The motors of future society: the case of Angélica Inés Partida
Medicine, space exploration, aeronautics, biology... Each branch of science has drawn for decades, and sometimes for centuries, on the inspiration and work of those who wanted to go beyond what was obvious and challenge the established thought to breach new limits and allow humanity to develop.
Sometimes, more than the fact in itself, what is important is to start a new path to explore through science, which governs every aspect of the research in any area. It is the base of development and allows us, for instance, to get to know our surroundings better each day, and even those that we thought had already offered all their keys: medicine advancing towards the healing of fatal diseases; man, having conquered the moon, now thinks of the way to set foot on Mars and beyond.
These goals may seem utopia, but although some look very much in the long term, each step on the path is a human victory over ignorance. But each small conquest requires time, resources and money.
Much to improve in funding
When assessing the care with which an administration contemplates scientific research, there are several keys to be considered. The most obvious key is that of the budget. In Spain the figure is good: in 2016, when the National Institute of Statistics (INE) offered the latest figures, the investment rate lay at 1.19% of GDP.
This is the smallest figure since 2010, when our country reached its historical record of 1.4%. Since then the tendency has always been downward and far behind the countries of our immediate surroundings: France and Germany have rates of 2.25% and 2.94%, and the average in the EU is 2.03%.
In fact, according to data of the Fundación Cotec para la Innovación [Cotec Foundation for Innovation], while the countries of the EU have increased their total expenditure on R&D by 27.4% in 2009-2016, Spain has reduced it by 9.1%. According to the entity, "of the five large economies in Europe, Spain is the only one that has not recovered the levels of its expenditure on R&D either in the public sector or in the business world previous to the financial crisis".
Money is not everything, but the equation is clear: the more the means, the greater the opportunities. And here we find another of the problems for Spanish researchers: the lack of projects in Spain, which forces many scientists to emigrate, something which affects 10% of Spanish researchers according to INE data.
And this comes with an added tragedy: their experience does not help them return, even though they might want to do so. The last Innovacef 2017 report drawn up by the Distance University of Madrid (Udima) says that more than 73% of expatriate researchers would return if they could, although only 2.2% are sure of this happening.
The Banco Santander wager
All of this is influenced by the economy, but also, less obviously, by legality. Scientific associations point more and more to political questions doing away with contracting because there are official centres with paperwork that ends up as an obstacle for new signings or for maintaining the personnel already working on vital projects, and the precariousness of the working conditions is constant.
Private funding is a safeguard in these cases, and companies sustain the other leg of the research bench. In 2016, and according to the Cotec Report, 10,325 companies devoted resources to the sector in Spain, 300 more than in 2015. Their investment rose by 3%, although in absolute terms and despite the rising trend, the figures are still far below the levels of investment prior to the toughest years of economic crisis.
However, even in this context, the companies’ effort is perceived in projects like those of the Banco Santander. In the last year, the entity devoted more than 20 million euros to research initiatives. What’s more, aware of the present difficulty of bringing youngsters of great scientific talent into the jobs market, this year it signed a collaboration agreement with the Fundación General CSIC.
One of the master lines of the agreement is the ComFuturo programme, a mechanism designed to "retain the best young research talent in the Spanish science and technology system to offer guarantees through innovation in facing the challenges of society". The entity will devote 1,500,000 euros to this and other causes.
The president of Santander Universidades, Matías Rodríguez Inciarte, highlighted the entity’s commitment to "the development and prosperity of our societies", arguing that it is an investment of a "very high strategic and social content for the sustainable future of our country”. "To invest in education, in science and in the transfer of knowledge is to invest in the future”, he concluded.
The numbers point to Banco Santander as the company that most invests in supporting education in the world, according to the Varkey Report/UNESCO–Fortune 500. Through Santander Universidades, more than 1,200 collaboration agreements are signed with educational centres and academic and research institutions in around twenty countries, and through the Universia network, it reaches more than 1,300 Ibero-American academic institutions.
Grants to favour the development of talent
Sometimes these kinds of aid seem abstract, which is why putting a face on those who benefit is necessary to show to what extent the career of a young person with talent can hang in the air if they do not receive a little push at a certain time. The case of Angélica Partida Hanon (Zapopan, Jalisco, 1989) is one such profile: a person with undoubted talent who defines herself as a "passionate follower of science and an enthusiast in knowing how and why things work".
This is so much so that at just 15, this Mexican girl became an industrial engineer; she later achieved telematic engineering and, in Spain, a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biomedicine with the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. It might be thought that with such a record, the doors are always open, but in her case, she herself says how "due to lack of economic means, I had to work to keep myself, and had no time to study".
Today Angélica is doing a doctorate while she "studies biological molecules and their interactions on atomic scale through Nuclear Magnetic Residents at the Higher Council of Scientific Research". This is a job, she says, which "can be applied for the development of pharmaceuticals or to discover why a disease occurs".
The fact that Angélica spends her time on scientific work is due to her perseverance and to the help of institutions like the Banco Santander, which gave her one of the 300,000 grants for students, teachers and researchers in different areas awarded since 2005. This has allowed her "the privilege of doing something that thrills me and of training to become a doctor in biochemistry, molecular biology and biomedicine", she says.
Her case is also very special because she has a disability she has been capable of overcoming to achieve academic excellence. Her effort has been recognised not only by these grants, but also by the prestigious ‘Roosevelt Awards for Women with disability to a brilliant academic record’. "Each person is different in their circumstances and possibilities", she says. "Although I found it very important to be focused on what I wanted to do and where I was going, always being realistic," she explains.
Today, apart from her work as a researcher and her doctorate studies, Angélica has a blog in which she offers the public the subject on which she is working and where she shows her talent in a considerable collection of scientific illustrations that she herself has made. These are details that exemplify how with a little backing, the best talents are able to develop their potential to the benefit of society, and build the future.