Interview with Domènec Espriu, current vice-rector for research of the University of Barcelona and first director of the ICCUB
Domènec Espriu, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Barcelona and researcher of the ICCUB, has been vice-rector of research of the University of Barcelona since December 2016, when he took office as a member of the new governing team lead by Joan Elias. During his term of office, D. Espriu will be responsible for the UB research institutes, the UB research support office as well as the institutional relations in the field of science policy and the research staff policy.
D. Espriu obtained his PhD at the University of Barcelona in 1982 and became professor of this university in 1988, after holding postdoc positions at the Universities of Oxford and Harvard and a professor position at the University of Valencia. In the year 2000 he was awarded the Research Distinction by the Generalitat de Catalunya, and in 2014 he was elected professor honoris causa by the State University of Saint Petersburg.
Throughout his career, D. Espriu has combined his research with science management activities. He has held relevant positions such as head of department (2000-2003), coordinator of the Spanish Funding Agency for Particle Physics (2004-2007), vice-chairman of the Astroparticle Physics European Coordination Committee (2004-2007) and chairman of CERN's Computing Resources Scrutiny Group. He was one of the main promoters of the Institute of Cosmos Sciences, becoming its first director in 2007 (2007-2009).
His scientific interests cover a wide spectrum of topics within the field of theoretical physics, from phenomenology aspects of particle physics and astrophysics to more theoretical issues concerning gravitation and quantum field theory. Up to now he has supervised 10 doctoral theses and has published 94 articles in peer-reviewed journals.
By ICCUB Scientific Office
The new governing team has insisted that one of its main goals is to boost research at the University of Barcelona. What actions are you willing to undertake to materialize this boost?
For us, the key element of research is the human capital. Over the last ten years faculty staff at the UB has, on average, grown older. Furthermore, many vacant positions resulting from retirement have been filled with temporary staff contracted as associate professors. This has considerably devalued the research capacity of our university.
We want to fill the vacant positions with people who have demonstrated high scientific quality, who have research merits. For faculties of science this means the incorporation of Ramon y Cajal researchers. If economic conditions permit, we will encourage them with a welcome pack.
We would also like to give an impulse to joint appointments, maybe by offering part-time professorships to researchers such as ICREAs. The University of Barcelona is a center of prestige and we believe that this can attract good researchers.
What is the UB-100 strategy about?
We want the University of Barcelona to be positioned within the first 100 research institutions in the main quality rankings. However, this is a long-term goal, it will take ten or fifteen years at least... It is very hard to ascend in this kind of rankings because to get in you have to displace a very good university.
What does it mean, for the UB, to be part of the League of European Research Universities (LERU)?
To begin with, it is an honor. The LERU gathers the most prestigious universities in Europe. Also, being part of the LERU represents a great opportunity for the UB to debate issues concerning human resources, governance and research at universities. But above all, the LERU is a lobby with presence in Brussels: in all the meetings of the commission that have something to do with research, there is a representative of the LERU. Apart from this, the UB intends to adopt little by little LERU proposals and good practices.
What is the role of research institutes at the UB?
With our research institutes we want to increase the visibility of research and promote synergies among different disciplines. This does not mean, though, that research is only done in institutes. There are researchers at the UB that are not members of any institute, and they are doing excellent research.
Is the current governing team planning to undertake any new action in relation to institutes?
We are planning to create new structural positions for technologists and project managers that will be linked to institutes and research groups. We also want to promote the participation of institutes in the María de Maeztu program. There are already two institutes of the UB that have this distinction and, in the last call, the IN2UB was very close to get it. We are ambitious and we would like to have more institutes with this accreditation of excellence. Shortly, a systematic evaluation of institutes will be established. This evaluation will result in a classification and a set of recommendations which should have consequences for the research program contract and in some cases could lead to a redirection of institutes.
What would you highlight about your contribution to the ICCUB?
The satisfaction of having created it, with the aid of many other people. I am very glad it has become a Unit of Excellence María de Maeztu.
And about your six first months in office as vice-rector of research?
The chance to meet marvelous people at the university, as well as excellent research groups and professionals.