Charles BETZ

Senior Advisor - European R&D and Innovation Support, Luxinnovation

Researchers in Luxembourg have a good infrastructure, a critical mass in key areas, a great mix of cultures and young talents, as well as very good funding and political support [..]. So I believe the signs look very promising for the coming years.

 

I came back to Luxembourg in 2017 after 14 years abroad, having worked as a molecular biologist in Basel and Boston before. The forthcoming birth of my second daughter seemed like a good occasion to move closer to friends and family. My plan had always been to come back to Luxembourg eventually, and having such a narrow geographic destination did not leave a lot of options to pursue a classic academic career. I had two options on the table: switching to research support by joining Luxinnovation, the national innovation agency or continuing my work through a CORE Junior application for a project on a neurodegenerative disease model in zebrafish. Looking back after 5 years, I do not regret my choice (and the rejection of my grant helped in the decision process as well…).

I now live in the far west of Luxembourg and I have about 30 minutes of driving back roads (the ones with cows and the occasional tractor driving at 25 kmph) to reach our offices in Belval. I spend my free time growing fruits and vegetables in my garden or enjoying the outdoors with my family.

Luxinnovation is a public-private partnership and helps companies to become ready for the challenges of tomorrow. Our team is particular in that we support both private and public researchers. My main job is to support researchers based in Luxembourg to participate in European projects funded through the Horizon Europe programme. I am responsible to the Marie Curie programmes, ERC as well as the thematic calls from the health programme. While health/life science related projects are my main expertise, I do see a wild mix of other disciplines in the bottom-up programmes or Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and ERC, which makes my job quite exciting and sometimes confusing (yes I'm talking to you mathematicians…). We intervene in the entire life cycle of EU projects, helping applicants find the best opportunities, organizing trainings and workshops (for example for awareness raising), reviewing and commenting on proposals before they are submitted, as well as dealing with legal and financial questions. Another part of my job is the represent Luxembourg towards the European Commission in a number of committees on a number of issues, which is, for the most part, less boring than it sounds. Outside of European funding, I also coordinate projects related to the agrifood sector between the different Luxinnovation teams, bridging companies, producers, policy makers and research. Besides this, I serve on the CNER, the national ethics committee for clinical research.

What do you like most about your job?

I'm in close contact with a lot of cutting-edge research from different disciplines. I like helping others along their career path and even though the research excellence in the proposals I review comes from the scientists, there are many more elements to a successful proposal (unfortunately) than an excellent research question, and if I can play a tiny role in increasing the quality of a proposal and having a positive impact on the researcher's career, I'm happy.

What does a typical day look for you?

There is no typical day and that's what I like. There are some things about my job that I can control (which events to organize, which initiatives to launch, whom to contact etc) but there are just as many requests from our clients that come to me in a very unpredictable manner. Before Covid (BC I guess), we were doing a lot of traveling as well, mostly to committees in Brussels with the European Commission, but also around Europe to other similar NCP (National Contact Point) organisations, and so that had its charm too. Certainly better than technical glitches of Webex et al.

What makes doing research in Luxembourg special?

Many things. Research culture is not so deep rooted in our society and comparably young. My previous university recently celebrated it's 560th anniversary. I think right now, research in Luxembourg is at a stage of consolidation, having successfully passed the first dynamic and maybe hectic years of puberty if I can borrow the analogy. While it has not yet become an integral part of everyday life, I think the ongoing pandemic as well other challenges (climate change, economic crises…) have demonstrated the importance of science to policy making and Luxembourgish citizens. Researchers in Luxembourg have a good infrastructure, a critical mass in key areas, a great mix of cultures and young talents, as well as very good funding and political support (although I'm sure some people will disagree). So I believe the signs look very promising for the coming years.

Which is your favorite place in Luxembourg?

I have many favorite places depending on season, weather, company and mood. I very much enjoy the Éisleck and the Stau (Lac de la Haute-Sûre) for relaxing, but there are many great spots for hiking and visiting. Just ask your Luxembourgish colleagues to take you on a trip next time…

What would you miss most when leaving Luxembourg?

Friends and family; Kënnbak an Träipen

What’s your advice for a newcomer to Luxembourg?

Try to join some local social clubs (music, sports, nature etc) and be active in local initiatives from your commune. It might require some courage and it might take some getting used to, but both sides will very much benefit from that effort. Luxembourgish people (outside academia at least) can be sometimes hard to getting to really know, but I believe (hope?) that in the end, it will be worth it. I've witnessed the change of our society during the last 30 years, and we owe a great deal of that development to the inflow of new talent and new ideas, so make sure to share them with the people around you.

What are your key objectives in your work?

  • Increase participation in Horizon Europe programme

  • Increase success rates of that participation

  • Foster new collaborations (cross-sectoral or (inter)national)

What is your favourite thing to do in Luxembourg?

Traveling abroad. Also: enjoying the outdoors, cooking, photography, gardening

Which 3 adjectives would you use to describe Luxembourg?

  • Dynamic

  • Reliable

  • Diverse

What was the most rewarding experience in your job so far?

I got a box of chocolates ones. But in all seriousness, seeing the impact that you can have in particular on young researchers that are in a position that I've been in not so long ago. Some of them will fail in obtaining the funding they were looking for, but for most, I hope, the learning experience has been a valuable lesson that will be applied to other challenges.