Academic Life

Applying for a tenured position in the Spanish National Research Council

I hardly find the time to finish all my daily tasks but at the same time I feel it is very therapeutical to write, so I can get my thoughts in place and accomplishing the main goal of this blog: to leave written my ideas, despite may be nobody cares or reads.

I have been in a post-doctoral position for very long already (almost 10 years since I finished my PhD), which for some people would be unacceptable and I should probably drop the idea of getting a permanent, tenured position. I am not going to discuss here the reasons why I think that’s not true and why individual paths may equally lead to a very fruitful, productive and good scientific career, where almost everyone’s efforts and energy is needed. But, if you want to see how long and hard to get a permanent position in Academia in Spain is (and in many other places) have a look to the freshly released poster of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology to see the Research Career Path in Spain – which at many levels is an obstacle course-. I am somewhere in the “consolidation” phase (but not consolidated yet) of that graphic.

This year, as the year before, I’m applying for a permanent position in our National Research Council (CSIC), where I have been working over ca. the last 7 years. The call entails a complicated process where you first apply, and some months after that you are called into a double interview public process. All candidates will first present their CVs in front of a 5 people committee. Those sort listed, normally somewhat a third of the candidates, will present their research project and how it fits into the main topic of the call one day after the sortlisting. So.Very.Exhausting.

The name of all applicants is public and the whole process is open to anyone willing to attend. Within my topic, titled “Sedimentary record and Global Change”, there is only one position and we are 27 applicants (from the link before only those applying for “Registro sedimentario y Cambio Global” are direct competitors). This is an extremely competitive process, all applicants are, from my point of view, really superb and of course I am competing against very good friends and colleagues within my field.

Despite more and more frequently we read about how metrics shouldn’t be so important (even Nature echoed this yesterday!), the reality is that the first part of this process is all focused on metrics. And is there anything more depressing than looking at your CV’s metrics over and over to present yourself as the best possible candidate?

I tended to let myself down because of dissecting my CV in metric terms but from my experience the last year I learnt very useful lessons. I will leave 3 of them written here:

  • Go there focused on who you are…and you are not your metrics!

Of course metrics will be there, but the more you look to the numbers, the more you miss the important bit, which is all of what you have done that is not those numbers because outcomes might not be that direct in quantitative terms. In my case that is starting 3 new research lines that were totally new in the Spanish domain, so no one had any experience on those before. Only one of these research lines is slowly being fruitful and it is taking most of my research energy. Besides I have not had the best of the times in personal terms over the last three years and, despite you don’t go into details in front of a committee about that, it is bringing into stage the idea that we are all humans. And that’s kind of relevant to me.

When preparing the slides for this section I will be confronted to all the dark corners of a CV: why my H-index is this, how many citations I have, why I did not publish that year, how much money I got. My trick: being aware that those numbers do not reflect my efforts or, in other words, don’t believe in them as a real measure of my own (or anyone!) abilities.

  • Jump in stage as enthusiastically as you can to ignite in others your passion

All those knowing me are aware of how enthusiastic I can be at times (that’s leading me to be overcommitted sometimes 😉 ) but it is really difficult to get enthusiastic about numbers. And still all candidates will discuss metrics, so you cannot skip it. So what I try to do is to mindfully convince myself that this is a good opportunity to showcase how my research is beautiful and sometimes I get lucky enough to get funded, published and quoted. My trick: stress all the greats of your research journey, they are there! and be ready to answer about the not-so-greats without losing a bit of  the enthusiasm that brought you here!

  • Turn the whole thing into an opportunity to refocus/redirect/center your own career

To become your best autobiographer sounds like a joke, but if anything this whole process is useful for that. What did I do that year? How did I do that? Which results did I get?..then you go into details to discover that you did quite a lot, and that brought you here. Now is a good opportunity to think of where do I want to go with my ideas/project/skills in terms of research plans for the next few years. These kind of questions will come and if you have a good committee (as I had) willing to give some feedback you may get some ideas on the hows and where to go. Of course that does not help you to get the position if the differences with a very outstanding candidate are still there, but it certainly helps to pose yourself questions on your current situation. My trick: looking at the whole thing as a learning process, so not focusing on what I failed at but in what I learnt.

Now I’m back to my metrics, as stinky or not, they are just a part of it. Regardless the final outcome I’ll leave a comment here on the results, at least for record purposes 🙂 The process will take place the 16th of May in the  IDAEA-CSIC of Barcelona so let me know if you are around so we can drink a beer or two!

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