4/25/24 · Research

"Resilience, passion and enthusiasm are key to starting a research career"

Diana Roig-Sanz (photo: UOC)

Diana Roig-Sanz has spent years studying how literatures and cultures circulate around the world, exploring everything from global dynamics to small-scale local realities, using tools and methods from the digital humanities and adopting a decolonial and gender perspective. Her main focus is on the circulation of translations, where she examines the role of cultural and translation mediators and policies. She is also interested in the increasing circulation of minority literatures and writers – many of them women – in the spirit of what is known as "bibliodiversity".

Roig-Sanz coordinates the Global Literary Studies (GlobaLS) research group, which is affiliated to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and to the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). She stresses that "women played a role in developing the concept of modernity". Using an innovative approach combining machine learning, artificial intelligence and network analysis technologies, she has made it her mission to "challenge overly Eurocentric, patriarchal narratives that do little to include difference". Indeed, she has done so with a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project; its findings confirm that "it is unsustainable to continue to claim that modernity emerged exclusively from Francophone, Germanic and Anglo-American centres, relegating the wrongly labelled Ibero-American peripheries to the role of mere imitators." Her achievements have also seen her awarded an ICREA research professorship in Catalonia, a Ramón y Cajal contract and a Leonardo grant from the BBVA Foundation.

In 2023, Roig-Sanz was named a member of the Young Academy of Spain (AJdE). Modelled on the Global Young Academy, this initiative seeks to highlight outstanding Spanish researchers in all fields at an intermediate stage of their careers. The aim is to encourage them to carry out innovative, relevant research that addresses global challenges and to strengthen the role of science in society, especially among young people.

In your application to the Young Academy of Spain, as in your own research, you express an interest in taking a more comprehensive approach to science policy that benefits all fields. What proposals did you make to the Academy?

Given the greater number of researchers in other areas of knowledge (engineering, biomedical sciences, physics, nanotechnology, etc.), my application proposal underscored the need to include the humanities in our country's scientific debates and to give greater visibility and funding to research in this field, which can also benefit other neighbouring fields in the social sciences.

My application focused on three priorities: the promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity and the analysis of so far underrepresented literatures, cultures and mediators that inhabit this world beyond Anglo-European borders; the promotion of decolonial and gender perspectives applied to a global history of translation and literature; and the promotion of sustainable research, from the research topics themselves (eco-translation, literature and ecology, environmental humanities) to online collaboration and open access publishing, and a greater push from the scientific community to encourage girls and young women to pursue interdisciplinary work at the nexus of the humanities and technology.     

What exactly is the Young Academy of Spain?

It was created to fill a gap in Spanish academia by recognizing the contributions of a group of relatively young researchers across all fields, without the constraints of a specific discipline, as is the case with institutions such as the Real Academia de la Lengua Española or the Academia de Historia. Other academies admit older, more veteran researchers, while the AJdE recognizes the work of the cohort between the ages of 37 and 45. In this way, it aims to shine a light on leading academics in our country who can serve as role models for young students, from secondary school to the early stages of doctoral studies, and to stimulate scientific interest in all areas of knowledge, including the social sciences and humanities, from an early age.

How does it benefit from being multidisciplinary?

One of the main benefits is that it can zoom out and pan across fields to examine issues that affect all disciplines and areas of knowledge. It can also facilitate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue between academics, as we're a relatively small group of 50 members. This group is structured into smaller working groups (open science, women and science, scientific dissemination, and education and science), which bring together profiles from very different backgrounds, and benefit from the sum of complementary and enriching perspectives.

Three values that stand out in the AJdE are inclusion, parity and sustainability. To what extent has science embraced these values?

Despite recent efforts, these values remain aspirational, and there is still a long journey ahead. Over the past few decades, there has been a growing recognition of the need to address workplace diversity – in relation to gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic or religious multiculturalism. This has led universities to recruit, retain and appoint more women to positions requiring greater expertise and leadership, although not as quickly as we might like them to. However, there is still a severe shortage of researchers from racialized or minority communities. It's well known that women are highly underrepresented in leadership positions, with only a third of top management roles worldwide being held by them, according to the international consultancy firm Grant Thornton.

Is this bias also present in academia?

