University of Coimbra will receive 5 million euros to reinforce scientific research

in cognitive neuroscience and the biomedical sciences

Two researchers from the University of Coimbra (UC), Jorge Almeida, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences (FPCEUC) and director of the Proaction Lab, and Paulo Oliveira, researcher and vice president of the Center for Neurosciences and Cell Biology (CNC -UC), won 5 million euros (about 2.5 million for each funded project) to enhance and optimize research at the University of Coimbra in the fields of cognitive neuroscience and biomedical sciences.

The funding will allow, over five years, to enhance these research areas at the UC. The projects are funded under the ERA Chair Actions, the European Commission’s funding mechanism that supports universities and research centers so that they can attract and retain qualified human resources and, at the same time, boost research excellence in their fields of action.

Jorge Almeida will coordinate the ERA Chair “CogBooster”, which has the central objective of «creating and sustaining an extremely strong research group in the area of Cognitive Neuroscience, which should also support the applied research currently carried out at FPCEUC, framing the innovation developed therein in a strong fundamental science. Cognitive Neuroscience is an area of basic science (i.e., not applied) that studies how cognitive, social, and emotional processes are implemented in the brain», explains the UC professor and researcher.

«Since the last decade of the last century, this has been one of the most central areas in the best Departments/Faculties of Psychology in Europe and the world. Specifically, at least 40% of the people in these departments are dedicated to research and teaching in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience. The percentage of professors and research community dedicated to this subject area in the Faculties of Psychology in Portugal is situated, on average, at 12%, this in a context with more than 80% of professors related to applied areas of Psychology, namely the area of mental health, which does not happen in Psychology departments or faculties that are a world reference», contextualizes Jorge Almeida. In this context, the ERA Chair “CogBooster” intends to «have a transformative effect in strengthening scientific research in Cognitive Neuroscience in Portugal, both at the academic and societal level, bringing it closer to the examples of the best psychology departments European and worldwide“, he adds.

This project will have as leader (the “ERA Chair Holder”) Alfonso Caramazza, professor at Harvard University, in the United States of America, «one of the most respected and cited researchers in the field of Psychology and Cognitive Science, who has published more than 450 articles and book chapters, having been awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, which has been contributing, in a central way, to the development of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, namely in the areas of psycholinguistics, semantic memory, mental representations and their organization in the brain, and in the study of patients with neuronal lesions», highlights Jorge Almeida. The “ERA Chair Holder” will lead the “CogBooster” project team and coordinate research and dissemination efforts, in order to strengthen the area of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Coimbra.

The research group will include current teachers and researchers from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the UC, namely Maria Paula Paixão, Leonor Pais, and Óscar Gonçalves, in addition to Jorge Almeida. In the future, it will allow the hiring of a large research and teaching team.

The “EXCELScIOR” project was also funded as an ERA Chair at the University of Coimbra. Coordinated by Paulo Oliveira, researcher and vice-president of the Center for Neurosciences and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra (CNC-UC), «aims to «leverage the scientific excellence and innovation potential of the University of Coimbra, starting with Biomedical Sciences , through the development of the science of science area (also known as meta-science or meta-research)», explains the coordinator.

«Meta-research is the scientific area that studies science itself, seeking to increase the quality of scientific research, while reducing the waste of resources in works that are not valid or that are not reproducible. The concept translates into the optimization of key elements of the scientific process, such as methods, reports, dissemination and reproducibility. Meta-science also involves optimizing the sharing of data and results, improving the use of methods (statistical, laboratory, computational and clinical), creating a research evaluation and reward culture aligned with reliable scientific production, and promoting Open Science», elucidates the UC researcher.

The “ERA Chair Holder” of this project is John Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford University, in the United States of America, «one of the world’s leading authorities on meta-research, being one of the most influential and cited researchers in the world», points out Paulo Oliveira. Also according to the researcher, «Professor Ioannidis will lead a world-class research group to be hired at the UC which, with the participation of various members of the UC community, will enhance the science of excellence and implement profound structural changes, from so that the institution achieves excellence in that area in a sustained way». The researcher also highlights the critical contribution of Elsa Henriques, coordinator of the CNC-UC project office, not only for the success of the proposal but in the future implementation of the project at the UC.

Paulo Oliveira adds that «it is also intended that this area will have an impact on the research carried out by other groups of the Associated Laboratory CIBB – Center for Innovative Biomedicine and Biotechnology, which integrates CNC-UC and iCBR, Coimbra Institute for Clinical Biomedical Research – reinforcing greater reproducibility and less bias in the implementation of experimental protocols. At the same time, open sharing of research data will be encouraged, so that research has a greater reach and impact on society».

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