Marina Villegas: "The replacement rate of researchers has been 100% for the last three years"

Marina Villegas: "La tasa de reposición de los investigadores se sitúa desde hace tres años en el 100%" - Entrevistas, CENIE

Marina Villegas Gracia took over in June 2016 the management of the newly created State Research Agency, a state agency devoted to scientific and technical research and which will be responsible for evaluating the proposals submitted to the process of selecting multidisciplinary research on open aging. by the General Foundation of the University of Salamanca within the framework of the International Centre on Ageing (CENIE).

Marina Villegas is licensed in CC. Chemistry from the Autonomous University of Madrid and joined the Institute of Ceramics and Glass of the CSIC (ICV-CSIC) in 1988. In 1993 he held a postdoctoral stay at the Ecole Federale Polytechnique de Laussane, rejoining the ICV in 1994. He obtained his access to the Scale of Principal Scientists of the CSIC in 1999 and later to the scale of scientific researcher of OPI in 2009.

In 2006 she was appointed Deputy Director of the ICV - CSIC, a position she held until 2010 when she was appointed Director of the Postgraduate and Specialization Department of the CSIC. In April 2012 she was appointed deputy general director of research projects and in February 2014 General Director of Scientific and Technical Research, a position she held until June 2016 when she was appointed Director of the State Research Agency.

The State Research Agency is a relatively recent body and perhaps a little unknown to most of us. Could you explain how it arises and what is its main objective?

The State Agency for Research is a historical request of the Spanish scientific community, which takes shape in 2011 in the Law of Science, Technology and Innovation and which was finally created in November 2015. The main objective of the Agency is the promotion of scientific and technical research in all areas of knowledge through the competitive and efficient allocation of public resources, the monitoring of actions financed and their impact and the advice and planning of actions or initiatives through the that the R & D policies of the General State Administration are implemented.

Some people say that in order to achieve an important advance in research, project evaluators must conclude their analyzes with "no" on many more occasions. What do you think? How the State Agency of Investigation can raise the level of the investigation?
The research funded by the AEI is evaluated by the active scientific community and has experts external to the AEI in each of the scientific areas in which the Agency is organized. This evaluation, carried out according to the best international practices and standards, is based on the scientific-technical quality of the projects and human resources. The Agency must ensure that such evaluation, positive or negative, always respect these good practices and all the necessary guarantees. The evaluations are made following criteria known by the researchers (published in the respective calls) equivalent to those applied by other European and international agencies: scientific-technical quality and viability of the project, quality of the research group that will develop the project and its impact .

The State has just approved a budget of 6.366 million for R + D + i this year, 5.4% more than in 2017, is it enough for a country that seeks to equal scientific excellence with other European nations?

The budget for science increases to 7,044 million euros, 8.3% more than in 2017. We would always like to have more budget, that is true, but we must bear in mind that the R & D budget has two fundamental components, public financing and private financing. In other European nations we seek to match, private financing accounts for two thirds of total R & D & I funding. However, in Spain, this private financing is slightly higher than 50%. The Spanish Strategy of Science and Technology and Innovation 2013-2020 marks 2% of GDP as an investment objective in R + D + I. To this 2% both private and public investment have to contribute. The AEI and the Secretary of State for R & D & I work continuously in this direction.

According to some reports, Spain is starting to emerge from the crisis and the private sector has come back. The lack of funds is something that many researchers complain about. Can private investment be the key to give new impetus to research in Spain?

Of course, the private sector, as I indicated earlier, is key to this momentum.

How could it be encouraged?

This is something we have been working on since 2012, since it involves not only concrete measures but a change in mentality. At this moment, the Secretary of State for R + D + I is going to begin a review of the instruments for promoting private R & I to encourage and improve private investment.

Scientifically speaking, what are the strengths of Spain?

