that the time had come. On the 24th, some of us woke up very early being nervous about the meeting, while others were still sleeping peacefully. Before joining the meeting, we tried to share some tips to calm down and do a good job. One of the most unexpected tips was “eating a banana”! The moment we heard this phrase, we all somehow had this silent consent agreeing with it and started chewing bananas like monkeys, without questioning why and abandoning our scientific thinking completely.
At 9 am, we were ready in front of the laptops, wearing formal shirts on the top but slippers on the feet. One of us shared a “Zoom Bingo” trying to make the atmosphere less tensed. This Bingo consisted of different situations, drama and hiccup that could happen in a virtual meeting, for example:
- “you are muted!” (probably the most popular one)
- “Someone’s pet has just joined us”
- “Sorry, you go ahead”
- “Someone’s mic is not muted when it should be”
Thanks to the Bingo, we all entered the meeting relaxed with a big smile on our faces, looking very happy, or actually creepy for the project officer who was meeting us for the first time.
The mid-term meeting started with Dr. Sigurd Braun welcoming all of us, followed by short talks by all the 13 PIs of our network. Although we had heard the PIs talking about their research individually during our weekly lecture series, it was very interesting to listen to all of them connecting the networks 15 individual research projects together. Of course, hidden, the “Zoom Bingo” was still going on. Some boxes were checked already, like the most common Zoom phrases “Can you hear me?” or “Can everybody see my screen?” to which I think everyone can relate.
After this session, the project officer Dr. Laurence Marrama-Rakotoarivony introduced herself. She talked about Marie Curie’s action, explained the purpose of the meeting and what she expected from the network. Her talk was very informative for us as it provided us with information on how the grant is organised and with some new insights and details. We had a short break, afterward during which the nervousness level started to go up again. We were the next ones to present!
However, this anxiety just went away quickly as we all knew that everything was well-planned and rehearsed. Our presentations soon became a platform to share ideas with very interesting questions from everyone, even the project officer! I believe we were able to provoke her interest. We think that we did a good job (of course the same for all the participants) and now we could say that: yeah! eating a banana works (scientifically too, I guess)!
After finishing this most exciting part, we had a more relaxing private meeting with the project officer. She answered many of our questions that were mostly related to the duration of the PhD and the delays caused by COVID-19. Thanks to the excellent work from Lara Hassan and the management board, we were already aware of many topics related to our rights and duties, such as taking language classes, which most of us are doing. It was very nice to have the opportunity to talk to the project officer in a close session as she was very helpful and open with her answers.
Finally, one of the most important parts of the day: the feedback! At this point, we were not nervous because we were pretty sure the feedback would be very positive. We have always been impressed by the amazing organization of our network and its programme, starting from the support and supervision we receive as early-stage researchers to the learning and collaboration opportunities we gain for our research projects. Smiling, we heard Dr. Marrama-Rakotoarivony say all these things and gave some advice to polish this already well-organized program, highlighting that we are in a good direction.
It was a very long day for all of us, but even longer for the management board and the project officer because they had more to discuss afterward. We were tired but happy, looking at the Zoom Bingo and feeling the short moment of relief that everything went well. Suddenly, someone asked, “but… why is “Spotting a pet” crossed? Who had a pet?!”. The rest of us incredulously answered, “the project officer! Dr. Marrama-Rakotoarivony’s cat appeared on the screen! how could you miss it?!”
Well, someone did not win the Bingo after all.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant number 860675.