Am I a little late to posting this? Admittedly, yes. We can probably chalk it up to the fact that Madrid is pretty epic, so I’ve been busy. It’s just difficult to justify sitting at my desk and writing when there’s so much to see. I also got to experience the Spanish hospital system, so I’ve been out of commission for a little bit, but that’s a story for another blog. I digress. Let’s get into what I’ve been up to.
Word of the week: Vale. Everyone loves this one. Very regional to Spain, so don’t use it in other Spanish-speaking countries. People use this as “okay”, a casual affirmative, almost like “mhm” or “yup”. They say it multiple times “vale, vale, vale” to signify “yes, for sure” or to get you to stop talking if they already understand what you’re trying to communicate. When I’m struggling through a sentence, one of my coworkers will say it in an encouraging way, to let me know they get it. Definitely something I´ll say by accident when I´m in the states.
This summer, I am working for CEIGRAM, a research and development center for the management of agricultural and environmental risks, at the intersection of commerce, government, and academia. CEIGRAM supports the pursuit of scientific knowledge, and leads the EU in their pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I will be working at the Universidad Politécnica y Agrícola de Madrid, as most research is conducted within the agricultural sector. My coworkers are PhD students and Master´s students, all of whom are working on their respective projects, as well as contributing to the workings of CEIGRAM. Grabbing lunch with them in the cafeteria is one of my favorite parts of the day.
I definitely pictured my day-to-day involving more collaboration and meetings, which might be coming later. As of the first week, I met with my boss, and we are planning to move forward with weekly assignments that we decide on collaboratively. Since there are at least 50 researchers working in the center, this makes it easier to try to adjust plans according to my interests for the week. This style of work (independent research) necessitates a capacity for independence and self-motivation. My coworkers self-direct their research timelines, besides weekly meetings with my boss. Reading and writing skills are also of the utmost importance, given that this field of research requires an in-depth knowledge about a wide range of EU sustainability policy. And since the EU is generally more concerned about climate change than the U.S. seems to be, there is a lot more ground to cover. It’s a good thing I’m interested in all of it! Finally, technical abilities are needed to construct and run experimental models. These models are often run using R code, and my two coworkers creating them have taken classes specifically regarding agricultural scenario models. So, I may not be able to contribute as much on that side of operations.
In my initial meeting with my supervisor, I was asked many open-ended questions, such as: “What goals do you have for your time here?” “Are there any specific skills you would like to learn?” As is often the case in academia, freedom of choice is abundant. To capitalize on this opportunity, the academic should have clear ideas of what they want to learn, and be able to communicate those ideas. Skills like time management, persistence, and curiosity will help you get there, especially in a culture that may be low-context. Low-context cultures, like Spain, may communicate using less explicit directives, requiring the listener to intuit meanings and take more personal initiative.
Being in Spain, the working language is Spanish, but there are also often cases in which I am communicating in English. Since most scientific research is published in English, I read primarily in English. However, given the amount of verbal communication that takes place every day, it is definitely preferred to have high verbal fluency in Spanish. Although most of my coworkers speak English, they were excited to learn that I could speak Spanish, and were probably more willing to engage with me because of this. It just makes building connections easier, from being able to share in jokes, to not feeling like I´m inconveniencing my coworkers when they need to explain a concept from their research.
In the coming weeks, I’m excited to learn more about my new field, and of course, more cafeteria conversations.