Extra Mozaïek grant awards promote diversity in several areas

The Mozaïek laureates at the Faculty of Science are conducting the research that they have been preparing for over the past few years. They are able to do that because they and their supervisors helmed their own grant applications. A conversation with the three Mozaïek laureates who started their PhD research in autumn 2022.

The Mozaïek grant was created specifically to alleviate the underrepresentation of university researchers from migrant backgrounds. The research proposals submitted by Moska Hellamand, Isabela Pombo Geertsma and Shahin Nazar Kermanshahi received good evaluations, which made them eligible for grants, but their applications were not approved for financial reasons. Fortunately, what NWO could not finance was made possible within Utrecht University on the initiative of the EDI Steering Committee. With the funding, UU helps correct the underrepresentation of graduates from migrant backgrounds.

Different backgrounds

Moska, Isabela and Shahin each come from different fields, and learned about the Mozaïek call from their PhD supervisors. They became acquainted during the interview workshop that UU organised to prepare the applicants for their interviews. Isabela: “We had an instant click, so we kept in contact. We’ve spoken regularly since we started on our research. Each of us comes from a very different background: I’m a biologist, and fascinated by the use of plants, but I’ve noticed that we’ve been able to help one another in our different fields too.” Moska agrees: “I really enjoyed staying in touch, because we can support one another during the PhD track. I also like the fact that we each brought different kinds of work experience to our PhD. I worked at a non-profit organisation, where I learned a lot before I started on my PhD.” Shahin: “We’re in the same phase of our academic careers, so we can support one another. Before this, I worked at a tech company, where I also saw that a diverse team can support you in all kind of work-related challenges.”

If I hadn’t received the Mozaïek grant, I wouldn’t be working here now.

Different paths

The Mozaïek grant presented the three researchers with an opportunity to start on their PhD research in 2022. The paths leading to that moment were different for each one, just like their work experience. Moska explains: “I spent three and a half years studying what the pharmaceutical industry is doing to improve accessibility to medication in poor countries.  I did research on that from the policy perspective during my Master’s internship, and I wanted to continue with it. There weren’t any PhD positions available on that topic within the department, but then I heard about the Mozaïek call. So my team and I wrote and submitted a research proposal in follow-up to my Master’s internship. That way, I could organise the research according to my own preferences, for example by doing part of my research abroad. If I hadn’t received the Mozaïek grant, I wouldn’t be working here now.”

Isabela knew from a young age that she wanted to do research, and she’d already written her research questions. “After I got my degree in Biology at the UvA, I wanted to continue in the field of Ethnobiology; the relationship between humans and plants. I’d already studied the medicinal and ritual plants from Brazil during my Master’s thesis. After that, I wanted to know why certain plants were associated with witchcraft in Western Europe. My supervisor was enthusiastic, and I kept working on it in addition to a part-time job at the Botanic Gardens here in Utrecht. When I started the Mozaïek grant application process, I had the opportunity to elaborate the proposal with their support, which was wonderful. After all that hard work, I’m overjoyed that the grant was honoured.”

Shahin: “I did a lot of different things before, and I’m the type of person who’s fascinated by everything. I’d spent a year working full-time in America, and I came across a lot of ethical dilemmas that really bothered me, so I needed some guidelines for understanding them better. That’s when I learned about the Master’s in History and Philosophy of Science, where I can continue to develop, both personally and professionally. After working as a researcher for a year, I decided to study the relationship between climate change and radicalisation, so I dived into the application process. What do all those things have in common? I’m an activist at heart.”

Bound by independence

What makes the grant so unique is the degree of freedom it offers in choosing a subject of research. Shahin explains: “One big advantage of the Mozaïek grant is that it gives us the independence to research something we find interesting. That creates more diversity in the topics of research at the university, instead of the scientific agendas that might not completely tie in to the researcher’s personal preferences.” Isabela and Moska nod in agreement.
Isabela shares her experiences: “Since my PhD supervisor and my day-to-day supervisor both work at Naturalis, I have to figure out a lot of things for myself, although I also receive a lot of help from people in my research group and GSLS.” Moska adds: “We also took the initiative to form our own network with all of the Mozaïek grant recipients at Utrecht University. What ties us together is that we’re in the same phase of our PhD research. EDI is also always there for us to answer questions, but there, too, we’re in the driver’s seat.”
Shahin: “And of course, we receive guidance in our own fields. I’ve been working with my supervisor for a while now, and we know what to expect from one another and how we can complement each other.”

Mozaïek 2.0

Mozaïek 2.0 is a PhD scholarship programme by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), which focuses on graduates with migration backgrounds from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central- and South America and Turkey. This group is underrepresented among academic staff in the Netherlands.

UU policy 2022

The applications by the two PhDs in Utrecht were honoured this year. In the Netherlands, 13 grants were awarded among a total of 118 applicants, of which 43 went on to the second round. At the initiative of the EDI Steering Committee, Utrecht University made an additional budget available for an extra five grants to PhDs from within the university. That made it possible to honour all of the applications from Utrecht.

Faculty policy 2023

NWO published a new Mozaïek call in December 2022. In January 2023, the board of the Faculty of Science decided to offer extra support, just like the previous call. The faculty has also set aside a budget for editing the applications. If necessary, there is also a budget for temporary gap appointments. In addition, the faculty board has decided to offer funding for two candidates who have been evaluated as eligible for grants by NWO, but who did not receive NWO funding for financial reasons.