Public research in Spain

As many others, I guess, after the undergrad I found myself immersed in the everlasting dilemma between the private companies and the public research, fields that move somehow in parallel in Spain. In that moment, through a professor and friend, I received an offer for a research contract at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Later I stayed there after obtaining a 4-year scholarship in a public call.

Indeed this is the usual way to start, as it is perfectly explained in the excellent post “Particle Physicist”. I recommend it because almost all the interesting stuff for someone thinking about going into (public) research is said there. Plus, you can read more adventures and misfortunes in www.precarios.org (in spanish), as I have done so many times. Despite that, I’d like to share also my personal view.

I have worked in Physics of Magnetic Materials (field boosted until recently by the enormous success of the magnetic recording – 1TB hard-drive = 100€- and other associated achievements/devices), but that’s probably the least of it. For this blog the kind of things that are not written in the books of a library are more interesting.

Having a clear view about where you’re going is the best advice I can give: knowing the path you want to follow and acting consequently is crucial after finishing the undergrad. And it starts with the topic/group you want to work in: it’s essential to gather as much information as possible about your PhD advisor (some are excellent, but a lot only know how to guide themselves…), for this purpose the most valuable information would be that of his/her current grad students (when he/she is not around…). Another important point is to find out if the knowledge/aptitudes that will be acquired are valued out of the University or public research centers: in the “real world” (this sentence is not mine, I have heard it hundreds of times in Spain and abroad…).

I want to emphasized again that the freedom is a double-edged weapon in this job: being able to organize your work and schedule are things which a lot of people would pay for, but a lot of times they are very stressing due to the lack of direction that entail and the high risk of frustration and failure.

The best thing? The possibility of working in an international environment and the opportunity to work/live abroad (up to 6 months/year with some fellowships, doubling a salary that in the best case hardly reaches the 17K €/year), plus the empathy and friendship you get with your colleagues.

The worst thing? Apart from the extreme working instability, I think that the main problem is that there are too many research lines in topics that will have little impact (if any) in our society. In my opinion that is not very rewarding.

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More details if you’re interested in this post:

  • Where should I send my CV?
    One should contact the researchers, talk to your university professors about the field you are interested in and the contacts he may have, visit websites like naturejobs, rediris, madri+d,,… or the websites of centers/universities;
  • Where can I find more information?
    The website www.precarios.org (in spanish) is useful for all the paperwork related to fellowship applications and for any advice/problem that the young researchers may need/have;
  • Important qualities to get the job:
    Patience, perseverance, ability to be independent and establish collaborations with other scientists.