Gender bias remains pervasive in academia, placing women researchers at a disadvantage in terms of career advancement, funding opportunities and assessment. This is evident in the low number of female rectors in Spain and the persistent unconscious biases present throughout society. Women face lower salaries, lower qualifications, and a system of thinking and beliefs that still discriminates against us. In this sense, gender biases such as motherhood and sexism continue to affect our career progression and reinforce preconceived ideas, stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes.

“The scientific community has become more aware of the need to bridge the gap between science and society”

What does the AJdE hope to achieve in this area?

A working group on women and science has been set up, and efforts are being made to integrate a gender perspective into almost all of the Academy's activities. It also strives for inclusivity in terms of disciplinary and geographical diversity. The decision to hold the induction ceremony for new academics in Ciudad Real in 2023 underscores the importance of reflecting on the decentralization of higher education.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of sustainability?

For me, sustainability goes beyond the idea of promoting rail or land transport. It's also about how we publish our research. On the surface, open access appears to be a significant step towards sustainability, inclusivity, visibility, dissemination and reproducibility of knowledge. But the way it's implemented has important consequences – especially for authors, but also for readers. On this front, we're still facing two main issues: firstly, the growing power of a very small handful of publishing conglomerates that exert considerable control over scholarly publication, and benefit financially from the knowledge disseminated through open-access articles, books and book chapters; and secondly, the assessment criteria for researchers, which penalize publications that are not peer-reviewed or that are published directly in open repositories, bypassing the traditional publishing "system", which the institutions themselves still don't know how to assess. Moreover, projects dealing with data face the monumental challenge of preserving their research and ensuring that their results remain relevant in the short term amidst the rapid changes to which technology has accustomed us in recent years.

What are the current challenges facing young researchers?

In my opinion, the two main challenges are the lack of stability for researchers, and the scarcity of public and private funding. This situation is leading more and more people to abandon their research careers or to seek opportunities abroad due to limited prospects at home. Moreover, competition is increasing because the chances of securing a stable position are limited. Many people start academic careers, but very few of them actually get tenure, and this proportion only grows smaller as academics progress in their careers.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in research?

While I've been very fortunate to have optimal conditions for my research, I recognize that this isn't the norm. Many people who have not yet been able to secure a permanent position and are still in very precarious situations have decided to interrupt their careers and look for another path, or are burdened by such a heavy teaching load that they have no time left for research. In such cases, resilience is paramount for young researchers, along with passion and enthusiasm for their work, flexibility, and the necessary family and personal circumstances to move to another country if need be. It's also important for them to have a good understanding of the opportunities in each field and of the research that can attract more funding while fulfilling their own interests.

Why is it important to communicate science to society?

I believe that in recent years the scientific community has become more aware of the need to bridge the gap between science and society. The latest advances in artificial intelligence and the risks they pose; the impact of the recent pandemic, in which some of the decisions made by scientists and policymakers were called into question; the effects of climate change and their possible solutions; breakthroughs in cancer treatment; studies on fake news; geopolitical tensions, and the rise of populism may have created a sense among the scientific community, especially younger cohorts, that science needs to be explained more and in a better way. Scientific activity should be made more accessible to society, so that people can understand and cope with the changes it brings about and adopt a more critical attitude towards future challenges. In this respect, I believe that young researchers have a crucial role to play. Efforts should be made to amplify their voices and facilitate the dissemination of science that is, perhaps, more activist, more transformative and more willing to be within everyone's reach.

How is the AJdE able to influence government science policy?

The Academy often works with the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. During the pandemic, the Ministry asked it for reports on COVID-19 issues that AJdE scientists were working on at the time, so it's a tremendous source of talent that can provide extremely up-to-date insights into ongoing research across a wide range of disciplines. The Academy can also influence science policy at central and regional government level, and produce well-informed reports on issues of key concern to our community of scientists, such as professorial accreditation, open access to our output, funding needs or gender bias.

What will the next five years at the AJdE mean to you personally?

The ten academics who have most recently joined, myself included, have pledged to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us and to help build a more mature Young Academy of Spain, so that through science it can realize its potential for transformation and for creating a fairer, more democratic, more inclusive and more tolerant society. Personally, I would like to contribute to raising the profile of the humanities in our country's debates and science policies, in addition to pursuing the priorities I mentioned before.

UOC R&I

The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and more than 50 research groups work in the UOC's seven faculties, its eLearning Research programme and its two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The university also develops online learning innovations at its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.

Open knowledge and the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu.

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