April 18, 2024


The Nobel Prize in Physics Albert Fert talks with two students in San Sebastián, in 2019, before entering the UPN-EH.
The Nobel Prize in Physics Albert Fert talks with two students in San Sebastián, in 2019, before entering the UPN-EH.JAVIER HERNANDEZ

A week ago, the Junta de Castilla y León launched its plan to attract talent to the community at a press conference, and no one was surprised that the call was directed preferably to Nobel laureates and recipients of the highest scientific distinctions in the world, despite being a contract with a maximum duration of one year and a salary yet to be defined. No journalist asked, but this Tuesday the announcement became viral news among Spanish researchers who do not believe what they call the Government of Castilla y León, in the hands of the PP and Vox, an “occurrence”.

“The Junta de Castilla y León launches a new program, called Andrés Laguna, to incorporate high-impact researchers of international relevance. Priority will be given to those who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, but there is also room for others with similar characteristics such as the Abel or the Fields medal”, it is explained in the note about a plan endowed with a first annuity of a million and a half, but with an endowment total of six million.

Despite the eventuality of the contract, the Executive addresses the best of the world scientific community. The Mathematical Union awards the Fields Medal every four years to the most outstanding discovery in mathematics; and the king of Norway awards the Abel prize each year, endowed with 777,000 euros. In any case, the applicant must appear in the Highly Cited Researchers, by Clarivate Analytics, which recognizes the 1% of the most cited researchers in the world in their area of ​​knowledge.

Given the commotion, from the Department of Communication of the Education Council of the Board it is explained that the program is “in the proposal period”, since the universities of Valladolid, Salamanca, Burgos and León and the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC ) have until September 1 to submit the list of researchers they would like to hire and the R&D project. The amount of the contract is “to be specified” and although it is extended “for a minimum period of six months and a maximum of 12 months” -according to the call published on the Education portal-, the idea is to extend it “up to three or four years” if the project requires it. But the offer de factois for less than 12 months.

The duration of the contract especially surprises the researchers, because the figure of distinguished researcher of the Science Law, to which the call is sent, does not stipulate a time ―”the contract will have the duration that the parties agree”―, but leaves It is clear that its purpose is “the management of human teams as principal investigator, management of research centers or knowledge and innovation transfer, or unique scientific and technological facilities and programs.” With a contract of less than one year, it is not feasible to be the principal investigator of a project.

Having a Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine or Economics on staff guarantees climbing the rungs in the lists of university quality, especially in the case of the ranking Shanghai, the most prestigious, which penalizes campuses that have not hosted winners of the highest scientific distinctions as students or teachers in their classrooms. The Complutense University of Madrid knows this well, which for years has benefited from having two Nobel Prize winners in these specialties (Severo Ochoa and Santiago Ramón y Cajal) on staff. The teacher is valued more than the student in the ranking Shanghai, the older the award, the less it scores, and it expires. Nobels before 1931 do not count; that is why the Complutense now only scores for Ochoa.

excellent cover letter

Having a Nobel Prize winner on your staff is an excellent cover letter for winning competitive international competitions for research funds and is the best way to build a network of contacts abroad. The University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU), the best financed by an autonomous government in Spain, knows this well, which in the midst of a pandemic, in 2020, hired a Nobel Prize in Physics. In January, the French Albert Fert, awarded in 2007, joined the staff to promote the projects of the Department of Physics of Materials of the Faculty of Chemistry. The university has not disclosed the details of the contract that it completes with stays at the Donostia International Physics Center center of excellence. Fert’s contract allows the UPV-EH to exchange pre-doctoral and research personnel with the UMR-Thales Palaiseau group, which Fert directs at the Paris-Saclay University Polytechnic. A second Physics Nobel Prize winner, George Smoot, was announced but did not take office. “We have created a scientific environment that is attractive to world-class researchers. His arrival at the UPV/EHU is very positive for the training of master’s and doctoral students, and his prestige is also projected to all our students”, stated its then rector, Nekane Balluerka.

This practice of recruiting stars does not convince everyone. Carles Ramió (Girona, 1963), professor of Political Science and Administration at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, ​​ironized in a recent interview in EL PAÍS: “That thing about the Nobel prizes sometimes makes me laugh a little. We signed Mario Vargas Llosa to give a few conferences and a doctoral course and we can already say that we have a Nobel prize”.

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