Vernesa Smolčić

I’m an astrophysicist and full professor at the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb in Croatia, and I own a small business called VS CREATIVE, dedicated to creative services. Although my main area of work are galaxies in the universe, I am interested in much more than this: science funding, team and project leadership, science communication, writing, publishing, developing websites, educational material and blogging.

Science and I

Already during my physics studies at the Faculty of Science in Zagreb, I gained my first international scientific experience (at the Observatory of Vienna, Princeton University, and the Vatican Summer School). I received my PhD in Heidelberg, Germany, from the Ruperto-Carola University, conducting my PhD reseach at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). I then took-up a CARMA Postdoctoral Scholar fellowship at the California Institute of Technology in the USA and then an ESO ALMA COFUND Fellowship in Germany (at the Argelander Institute of Astronomy in Bonn and the European Southern Observatory in Garching near Munich). After almost ten years of worldwide research, I returned to Croatia in 2013 as an assistant professor at the Department of Physics at the Faculty of Science, where I have been a full professor since 2019. Since returning to Croatia, I have continued my international collaborations with colleagues from all over the world, and I conducted several longer stays at numerous universities and institutions in Australia.

One of my greatest scientific achievements has been obtaining and running a Starting Grant project, funded by the European Research Council, worth one and a half million euros over five and a half years (from 2014 to 2019). Obtaining this prestigious funding was a great challenge for me, and the implementation of this project in Croatia an even greater one. With such a large project successfully lead, today I am happy to share my experience with scientists who are considering applying for this type of funding and to help them to write successful science funding applications.

Science Funding

Science and project management have much in common - from designing projects through the steps needed to conduct them, to their successful realization via good project and team management. Nowadays, obtaining funding for science projects is becoming increasingly difficult and it requires additional skills that (unfortunately) are very often expected to be learned by scientists “along the way”.

From the early days of my career, I worked on furthering my application writing skills. In the basis of my research field, observational astronomy, is data which we collect from the world's best telescopes. And in order to get this data, we have to compete for telescope time (the success rate often being only 10%). In my career so-far I have successfully obtained more than a thousand hours of time on various (radio) telescopes and more than 1.8 million euros in international science funding.

From the beginning of my scientific career, I have tried to further my knowledge in soft-skills, such as scientific presentations, scientific communication, project and team leadership, and time and conflict management. All these skills are necessary for successful applications for scientific funding, successful oral presentations of the proposed project, and successful management of the project and team (in case funding is awarded). The education I gained through various workshops on these topics (especially through the Bosch Fast Track program) immensely helped me in my career, as well as successful implementation of my own EU projects (the ERC Starting Grant worth 1.5 million euros and the Marie Curie Career Integration Grant in value of 100 thousand euros).

Unfortunately, the standard educational path of today's scientists is in many places often lacking in soft-skill education programs, and even the scientific community itself is often unaware of how important these are for obtaining scientific funding and successfully carrying out scientific projects. With my experience, my goal is to help fill this educational gap.

Science Communication

Bringing science closer to the public is immensely important. In the last decade I spent a lot of time researching this topic and improving my communication skills. I very much enjoy the process of breaking-down a complex topic into simple terms so that even a seven-year-old can understand it. I get even happier when visuals, such as animations and images, are added to the explanation :) . 



I’m interested in website development for a few decades already (when I first attended courses on html and PHP). I devoted myself to this passion again in the last years as I had way to many ideas on how to improve and what to add to my Croatian astronomy blog called Astroučionica (Astroclassroom in translation). There was not enough financing to implement all of this ideas by outsourcing them, so I did it myself. This reminded me how much I enjoy building websites (in Wordpress), so building them for other people even became part of my services offered.

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