Septembre 2018 - Entretien avec Nikola Mijailovic

Logo InterFuture

Thème : Intéractions microbiennes et nouveaux concepts de biopesticides et biofertilisants

10 partenaires de France, Italie, Autriche, Royaume-Uni, Espagne, Belgique, Allemagne

11 jeunes chercheurs

Durée : 2016-2020

Plus d’informations sur le projet

Could you introduce yourself? (degree, professional experience)
Pourriez-vous vous présenter? (diplômes, parcours professionnel)

I didn’t always dream of working in agriculture. But there was a moment during my high school when I decided to listen to the advice of my grandad from the countryside and my neighbor – crop protection consultant and salesman. These two tailored the most exciting story about the profession which I was about to undertake describing anecdotes with farmers, sunrises over endless fields of corn and pleasures of working with something you can grip. Of course I am going to take their advice. For me it was cool being from the relatively fancy capital and still be involved in the muddy business like farming.

Photo de Nikola Mijailovic

I was accepted at the University of Belgrade’s four-year undergraduate studies in Crop Protection. Very soon it was clear to me that I made the best choice of my life. As I went deeper into the delicate art of agriculture, scientific aspects of it began to sound like a fairytale world to me, full of interesting organisms, big and small, and they all had their role to play in a very logical scenario of the farmland. Phytopathology that studies diseases of plants grabbed my attention from the very get-go and I decided that it was going to be my niche. In parallel to studies I took part in student organization AIESEC. There, in a team of nine students I organized a three-day seminar with a topic: “How to start your own business” for the students of Belgrade University. We brought a volunteer from Brazil to the project and that was the first time I met and exchanged experiences with someone from across the world. After that friendship all the horizons opened up. Too many ideas accumulated in my head which resulted in me catching a virus to travel the world. The obvious and the only way for me to do that was hand in hand with my plant diseases. I couldn’t anticipate that just several months later I would find a scholarship to go to Fargo, North Dakota in the USA to do a year as an exchange student

and work on a notorious Zebra Chip disease of potatoes. Americans know farming. They are one of the best in the world. There, I got a feeling about how the future of agriculture is going to look like. Concept of utilizing genomics on farms was too loud and clear for me to ignore it. After coming back to Serbia and graduating on one of the bacterial diseases of Calla (beautiful white flower) and working briefly at the Institute for Science Application in Agriculture in Belgrade, I found a way to continue learning about plant diseases – now through the prism of genomics. I enrolled at the University of Kiel’s MSc degree in AgriGenomics in Germany and won a fellowship to work on a very interesting and industry-oriented project involving corn, Arabidopsis (model organism for plant science research) and elicitors (special molecules derived from natural sources that are able to excite the plant immune system and make it more resistant to dangers in its environment). I took all my life experiences with me and I came to Reims, France where I am currently doing an industrial PhD, once more learning about plant diseases and realizing that this journey is actually just starting.

What do you do in INTERFUTURE? What is your role?
Que faites-vous dans INTERFUTURE? Quel est votre rôle?

The EU Directive 2009/128/EC of October 21, 2009 established a framework for Community Action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides. Since then they have been heavily promoting low pesticide-input management strategies including non-chemical methods. In parallel, several chemical active ingredients have been banned in the EU because of toxicity concerns and now as a result, growers are left with fewer tools to control pests and pathogens in their fields. What are left are alternative control methods, however, they have several limitations with efficiency being the major one. Several innovative ideas already exist out there but they haven’t found their way to the industry yet. Usually that is where the bottleneck is – what works very well in theory and controlled conditions fails to deliver in farming praxis, on the field. The concept behind INTERFUTURE EID is to explore these new approaches and bring them successfully to the market. Concretely my role on the project is to discover the Mode of Action of protein- and sugar-based biocontrol products on target and non-target microorganisms associated with grapevine and like that give my contribution to the development phase of these biologics. Professors Essaid Ait Barka and Aziz Aziz as well as all the colleagues from URCA RIBP department with Professor Christophe Clement as the department head are helping me in this endeavor. Prof. Michele Perazzolli from Fondazione Edmund Mach (project coordinator) is my co-supervisor in Italy and Dr. Andrea Nesler along with a complete team of our industrial partner Bi-PA (Biological Products for Agriculture) – sister company of Belchim Crop Protection in Londerzeel, Belgium, are waiting for me to come join them after the half-time is over.

How did you hear about the position and how did the recruitment process go?
Comment avez-vous pris connaissance du poste et comment s’est déroulé le recrutement ?

After the Master’s degree was completed I was looking for a job and I came across this vacancy on the Euraxess webpage. I think it was several days after the application deadline. Right away I sent a short email with my CV attached to professors Essaid Ait Barka and Aziz Aziz who were the INTERFUTURE contact point in Reims asking if I am not too late. Only the day after I received an encouraging answer to write up my motivation letter and fill in several documents with a promise that my application will be taken into consideration. I started to have a great feeling about the whole thing. Email communication was smooth and on point. I was also discovering that my preview research works and education was not only in line with the project goals but also with the topics the whole department in Reims was interested in. Soon after, everything was polished and ready to be sent over.

Great news followed as I got a reply that after a careful review of my qualifications I was invited for a Skype interview on the following day. Now all I have to do is put my best shirt on and shave thoroughly and everything is going to be alright, I thought to myself. On the get to know day, moments of my nervousness before the call got interrupted by a ring, followed by the background conversation of combined Arabic and French, which then culminated in a very friendly: “Hello Nikola!” The atmosphere during the talk was relaxed and interactive and after an energizing exchange we focused on my technical skills and intrinsic motivation to do a PhD. Essaid and Aziz wanted to know the details about the experiments and results of my Master’s thesis so my scientific thinking and ability to systematically and broadly present my topic had to be put to the test. It took us around one hour to wrap up the Skype meeting. After around one month I received an offer to join the team. Later on I will hear that competition was extremely tough and that I was selected among numerous excellent applicants from all over the world.

What are the advantages/difficulties of being part of an ITN project as a PhD student?
Quels sont les avantages et difficultés à faire partie d’un projet ITN en tant que doctorant ?

After a Phd I would like to work in an international, team-based industrial setting, however, being only in academia beforehand makes it hard to make a transition. Our mentors already have a huge task which is to guide us through the uncertainties of experimentation with their advice and bring us to that level where we can independently move forward with research. Their goal is to teach us to write a scientific paper and effectively and critically present results to an international audience. And finally to form us into a doctor that is capable of tackling a new topic in a different environment. Not too much space is left for learning about the market and getting a grip on those soft skills which are essential for current jobs in industry. That is where the concept of ITN comes in and that is in my opinion the brightest gem. Doing science and thinking about it every day is not easy because there are so many failures and only few successes. In order to go through it less painfully it is so nice to have a group of peers with whom you can share your ups and downs. INTERFUTURE has recruited 11 very talented young researchers and now I have a chance to meet them over and over again during the Summer and Winter Schools organized by the senior members of the project all over Europe. In less than two weeks our department in Reims will host such Summer School. Title is “Acquired and Induced Disease Resistance in Plants” and I am very much looking forward to its kick-off.