The nightmare of requesting a public contract to investigate in Spain

The nightmare of requesting a public contract to investigate in Spain

About 25 hours, with a little time to sleep in between, it took María to register her application for the call for Ramón y Cajal contracts offered by the Spanish State Research Agency. Jose spent a whole night awake and couldn't even finish. He calculates that in total he has spent 17 hours on the task. Mari Luz dedicated four days to it, including a whole weekend from dawn to dusk. And then, as a tip, the system crashed on the last day, to the despair of many applicants.

The researchers are fed up. The system for applying for calls for public aid or contracts to investigate is a bureaucratic nightmare, they explain, that takes away tens (hundreds?) of hours a year of their free time. The problem, explains Jose Brox, from the Federation of Young Precarious Researchers, is that there is neither a centralized system that brings together all the public calls nor a unified way of introducing the curriculum and the merits in the applications. "You have the calls from the Ministry, the universities, the public research organizations, any group that has a research project and money to hire...", he enumerates.

And each one with its own formats or requirements to submit applications, adds Mari Luz Gurrea, postdoctoral researcher at the Andalusian Government, so the calls must be filled out by hand each time. The fonts, the line spacing, the length of the CVs are detailed... "For each call you have to make a different plan, a specific CV, an adapted memory... It consumes a lot of free time, because my work does not stop to that I throw Ramón y Cajal, they don't give me two days," he says. And hence the sleepless nights or lost weekends.

And this when everything works fine. It doesn't always happen. Furthermore, it is relatively common for applications to give errors or become saturated because researchers tend to rush the deadlines of the calls. It just happened this past week with the the Ramón y Cajal contracts, among the most prestigious (and best endowed) offered by the Ministry of Science. On Tuesday morning, a few hours before the deadline at 2:00 p.m., the website stopped working and did not register the requests.

"You are in the last step, at the moment of signing and sending, and an error occurs," Brox tells of his experience. "Imagine the stress you go through as the two of you get closer. The next call isn't out for a year and your life hangs in the balance. You could lose a whole year, or it could be your last chance to introduce yourself because you're the term passes [porque las ayudas públicas normalmente se pueden pedir durante x años después de haberse doctorado, según las convocatorias]", Explain.

María (prefers not to identify herself) was getting an error with the digital certificate and was not letting her register her request either. It was Monday, the deadline was dwindling, and her anxiety was growing. With no room for maneuver, the only administration office she found with appointments in time to resolve the problem with the certificate was 540 kilometers from her home. She signed up to go. "In the end the stars aligned and I got it resolved and signed on Monday night," she says. The price to pay was losing all of Monday's work and compromising Tuesday's, which depended in part on what he did on Monday.

Situations like these, say those affected, occur regularly. In the case of the Ramón y Cajal contracts, the State Research Agency reacted well, the applicants value, and extended the term two days after correcting the error on the website. But, beyond specific failures, the problem is structural, the researchers maintain, because there is no common system.

"There should be a database in which the merits are registered, they stay there and when there is a call they can consult them directly," reflects Mari Luz Cádiz. "I understand that the memories [específicas para cada convocatoria] you have to do them every time, but what about the curriculum? Why do you have to put it in every time?

Because in fact there is a system that would become a universal format, the so-called Normalized Curriculum Vitae (CVN), that can be uploaded to a ministry website. But then it was not quite operational, according to the researchers. "It's a bummer. Although it allows you to fill out the resume and the day you need it, get it out of there, it's too rigid," explains Brox. "And if I do a CVN I get, literally, 90 pages."

And that is not operational because the calls normally ask for a reduced version. CVN allows you to pull out a shortened version (CVA), "but how the tool does it is debatable," says Brox. Cádiz Gurrea has problems every time he tries to download it: "What's the use of having platforms like this?"

In addition, the process must be carried out for each call. And it is very common in the sector to present several calls each year. Mari Luz calculates that in three years she will have done "about 30 different things between university places, scholarships, public and private, regional, national and international contracts. I wouldn't even know how to count the hours. And that I'm pretty good at computing , but if you fight on top... it doesn't make any sense". Brox not so many because he has a clear objective for personal reasons that passes through Valladolid, but even so he has four or five a year in the last two years.

In this call for Ramón y Cajal grants, a researcher explained that the curriculum had to be uploaded in four formats: summary for CVA, developed trajectory, trajectory summary, and another summary for online app. "This has involved, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of hours of academics/researchers dedicated to 'ene'plying CV formats for each call," he predicts. Some calls ask for the curriculum in a format, some can admit the CVA, others do not.

And the operation must be repeated very often because the few chances of success that each applicant has due to the low supply and high demand. "The same goes for one in ten," Brox and Cádiz Gurrea calculate. María explains that precisely for this "in research you have to have at least three plans about how you will get a salary." This year, for example, Science eliminated the Juan de la Cierva Incorporation contracts (an intermediate step between the Juan de la Cierva Training, for postdoctoral researchers inexperienced, and the Ramón y Cajal, for senior researchers) and replaced them with more Ramón y Cajal contracts, but this movement left many researchers without real aspirations, who would find themselves competing with others with much more experience. Finally, the ministry reserved places for the juniors, but even so "not everyone has been able to transit and some people have been left hanging without being able to request anything," says María. You have to have a plan b.

This researcher also reports that all the stress of filling out calls has a cost for the closest environment. His journey with the Ramón y Cajals was also suffered by his partner. "He lived 24 hours of heart attack because of me (he also works from home). He was supporting me in every step, trying to help me when the programs were not working for me, helping me with ideas about what steps to follow.... and, above all, he took care of family while I was running from one place to another. I have friends who wrote to me on Monday night desperate while trying to sign the document, the program gave them errors, and they were alone with their three children, "he says.

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