The CREAF ecologist has participated in a series of interviews by the English journal Functional Ecology to researchers from all over the world to learn about their experiences during the PhD and to understand how it works in each country.
Sara Reverté works at CREAF on his PhD project on the relationships between plant pollinators. In fact, she is already in the fourth year and plans to defend her thesis in early 2020. By its own vision, she defines CREAF as “a big and thrilling research centre, with many people working on different topics from river basins to altitudinal distributions of mountain insects”. And adds “the different groups are well interconnected and collaborate frequently, and this mixture between research groups helps everyone learning about several disciplines far apart from their own specific research project and placing their study field into the broader network of ecology”.
Tell us about your research
Asks the interviewer of the English Society of Ecology’s journal, ‘Functional Ecology’. “My project focuses on plant-pollinator relationships. These interactions are key for the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems because most of the plant species around the world need an animal vector to conduct the pollen transfer between individuals. From the other side, many insect species rely on floral resources in their diet. However, not all pollinators are equally important and not all plants are nutritionally the same. The identity of the species is important, and so the spatial distribution of the plant species will promote variation on the pollinator community. In my PhD project, I’ve studied for first time the spatial variation at the landscape scale on both plant and pollinator communities and, in that way, visualize the degree of dependence of the pollinator community from the distribution of the plant community and how it affects on the ecosystem variation” explains Reverté.
How long does a typical PhD take where you are located?
In Spain, most of the people can do a PhD with government scholarships. Depend on the funding source, the length of the scholarship and the salary varies. The most important scholarships come from the Ministry of Sciences, Innovation and Universities, Regional government or the Universities themselves. The scholarships are either three or four years long. Researchers try to limit the PhD project in order to fit it in the period imposed by the funding, but this is not always accomplished and many people finish months or even years after the funding ends. More and more Universities are considering the length of the PhD an important issue and impose an external limit to five years to complete the PhD project.
What are some challenges with getting your PhD in Spain?
"The last salary increase isn't enough to change that most students face precariousness on their life".
There are many social and financial issues that makes one think twice before starting a PhD in Spain. From the social point of view, pursuing a PhD in Spain is not considered working. All your family and friends keep asking you when are you going to find a real job. You need to face constantly how your work is highly undervalued. This vision of the PhD process couples with those from the government. In most of the scholarships, salaries are close to the minimum wage. Earlier this year student organizations negotiated with the government some improvements of the work conditions and salaries of the PhD students in the country. However, this salary increases is not enough to change the fact that most students face precariousness on their life. With the typical PhD salary, one cannot afford to rent a flat, in some cases even owing a car, and cannot even consider having children. You are forced to share a house and to get used to live with a small budget. At least this is true for most students pursuing their PhD where most of the Universities and research centers are located, in the bigger cities. There are comparative grievances on the cost of living and University fees between territories, but the amount given by the government is fixed no matter where you live. If this was not enough, it is also too common that the length of the PhD process is not coupled with the length of the scholarships. In those cases, students have to keep working long after the funding ends and they need to subsist though their unemployment benefits and their own savings. Eventually the students become doctors and are forced to leave academia temporally or permanently, many times against their will.
"It is too often seen that the students have to pay for courses and conferences by themselves".
And last but not least, there are not sufficient sources of funding to attend courses and conferences. Many scholarships do not come with specific budgets for them, and the students depend on the budget of the research project in which they are associated. In addition to the low salaries, it is too often seen that the students have to pay for courses and conferences by themselves and it is considered normal.