July 25, 2021

The exodus of investigative talent: is the ticket roundtrip? | Science

The exodus of investigative talent: is the ticket roundtrip? | Science

Recently the media have echoed that the current government is proposing a return plan for the emigrated Spaniards. Without knowing the details yet, the main groups of young (and not so young) Spanish researchers, both those of us who work in this and in other countries, have felt alluded to. There is no doubt that, in recent years, there has been a tendency to export a lot of talent but to import very little, as far as scientists and researchers are concerned. But why has it been like this? Furthermore, how can we restore the balance between the flow of researchers to leading international centers and the necessary (re) recruitment of talent?

To understand this, it is necessary to explain some inherent connotations to the research career, both in science and humanities. The first is that there is no first or second division. There is only one, enormously demanding and international. This job consists of making significant contributions, both in basic and applied research, to a specific area of ​​knowledge that knows no borders. The scale to evaluate the quality of these contributions is unique and universal, and is none other than that of the international scientific community. Therefore, given the lack of adequate means to achieve this goal in our country, many researchers have searched for more competitive places, which can only be accessed through extraordinary training. And in Spain, what we do not lack is, precisely, quality training. We have the "best prepared generation of young people in history", an affirmation for which there seems to be a surprising consensus so difficult to achieve in our country.

There we enter the second connotation of the researcher: to pass part of the research career in a prestigious center, usually abroad. International experience makes it possible to share knowledge, techniques and skills, all of which is essential to carry out cutting-edge research. The mobility of the research staff is therefore an almost mandatory training requirement and always highly recommendable. Researchers from all countries in our environment do so, although the difference is that the most scientifically advanced receive as much or more talent as they export.

Many researchers have searched for more competitive places, which can only be accessed through extraordinary training. And in Spain, what we do not lack is, precisely, quality training

However, this should not be an excuse to disguise as an international project or mobility an unsustainable lack of job opportunities, which is precisely what happens in Spain. As investments in universities and research fell, something exceptional compared to countries around us, many researchers who did not have opportunities to continue their research career in our country left a life behind and prepared the suitcases, which in addition to their personal belongings contained their lines of work, their inventions and patents, their international recognition and their networks of contacts. And Spain became, in a few years, a model antagonistic to the countries of our environment: we became a country clearly "donor" of talent and knowledge.

The investigators left and very few of them returned. Furthermore, researchers from other countries also stopped coming to work in Spain. Of course, we have continued to receive good scientists, mainly in those research centers that still enjoy a good state of health. It is also true that not all the young people have left and that a part of them has effectively returned. But the global computation has been skewed in a worrying way towards emigration. As a result of this "brain drain" has lost mature, productive and attractive talent that has taken root outside our borders.

The number of Spanish researchers in other countries has grown in such a way that associations of Spanish researchers have appeared in up to 15 countries. Since last July, these have been grouped under one umbrella, forming the Network of Associations of Spanish Researchers and Scientists Abroad (RAICEX), which already brings together more than 3,500 researchers, distributed on 4 continents. Many would like to return although others, faced with the professional opportunities found, have integrated into their destination countries and do not seek a return. However, there is something that each and every one of these research professionals have in common: the interest in transmitting and sharing with Spanish society and institutions the competences and knowledge acquired outside of Spain, in a global scientific and collaborative context. multilateral.

This objective is shared with the young researchers who, grouped in the Federation of Young Researchers (FJI-Precarios), are in different stages of their formative stage or taking the first steps of their independent research career in Spain. Since its foundation in 2000, the FJI has helped to achieve milestones for predoctoral researchers, for example, not being a fellow, but a salaried worker with a remuneration commensurate with their high specialization, right to pension and unemployment and the next approval of a statute that regulates their work activity.

Both RAICEX and FJI can contribute to the common objective of the state system of Science, Technology and Innovation: the progress of science in Spain. It is imperative to restore the export / import balance of researchers, which can be achieved with a few but important measures that we enunciate here, aimed at short, medium and long term actions:

1- Design, from the initial stages, a competitive research career within the scientific world, both academic and applied research, optimizing investment in R & D + i in accordance with education budgets and universities.

2 – Promote, co-finance and positively assess (in the evaluation criteria of the research career) international mobility, since it is an option that has been shown to be effective both to encourage the training of researchers and to combat inbreeding. Likewise, interterritorial mobility within the country and intersectorial between academia and industry should be favored. These multidirectional collaborations will form the basis for a path of free mobility, which captures and yields talent, attractive and stable.

3- The reinforcement proposed in training programs, internationalization and return, must be complemented with international talent recruitment.

4- Both routes have to culminate in objective and competitive evaluation processes aimed at creating stable and indefinite jobs, the only way to develop quality projects. The criteria and mechanisms to establish an independent, transparent and rigorous evaluation process of projects and positions, go to reinforce an already created but absolutely empty of functions. State Research Agency, which would have to be independent and managed by research professionals, following the models of other countries. We all have to demand that our leaders assume, as quickly as possible, the changes that our science system needs. Not only for our scientists, but for the progress of the country and our society. Union makes science.

Hugo Gutiérrez de Terán is a researcher and professor in Computational Biology at the University of Uppsala, and writes this article on behalf of the Network of Spanish Researchers Abroad (RAICEX), of which he is vice president.

Pablo Giménez Gómez He is a predoctoral researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, and writes this article on behalf of the Federation of Young Researchers-Precarious, of which he is president.


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