Spain has many strengths in research. First the researchers; its scientific quality is indisputable. Spanish scientific production is among the first countries in the world. Currently, according to the ranking we use, Spain is between 9th and 11th worldwide. Our companies, especially SMEs, are having tremendous success in the programs of the European Framework Program H2020. In the "SME Instrument", aimed at companies, Spain occupies the first place in financed projects and our return in this program has very promising figures. And in the overall results, Spain occupies the 4th position by returns. We have never had similar results, and they are resources that are obtained in competition with the rest of European countries. We can not, of course, forget our research centers, universities, OPIs and others, which are leaders in many aspects and not even our scientific infrastructures, many of them comparable or superior to other European and world infrastructures.

Spain, like so many other countries, has lost great researchers and scientists who have decided to leave the country looking for new opportunities. Do you think we can recover them one day? What can we offer?

Spain has passed these last years by difficulties, this we can not deny, and this has led to talent researchers have had to go to investigate other countries. But it is important to put this in context: in the research career the international experience is basic. And we also have to be aware that a considerable number of foreign researchers work in Spain. What is clear is that the Spanish system has the quality to export talent and we must be able to attract the best talent, be it Spanish or foreign.

The replacement rate of researchers has been 100% for three years, which does not happen with other groups, and this measure is allowing, for example, a public offer of employment that allows stabilizing a large number of researchers. This and other measures that the Secretary of State of R + D + I is taking allow the research staff to increase. In fact, in 2016 there was an increase of 4,000 researchers in Spain according to the INE.

Today, more than ever, it is possible to make the statement "science is collaboration" a reality. To what extent do research projects in Spain have among their priorities the collaboration of researchers and research centers that are at the forefront in the different fields of knowledge?

Researchers know that collaboration is fundamental in the development of R + D + I, it is not new. The challenges facing science and innovation currently can not be solved with a single point of view, they have to be addressed from different areas of knowledge and this is promoted in the projects of the Agency, especially in those dedicated to the identified Challenges in the Spanish Strategy, we are very interested in multidisciplinarity.

How do you think that scientific collaboration could be fostered?

The researchers, as I said before, are clear that we have to collaborate and the Spanish Strategy and the State R + D + I Plan value collaborations and multidisciplinarity.

At what point is the training in R + D + i?

The training in R + D + I in Spain is very good. We currently know that we must promote the STEM disciplines, especially among women, since there is a clear deficit of women training in these disciplines and we can not allow this evident loss of talent. Having said this, we know that R & D + I training must evolve towards more transversal and multidisciplinary studies, which also include "soft skills" and entrepreneurship training.

Attracting talent to the field of research, as for any other activity, is undoubtedly a priority objective. How could this option be encouraged among pre-graduates?

The research career is vocational and it is a hard race. However, it gives many satisfactions. Being at the center of solving problems, of challenges, at the center of the generation of knowledge is the great incentive, but we can not forget that researchers must be able to do their work in good conditions. We must let the graduates get the emotion of knowledge but also work in good conditions.

Last February she participated in the VII Women and Science Week: "Pioneers of Science", organized by the National Research Center on Human Evolution and the Equality Unit of the University of Burgos, where she spoke about the problems to the What does the woman face when it comes to reaching important positions like yours? Do you think that the lack of work visibility is a problem that can be solved in the short term?

The labor visibility of women in R & D & I is getting better. Nobody is surprised to see women investigating (this has not happened for a long time). However, the problem lies in the loss of women throughout the research career. We know that the stage of motherhood is a brake on many researchers and the graphic "scissors" (which also has other known causes) represents the lack of women in positions of responsibility in R & D & I (reflection of what it happens in our society). I do not know if it can be solved in the short term, I would like to say yes, but it does not matter, we must fight every day to achieve it. Sooner or later we will get it.

The International Center on Aging (CENIE), is a joint initiative of Spain and Portugal that seeks multidisciplinary responses to the phenomenon that entails the aging of the population in its challenges and opportunities. What is the place of aging in research priorities in our country?

It represents a priority included in Challenge 1 of the Spanish Strategy and also in Horizon 2020. We must take into account, in fact, that aging, like the other challenges, must be approached from several points of view, from various disciplines, so that researchers, as we have already mentioned, should collaborate and work together. Aging is and will be one of the great problems of our society so we must work from R & D to address all issues that arise both medical and social. Here the interaction with the social and humanistic areas is fundamental.