Do you know what COST is? It’s a funding programme for connecting research and innovation communities in Europe. At UCLouvain, two researchers, Marthe Nyssens and Min Reuchamps currently benefit from it. In September 2019, the call for the next wave of funding opens! We met two former ‘COST Action’ coordinators, Liesbeth Degand and Claude Oestges, whose projects are (almost) completed. They shared their experiences.
Bringing together actors from across Europe (and sometimes beyond) several times a year to share, exchange and advance research on a topic is the ambitious aim of COST (European COoperation in Science and Technology). Five years ago Liesbeth Degand, a linguistics professor specialising in speech structure, began coordinating a COST Action. For her, COST is ‘European funding that promotes networking on a topic chosen by researchers.’ Claude Oestges, a Louvain School of Engineering professor interested in wireless and satellite communications, began coordinating a COST Action three and a half years ago. For him, COST is ‘an international network of experts, focused on Europe, whose goal is collaborative research.’
Initially, COST concerned the fields of science and technology. But gradually, since its creation in 1971, its fields of research have widened considerably. Concretely, a COST Action consists of several workshops and PhD courses per year over four years. Each registered member presents results of ongoing research. The participants aren’t limited to experts (PhD or postdoctoral): ‘COST Actions are open to young researchers’, Prof Oestges/Degand says. ‘This gives them the opportunity to meet people working on topics related to theirs, or even senior researchers at other universities. And this allows them to design missions abroad.’ In the same way, not all Action members are in academia, as in Prof. Oestges's Action: ‘In my action, there are major European universities, SMEs, large companies and private and public research centres’. More generally, as Prof. Degand adds, ‘There’s an explicit desire on the part of COST to have a balanced mix among the participants based on age, country and gender.’
The key word to remember is ‘network’. COST finances the network and collaboration but not each researcher or his or her research. ‘COST finances travel for researchers and meetings where members meet several times a year’, Prof. Degand explains. ‘For their part, researchers are funded by a university or their country’. Funding amount depends on the number of countries participating in the Action.
How do sentences work together?
Prof. Degand’s Action began in April 2014 and ended in April 2018. In total, some 100 theoretical linguists, computational linguists and psycholinguists from 26 different countries, studying more than 20 different languages, addressed a question: How is speech structured and what markers establish relationships from one sentence to another? ‘The Action was a success because the network worked very well and we made progress, challenging each other’s points of view’, she says. This has in fact resulted in the availability to the scientific community of data description protocols so that they can be collectively analysed without reinventing the wheel each time.
5G, then what?
For his part, since March 2016, Prof. Oestges has coordinated an Action gathering between 100 and 120 participants from 33 of the 34 COST countries. Called ‘Inclusive radio communication networks for 5G and beyond, the Action concerns study of all the wireless communications of tomorrow, including 5G, the Internet of things, mobile communications, autonomous car networks, telemedicine, etc. The Action ranges widely, from basic to applied research. And several challenges are on the agenda, such as latency (problematic in the case of autonomous car safety) and communication between several objects. The UCLouvain team participated in the development of a channel model (wave propagation modelling) used today by the entire community.
‘Selfless sharing of knowledge’
Both professors are very positive about their experience. Prof. Oestges says, ‘What’s great is that these meetings are voluntary because there’s not enough funding, for example to pay each trip. If people come, it's because they get a lot of knowledge.’ COST’s strength is pooling knowledge, equipment and data. He adds, ‘For young researchers, this kind of experience broadens horizons, because they can access material and data from European experts. However, in some countries the infrastructure is better than in others.’ For him, COST is mainly a network. ‘As a professor, promoter and researcher, COST collaboration allowed me to carry out research that I couldn’t have done alone. This is the beginning of a network that years of research will only expand.’ And not just any network: ‘There’s trust between participants because everyone shares their research. It's very selfless sharing of knowledge.’
Professional, academic and personal impact
Today, Prof. Degand can ‘without hesitation quote the name of almost all researchers working in Europe on speech relationships and markers. COST has therefore significantly expanded my network, even beyond my narrow area of expertise. This opens doors for other research projects.’ Moreover, the impact is not only professional but academic. ‘This kind of Action places UCLouvain on the map. COST attracts the world to Louvain-la-Neuve and has a real impact in terms of visiting researchers, for example. The PhD students I had at that time had an incredible chance to meet big names in the field, go to other research centres, and enjoy an international research context.’ More personally, she says, ‘Being part of such a network, with objectives set for each collective meeting, is a great motivator. Precise deadlines exert additional pressure to advance research.’
A new call for proposals until end of April
The end of a COST Action always gives rise to discoveries but sometimes also to a book. Prof. Oestges is currently working with his Action members on a book which will be published in April 2020. Prof. Degand continues to circulate information from her Action. The next call for proposals will be open until end of April 2020, and another one will open in autumn. If tempted to submit a new proposal or join an existing project, don’t hesitate to contact the UCLouvain' Research Department.
To participate in a COST Action, you must:
A glance at Liesbeth Degand's bio
Liesbeth Degand is a full professor of general and Dutch linguistics at UCLouvain, where she obtained her PhD in 1997. She has directed and participated in several international and national research projects in the fields of spoken and written discourse structure, grammaticalisation and intersubjectification, speech annotation, and fluency and disfluency markers. She led the COST Action TextLink (2014-18), which aimed to bring together work in functional, cognitive and computational linguistics on the discursive annotation of written and oral corpora in more than 20 languages. Her publications reflect her research interests, focusing on discourse annotation, spoken discourse segmentation, the semantics and pragmatics of speech markers and contrastive linguistics (corpus), with emphasis on the interface between discourse and grammar.
A glance at Claude Oestges' s bio
Claude Oestges earned a bachelor’s/master’s degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in applied sciences from UCLouvain in 1996 and 2000, respectively. From January to December 2001, he joined the Smart Antenna Research Group (Information Systems Laboratory) at Stanford University (California, USA) as a postdoctoral fellow. He participated in the development of multi-antenna channel models (MIMO). From October 2001 to September 2005, he was an FRS-FNRS postdoctoral fellow. From October 2005 to October 2018, he was an FRS-FNRS research associate and associate professor at UCLouvain. At the same time, he completed several short-term assignments at Stanford University and participated in COST Actions 273, 2100 and IC1004. Since 2018, he has been an ordinary professor at UCLouvain. His research focuses on wireless and satellite communications, particularly propagation channels and their impact on system performance. He is also chair of COST CA15104, known as IRACON.