One could say that the International and Scientific Affairs office of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) was born about 10 years ago, although under a different name and with just one person. “I had been working as a Scientific officer in the CRG systems biology program for 3 or 4 years, managing European projects at Luis Serrano‘s lab,” recalls Michela Bertero, who is today heading this 10-people strong office. “At that time, on the one hand there was the research being done and, on the other hand, there was the administrative tasks. Later on, we decided to create a new office to support the scientific direction. It consisted of only one person, myself, and I was a kind of intermediate piece or bridge”, explains Michela.
Since then, the office has grown non-stop. Thanks to the projects and initiatives they coordinate, they have been able to hire more people – scientific project managers – to promote and support the centre’s research. The office mission is very transversal – to improve the international visibility and interdisciplinarity of the center, and to create new opportunities
The mission of the Scientific and International Affairs office is to contribute to the improvement of the international visibility and interdisciplinarity of the centre.
In order to achieve this, they have a very dynamic team, with great experience in both management and research – “we all have a PhD, and some of us even have a postdoc” – and with an international background. “Just as the technology transfer office generates new companies, spin-offs, we create new initiatives, new opportunities. Our work is very transversal”, explains Michela.
Four areas of action
The office is divided into four differentiated areas, highly synergistic among them.
1- Science strategy
The office works side by side with the director and program coordinators of the CRG to develop the centre’s science strategy. Thus, they have participated in the development of the current 5-year strategic plan and collaborate in the search and establishment of strategic collaborations of the center with other agents. This area is also dedicated to the management of publications and the analysis of indicators.
2- Science policy
The ISA staff participates in the creation of policies both internally – such as the CRG’s policies for research integrity, gender equality and open science – and externally, at the Spanish and European level. “EU-LIFE was born here; so was SOMMa“, confirms Michela. EU-LIFE is an alliance of 13 research institutes in life sciences that advocates for scientific excellence in Europe. SOMMa does the same at the Spanish level, joining all the Severo Ochoa centres and the María de Maetzu Units.
“Through these initiatives we have been able to influence both at the Spanish and European level. For example, together with 25 other institutions with different profiles, we are part of the open science platform that advises the European Commission on how to develop open science policies”, explains Michela. The biologist explains that much progress has been made in the area of open science in Europe. In fact, a working group on the subject with national representatives from different European countries is in the process of being created. “Some, like the Netherlands, are far ahead, with a national open science plan and a 10-year program… Other countries go each at their own pace and face the problem in a different way. In Spain, the FECYT is leading the coordination; they have convened a national open science group in Spain and are promoting and offering training in open access, repositories, citizen science, etc. ”
3- European projects
The third ‘leg’ of the office is the coordination of European projects. In the current European framework program, H2020, the CRG was awarded 9 collaborative projects led by CRG principal investigators in different areas, from cutting-edge technologies to new vaccines for animals and last generation sequencing infrastructure. Lately, the ISA team has also managed to coordinate institutional projects, such as ORION (which explores how to make open science a reality) or LIBRA, led by researcher Isabelle Vernos.
According to the head of the office, LIBRA, which has just finished, has been an example of success. It has been a collaboration of 10 research centers, all part of EU-LIFE, and a social science centre expert in gender issues, to unify efforts in the fight for gender equality. “During the project, a sustainability plan was created, and now that the project has been completed, a work group has been created within the framework of EU-LIFE where the most valuable and impactful actions discussed in LIBRA will have continuity”, she explains.
4- Scientific training
The last working area of the office is the development of the researchers’ career. They organize courses, both internal for CRG staff, and external – aimed at their European project partners or open internationally -, and collaborate with the human resources department in professional development activities.
Affair(e)s in Science: a blog to open up to the world
The four areas seem very different, but they are well integrated because they can address the same issue at different levels and generate synergies – be they functional, knowledge, experience, resources, or financing. For example, open science is a centre strategy, a scientific policy, a focus of a European project and a training goal.
In order to share their personal stories to the rest of the office members and communicate what they do, the office has created a new blog.
By doing so many things and in such a transversal way, communication can be difficult. “Some stories get lost. When someone arrives from a European meeting, they may give me an update, but the details and emotions do not reach everyone”, says the head of the office. Therefore, to share the stories in a more personal way to the rest of the members of the office, but also to communicate what they do to the CRG and other centres’ staff, they have created a new blog. In it they explain in first person their projects, meetings and experiences. They also want to reach young researchers who want to explore careers in different sectors. “It’s a bit of an experiment, with the hope that the blog becomes useful and interesting”, concludes Michela.