September 25, 2020

“People out of 93 out of 100 are left out”


“When we go out complaining in the media, it is not for us. All the citizens are going to pay the consequences, this must be made very clear. When there is a vaccine [para la COVID-19], we will not arrive first. Not even the last ones. We will not arrive and we will have to spend billions to access it through pharmaceutical companies like Gilead. Which, on the other hand, has already announced that the entire Remdesivir [un fármaco para tratar la COVID] He is going to the United States and for what little remains he will have to fight. If we had opted years ago to have laboratories, research centers, an industry in short, we could produce it here in the form of a free or generic patent. But no. We will have to go through the box. ”

Pablo Giménez, president of the Federation of Young Researchers (FJI / Precarias), gives voice to the complaints of a sector that has exploded this week after the resolution of post-doctoral research grants is known [personas que ya han leído su tesis] granted by the Government through the Ministry of Science. “We are not investing, we are playing at being scientists.”

Giménez refers (and hundreds of researchers on social networks, where they have been demonstrating these days) to the resolution of the Ramón y Cajal, Juan de la Cierva (training and incorporation) and Torres Quevedo programs, the four main public aids to research that a scientist who already has a doctorate can request, published by the Government in the past day 6.

In total in this edition 828 grants have been awarded: 197 Ramón y Cajal, the most prestigious and best endowed that do provide stability, with 31,600 euros per year for five years; 225 Juan de la Cierva training (for those who start), with 21,500 euros per year for two years; Juan de la Cierva incorporation, with 25,000 euros for three years; and 181 Torres Quevedo, to work in companies that do R + D + i for three years and with a salary to negotiate with the company, of which the Ministry pays a part. All these grants have been frozen for several years, so there is a paradox that a predoctoral student with a public FPU or FPI contract, who has not yet read the thesis – unlike these postdocs – receives more than one in his last year that he is a doctor, because these programs have been updated.

“It is impossible to be happy. In this country it is not that you have to be excellent, it is that you have to be the best among the best to obtain a precarious contract,” said Giménez. The circumstance arises that precisely this Thursday the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, together with the Minister of Science, Pedro Duque, will come out to describe the Executive’s plan to promote science after the COVID-19 crisis. This young researcher has no faith in the president’s possible announcements. “Since I entered this world they tell us that ‘tomorrow’. We are a little tired of promises. Meanwhile, every day more young people are piling up abroad who want to return but cannot. We are in a limit situation.”

From the Ministry of Science, a spokesman assures that this Thursday there will be concrete measures and with funds behind to endure them. While waiting to know the measures, they explain from the FJI, for the moment the reality is that while in Spain 30 million euros have been granted to investigate COVID, in Germany 300 million have been given to only one laboratory.

“In Germany I would be leading a research group”

Meanwhile, the networks are full of cases of people who have rated their CV with more than 90 points out of 100, but have found it insufficient to get help. “All these people [que se ha quedado fuera] in Germany or the United Kingdom they would be leading research groups and here they are mileuristas or One thousand five hundred euristas. And for several years, “explains Giménez.

And when this is over, back to the wheel. To ask for other help, to cross your fingers very hard and to be granted it, because in Spain, in research, outside the public sector it is very cold. The result? People migrate and the training and investment that the State has made in them leave. Some calculations made by the FJI itself put the cost for Spain of training for a doctorate in Microbiology at around 150,000 euros.

And this year even that is more complicated. Countries have closed borders due to the coronavirus and with them the hopes of many researchers. The United States, one of the main exits for many of them along with Germany or the United Kingdom, does not grant J1 or H1 visas, linked to the investigation, at least until December.

In this situation of uncertainty regarding the future is Isabel Abánades Lázaro, 28 years old. This graduate in Chemistry emigrated without even trying in Spain when an Erasmus in Dublin opened her eyes regarding the facilities to doctorate and work abroad. She read her thesis in Scotland, she says, and she stayed for “a little stay” later. Since she had been out of Spain in recent years, she was able to request a European grant from Marie Curie, which was granted and earned her a place at the Institute of Molecular Science at the University of Valencia, where she is currently located.

But the Marie Curie is over and there is only the abyss ahead. “For most competitive grants the minimum of experience [como postdoctoral] It is two years and in many the maximum seven, so I am at the lower limit, it is complicated, “he explains.

Added to this uncertainty is the problem of deadlines. His current contract ends in May 2021. His plan is to request a Junior Leader grant from La Caixa, which is processed in October. The Juan de la Cierva help, which would be the other natural way out to stay in Spain, is requested in January, but the resolution does not come out until August and work begins in October. In the optimistic case that it were given to him, he would be unemployed from May to October.

What if they don’t grant you any? “Going abroad would be my plan B. Or trying to get a contract with a group leader who has financing, but they are usually scarce and six months or a year, they do not give you much independence or solvency,” he says. “Another option would be to be an associate professor, but you need to be accredited by ANECA and it is a lot of paperwork. And in Scotland I have given more than 100 hours of class! But I do not think they will accredit me,” he laments. And this option, being an associate professor, implies a salary of 300 or 600 euros per month, is the precariousness made teacher

The usual gender bias

Young researchers also regret that the resolution of state aid has a gender bias already common in science. To take one example, of the 197 Ramón y Cajal grants awarded, the male-female distribution is 60% -40%. By areas, the gap becomes more evident: with exceptions, in the most scientific there are hardly any women (3 of 16 selected in Biosciences, 5 of 17 in Physical Sciences), who are present in the humanities and social sciences (4 of 4 in Culture , 6 of 8 in Studies of the Past).

The data is what it is. In 2018 there were 59% of women preparing the thesis with a contract at the CSIC, a percentage that falls to 51% in postdoctoral programs. In the next step, the Ramón and Cajal, the proportion has already been reversed: 59% of men. From there, the curves are only separated more.

“There is a lot of sexism in the research and many experiences that are lived do not encourage to continue in the race”, Abánades explains his experience. “There are many hours of work, a lot of sacrifice, and if you have a family or want to raise it, the weight of childcare, etc. continues to fall on women. Less and less, but there is much uncertainty and many people who want stability end up considering moving to the industry [privada]”, Add.

In these circumstances the community awaits the announcements that the Government wishes to make tomorrow. With hope, but skepticism at the same time. “This has served to make us all aware of the seams that the system has,” says Giménez. “That we are unable to supply ourselves with products, that with a good scientific system and an industry we would not have lived through this drama as we have. Pedro Duque promises that it is time to reach 2% [la cifra considerada óptima para la I+D+i], but it is something that everyone carries in the electoral program. But this seems a bit like Catholics and heaven: everyone wants to get there, but the later, the better. ”

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