Three GMI scientists awarded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships

A hat-trick for the GMI: three scientists at the GMI have been awarded the European Commission’s highly competitive Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2024. The fellowships will support their research projects and welcome the postdocs into a network of young researchers with high potential.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship program has selected Vicky Spencer (from the lab of Liam Dolan), Chung Hyun Cho (from the lab of Frédéric Berger) and Varsha Mathur (visiting scientist in the lab of Magnus Nordborg) for one of the program’s highly competitive European postdoctoral fellowships. All three scientists joined the GMI recently.  

Before joining the GMI, Vicky Spencer did a PhD at the University of Manchester and a postdoc at the University of Bristol, where she investigated the regulation of branching, a crucial process in the formation of the plant body. Her future project at the GMI will delve deeper into the process of branching. “I am interested in how plants establish their complex branching architectures” Spencer explains. This process depends on a population of stem cells within the meristem, which give rise to the three-dimensional structure of the plant. “I will use the plant model Marchantia polymorpha to investigate how these multicellular meristems are regulated and how they are formed de novo from a single cell,” Spencer adds. 

Chung Hyun Cho joined the GMI right after completing his PhD at Sungkyunkwan University, in South Korea. During his PhD, he studied how red algae adapted to extreme environments. His research got him interested in the role of chromatin during the evolution of red algae. “The main goal of my project at the GMI is to understand how chromatin can impact the evolution of eukaryotes in different environments. I will use extremophilic red algae as a model to understand the basic mechanisms involved, and I hope to apply what I discover to unravel the fundamental role of chromatin in eukaryotic evolution,” he commented. 

Varsha Mathur did her PhD at the University of British Columbia and joined the GMI as a visiting scientist from the University of Oxford, where she studied the function and evolution of marine parasites. Research in this field is limited by the difficulty of isolating and culturing marine parasites in the lab. “My project aims to develop a new model system to study plankton-parasite relationships,” Mathur explains. “I will develop methods and techniques like the RNA sequencing-based single-cell atlas, which are already established in other animal and plant model organisms but have never been used to understand host-parasite interactions,” Mathur explains. For her new project, Mathur will join the University of Vienna and continue to collaborate with the GMI. 

The three scientists are excited by the possibilities offered by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. “The Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship provides us with the freedom to build our own research ideas and establish an independent research project that can answer new questions,” says Varsha Mathur. 

We have the opportunity to establish ambitious projects on topics that nobody has studied before,” contributes Chung Hyun Cho. “The fellowship allows us to pursue groundbreaking research that would not have been supported otherwise.” 

The fellowship includes a generous travel budget that will allow the scientists to present their research at international conferences. “This will be key to showcase our projects and network with other scientists in our respective fields,” Vicky Spencer explains.  

In addition to funding, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship will connect awarded scientists through yearly meetings and training opportunities. “It will be great to have a network of people that are going through the same experiences, to help each other through this exciting new stage of our career,” adds Spencer. 


The GMI fosters research excellence 

The three scientists also commented on how joining the GMI has impacted their scientific careers and helped them receive this funding. 

I really enjoy the remarkable environment at the GMI and the whole Vienna BioCenter, because regardless of the different research fields, there’s a lot of collaboration and support between scientists,” says Cho. “The feedback from peers at the GMI was essential to design a robust project that would be successful in the highly competitive selection process for this fellowship.” 

On top of the collaboration aspect, the GMI provides a great network of more experienced scientists willing to mentor you and support your career development,” says Spencer.  

Joining the GMI has also provided the three fellowship recipients with new opportunities to perform research they would have otherwise thought impossible: 

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” says Spencer. “As a scientist, I feel like I am provided with everything I could ever need for my research.”  

The level of support that scientists receive here is incredible,” comments Mathur. The facilities shared with IMBA, IMP and the rest of the Vienna BioCenter provide state-of-the-art services and expert advice that are not available elsewhere. “This allows scientists to forget about the more technical aspects of research and focus on the questions they are trying to answer,” Mathur adds. 

An especially important aspect is that, in general, fundamental plant research often lacks funding and access to cutting-edge technology. “The resources and funding available at the GMI allow us to perform a level of science that is incredibly rare in our field,” explains Spencer. 


About the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship 

The European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship Program awards 2-year postdoctoral fellowships to outstanding scientists working in research institutions in EU member states, to support their careers and foster excellence in research. 

The selection process evaluates the applicant's achievements and the scientific quality of the project and the host laboratory. The process is highly competitive, with less than 15 percent of applicants receiving a fellowship. On top of a monthly stipend, the fellowship provides research and travel allowances, and the program organizes a yearly meeting.  


Further reading

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships

The Vienna International Postdoctoral Program (VIP2)