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QUSTEC: international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral doctoral programme in Quantum Science and Technologies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - QUSTEC (QUSTEC: international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral doctoral programme in Quantum Science and Technologies)

Reporting period: 2019-05-15 to 2021-05-14

The main objective of the cross-border doctoral programme QUSTEC (Quantum Science and Technologies at the European Campus) is to train the cohort of doctoral researchers in the international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral setting. QUSTEC aims at closing the gap in the increasing need for a highly trained workforce in the emerging European QST domain. This will be achieved by combining the fundamental research training with exposure to the industrial sector and comprehensive transferrable skills training.

The coordinator of the programme is EGTC Eucor – The European Campus, and PhD projects are implemented at the partner organisations: University of Basel (Switzerland), University of Freiburg (Germany), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) and University of Strasbourg (France) – all four are members of Eucor – as well as Walther-Meißner-Institut (Germany) and IBM Research Europe (Switzerland).

The QUSTEC programme identified four Grand Challenges situated at the forefront of modern quantum science and technology: (I) Understanding decoherence, (II) Engineering better qubits, (III) Enabling technologies, (IV) Emergent quantum matter. The research training offer was developed to tackle those scientific challenges.

The QUSTEC programme is fully committed to promoting the careers of women in the QST field, QUSTEC hosts 10 female PhD candidates out of 37.
We are also committed to respecting the EC policies regarding Ethics, Research Integrity and Open Science.

The QUSTEC programme follows the best practices of the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Actions in terms of providing innovative doctoral training. The PhD candidates will be prepared to enter the academic research careers, and also be ready to enter the industrial domain, to pursue the research entrepreneurship endeavour or to join the policymaking domain.
All activities in the programme are developing along the following axes:
- Calls for applications and the recruitment stage (completed),
- Implementation of the training programme,
- Networking and stakeholder engagement.

The recruitment process was organised over three calls for applications (D2.1 D3.1). The applications were open to Master holders of all ages and nationalities. 37 PhD candidates joined the programme between 1st January 2020 and 1st June 2021.

Independent evaluators were engaged at each step of the selection process, who were provided with all the necessary guidelines, an explanation of the QUSTEC evaluation process and the scoring system, and were briefed about the potential conflicts of interests and the possibility of unconscious biases like gender or nationality.

As for the candidates, they have received the full information via the programme's website and the Guide for applicants. The helpdesk via email and phone was also available for the duration of the calls and during the whole evaluation and recruitment process.

The implementation of the training programme starts with the researcher’s recruitment and follows the individual 4-years timeline. Each PhD project is overseen by the Individual Training Panel (ITP), each ESR sets up a Personal Career Development Plan (PCDP), which serves as a background document for setting the individual research and training goal, and for following the progress. The PCDP is validated by the ITP and regularly updated (at least once a year). In addition to supervision by the ITP and by hosting lab members, the fellows have an opportunity to seek the advice of the QUSTEC Training managers, Prof. Shannon Whitlock and Prof. Tobias Schätz.
The training programme at QUSTEC is multi-layered with a 3-tiered structure. It consists of the primary training in the hosting research team from the nurturing phase to scientific independence over four years. The second tier represents the core training offer at the QUSTEC programme, including scientific and transferable skills training (TST). The third tier is focused on the intersectoral and cross-border exchanges in the form of secondments, short-term visits, and collaborative projects.

As for the core training offer, the Kick-Start virtual meeting was organised in June 2020, and one additional RDM training in February 2021. All details on the training activities can be found in part B of the report.

The network activities play a very important role in the cohesion of such an extended and interdisciplinary programme, especially during the challenging period of the COVID19 epidemics. The ESRs were provided with means for regular exchanges and communication, such as a mailing list, instant messaging platform, the bi-weekly coffee breaks are organised, which fellows and PhD supervisors can join according to their availability.
The first General Assembly of ESRs was organised in January 2021, and the ESR representatives from each partner organisation were selected. ESRs take an active role in the development of the training.

Except for the networking between senior and junior researchers in the QUSTEC programme, its cross-border setting and alignment with core activities of Eucor provides ample opportunity for synchronisation of the partner organisation policies regarding doctoral training. Notably, a series of meetings were organised between the representatives of the graduate schools and the Eucor office, as well as between the Research Data services.
The main expected impact of the QUSTEC programme is enhancing the future career prospects of researchers in the emerging QST field and strengthening human resources, in particular, in the Upper-Rhine region.
The second impact relates to the COFUND setting and consists of transferring the best practices of the MSCA programme to the local graduate school programmes, et vice versa. In this respect, the bottom-up and top-down approaches are combined.

The impact achieved through the implementation of the QUSTEC initial phase, mostly concerns the visibility of the emerging quantum sciences hub in the Upper Rhine region, since QST is one of four focus areas that have been defined by the presidencies of the Eucor member universities. The goal is to attract highly qualified ESRs from all over the world to the tri-national Upper Rhine Valley Area.

Furthermore, the QUSTEC programme contributes to intensifying the institutional cooperation in various fields that are relevant for innovative doctoral training, like providing Open Access to science and research data, conducting ethically responsible research, providing equal opportunities, promoting gender balance, and improving outreach to society.

Regarding its European and international impact, the programme was advertised on multiple occasions (see part B and D3.1) and contributed to the attractivity of the European Research and HEA. The calls for application had indeed wide international outreach thanks to our dissemination efforts, the international networks of the partner research teams and thanks to resources provided by the European Commission (e.g. EURAXESS platform and platform). On the European level, the QUSTEC programme has become a role model for the alliances that have been created in the European universities initiative of the EU, since some of these newly created alliances also seek to establish such joint doctoral programmes to be managed by a joint legal entity.
ESR Daria Sostina in the lab setting