A conversation with our administration team

Here from the very start, we interview Nerea Ortiz (Operations Manager) and Susana Perez (Management Assistant) on how it all started and how BC3 got to where it is now.

Here from the very start, we interview Nerea Ortiz (Operations Manager) and Susana Perez (Management Assistant) on how it all started and how BC3 got to where it is now.

From both a professional and personal standpoint, can you tell us how BC3 started?

NO: The creation of the BERC network was a mandate from the Basque Government to the Basque Science Foundation, IKERBASQUE. The first BERC to be launched was BC3, with such a relevant topic to be studied, climate change. As there was a niche of knowledge in the area of the economics of climate change, the Basque Government decided to focus on that issue. Before I was contracted, Ikerbasque launched a call for recruiting a Scientific Director, and Anil Markandya was finally selected for that position.

NO: In June 2008, I was selected as Operations Manager of BC3 after a competitive call, and Anil and I started to review the Strategic Plan and to build the basis of BC3 from scratch. I really have very good memories of this time. Luckily we had a lot of help from Iñigo Atxutegi, Jaime Sagarduy, Ainhoa Madariaga all of them from Ikerbasque, and of course, the Director of Ikerbasque at that time, Mari Carmen Gallastegui. Before joining BC3, I was working for 7 years as a consultant for an international firm, and after such an active an interesting period, I waswilling to work on topics such as innovation and research. The call for an Operations Manager at a Basque research centre that aspired to be internationally renowned and led by one of the most respected researchers in the area of environmental and economic resources, caught my attention. I still remember how nervous I was, just being interviewed by such a relevant scientist that had been awarded a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his contribution to the IPCC. But it seems that the interview went well and I was offered the position. So although my experience as consultant was great, I decided to accept the offer from BC3 and start work in in June 2008.

NO: When I look back, deciding to work at BC3 was a risky bet. I had been offered a position at two other organisations with a history, and no one at the time even knew how to explain what BC3 was. But this made it more attractive to me; being part of the creation of a centre at the heart of the Basque Country, my homeland, generating knowledge on climate change and contributing to building a more sustainable world. It seemed that all my aspirations and values were coming together.

SP: To be honest, I didn’t think I would be selected for the position. When I received the call from Nerea confirming I had the position, I knew straight away I wanted the job. I wanted to execute things, and I knew deep down I was worth more than I was doing at the time. When Nerea told me the extent and coverage of all the things I could do at BC3, it felt like hitting the jackpot. I was delighted to be able to work in three languages, collaborate with people from all over the world, and learn new things all at the same time. I started working at BC3 in December (2008). One of my first responsibilities was to start up all the formal procedures for researchers arriving at BC3: register them, prepare their workplace (their office, a computer with passwords…) We wanted everything to be perfect on all fronts. I can assure you that to this day I remember all the names and surnames of the people that have come and gone through BC3.

What were some start-up challenges and memorable moments over the past 10 years?

NO: The biggest challenge, starting from scratch, was how to attract internationally relevant people in the field of climate change research. There was already competition at the time from research centres and universities with a lot more history than us. Anil Markandya was our biggest asset in this sense. He was a great resource for attracting valuable researchers at the beginning who, in turn, would later bring other significant researchers through their networks. We have been growing ever since.

SP: During the 9 years I spent at reception, I was the secretary of the scientific director as well as the reference person for any problem that researchers had at BC3. I had to be fully present from the beginning, for whatever issues came up. Special attention was needed when researchers would
come from far away. It was important that they felt there was someone who could assist them or help out with any challenges that they faced. People were often far away from home, working and living in another language, which must have been difficult. I had a lot of empathy for them. I tried to respond to their needs as much as possible, thinking at the same time how I would feel if I were in their shoes. I have learnt a lot interacting with so many international people. Primarily, that people coming from abroad are often used to living in such diverse, international contexts, and are extremely open  and generous. As a Basque, I have deep feelings of belonging and loyalty to my home. But I’ve noticed that when people come from abroad they extend their hand and reach out to include everybody, and it comes naturally to them. This sense of unity is a great take-home lesson for me, and has changed my perspective a lot. Indeed, one of my saddest moments was when our first researcher left BC3. It was then that I started apprehending the natural and normal cycle of the research process.

NO: One of my most memorable moments at BC3 was when we changed scientific director. I had been working alongside Anil for such a long time, and I didn’t know what to expect for the next stage of BC3. Fortunately, Maria Jose was a great choice. It was truly a symbolic moment, Anil literally passed over a baton to Maria Jose, representing the passover, which made it quite extraordinary.

What are some of BC3’s biggest accomplishments so far?

NO: While Anil and MJ have covered BC3’s scientific and professional accomplishments during their dialogue, I want to talk about something else, that for me, is equally important and distinguishes BC3 from other research centres. That is, the group of people that make up BC3. One of our greatest achievements has been being able to maintain a good team of people from different backgrounds, cultures and scientific fields, who are able to work collaboratively. We have often avoided conflicts, and when few conflicts have arisen, we have been able to solve them, collectively. For me, this has been most important in creating a successful future for a research centre of excellence, founded on values of collaboration and respect, working towards a common goal, both scientifically and at the management level. These are the types of values that prevail at BC3. We have core values that make us a different, and I see this as our biggest achievement.

SP: I believe our researchers have achieved a lot through the years, particularly in terms of our increasing number of publications over time, which has promoted the centre and attracted more researchers and interest in BC3. We have also received great evaluations, both scientifically and with respect to
our administrative and management team, from the Basque Excellence Research Centres (BERC) Programme. I believe everyone has contributed to these “drops in the ocean”, but Nerea deserves special attention.

Back then, would you have imagined BC3 as it is today? What can we aspire for in the future?

NO: I would have never imagined that as of 2018 we would reach 53 people here at BC3. Our success has been driven largely by our ability to attract financial funding and our extensive network of research collaborators across the world.
SP: I don’t think we ourselves realise how big of a centre we’ve become. We only notice when we realise how much less time we have to execute our work! We are accustomed to working with a lower number of people, but our family has been multiplying!

NO: I hope that BC3 remains a relevant actor in the field of climate change and decision making. I also hope that somehow, financial pressures are lifted so that our researchers can really focus on knowledge production and our management team can be relieved from administrative burden. On a personal level, I hope to continue to work hard to better our already great environment here at BC3, one which promotes gender equality and collaboration on all levels. On that note, I also hope that within the next 10 years we will see many more women leading research lines here at BC3.
SP: Not only is BC3 a welcoming environment, but there is a human value and connection here that makes people feel at home. I believe as a centre we show, execute and promote the values that we believe in; from its people, to the way we share and co-create knowledge. These are the core principles of our centre.

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