I like traveling, especially when it is for work. And if the destination is my country of birth (Spain), then so much the better. This is precisely what I did last week. I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and visit and give talks at two research institutes.
The first one was the Institute of Medicinal Chemistry (IQM), part of the Spanish National Research Council (or CSIC, by its Spanish acronym). Based in Madrid, CSIC is the largest public institution dedicated to research in Spain and the third largest in Europe. It was founded in 1939and has over 11,000 employees working in more than 130 institutes across the country. These institutes cover many scientific and technical areas, including food science and technology, natural resources, biology and biomedical sciences, chemical and materials sciences, and more. IQM, in particular, focuses on identifying new drug leads and novel drug targets.
The second institute I visited was the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) in Tarragona. Unlike IQM, ICIQ is a completely independent organization and started its research activities only in 2004. Today, research at ICIQ focuses on catalysis and renewable energy. At IQM, I gave a talk that covered a few things, but the most engaging part for the audience was about publishing. The audience, which included academics of different ages and positions within the hierarchy of the organization, commented on how they are increasingly feeling the pressure to “publish or perish.” This is not a new phenomenon, but we hear of it more and more often. The pressure to publish, combined with an increasing administrative burden, is now crushing academic chemists at all levels, and not just in Spain.
The Spanish academics I spoke with were also concerned about open access. Of course, they understand and are supportive of the idea that publicly funded research should be publicly available. Their question was: Who is going to pay for it? In the traditional model, authors can publish for free, but in an open-access world, the researcher would pay a publication fee that might vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the journal. Spain’s academics agree that funding agencies must cover the costs, but given how difficult it is for many to secure funding sustainably and the pressure to publish more, they see the expectation to publish in open-access publications—at least as it stands right now—as unrealistic.
I was honored to receive a gold pin from María del Carmen de la Torre of the Institute of General Organic Chemistry, also part of CSIC, on behalf of the Spanish Royal Society of Chemistry. Society leaders also handed me a special issue of the society’s magazine, Anales de Química, which contains essays in Spanish about each element in the periodic table. The notable Spanish scientists who contributed to the collection include Pilar Goya, a principal investigator at IQM, current president of EuChemS—the European Chemical Society—and one of my hosts on the day.
At ICIQ, I attended the institute’s PhD Day, an event that is now in its third edition and offers learning and networking opportunities for ICIQ PhD students. It features invited talks on topics such as communication and technology transfer as well as a series of flash presentations and poster sessions. As always, it was a pleasure to interact with students and early-career researchers and soak in a bit of their energy and enthusiasm for science. I was proud to see that both organizations I visited make it a priority to invest in and train the next generation of Spanish scientists. The future is theirs.
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