The following interview is part of the European Studies Council and Council on Latin American & Iberian Studies collaborative collection titled “On the Ground Perspectives.” This new series features its international academic collaborators and institutional partners, investigating their research and other institutional priorities during the pandemic. The series aims to surface common challenges and showcase best practices for ongoing collaboration during this unusually challenging time.
Pablo Vidal, Universidad Católica de Valencia (UCV)
Pablo Vidal was a Visiting Professor at the Yale MacMillan Center in 2019 and worked with both Council on Latin American & Iberian Studies and the European Studies Council. He is a Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Catholic University of Valencia, Spain and Director of the Anthropology Research Institute. He also has administrative duties as part of the Provost’s Office at UCV. Dr. Vidal’s current research focuses on the relationship between nature and people, mainly in rural areas.
These are unprecedented times. Could you tell us about a few lines of faculty and grad student research at UCV that tackle the challenges of the present moment?
University research centers have focused their efforts in recent months on finding solutions to the problems raised by COVID-19. It is worth mentioning the ongoing research chosen by the CaixaImpulse program of La Caixa Foundation on the search for antivirals that block the replication of SARS-CoV-2 by acting on the virus RNA. There is also ongoing research of a more social nature, such as studies on the impact of confinement on the environment before and after this first phase of the Coronavirus, with a special focus on protected areas.
How is the pandemic affecting UCV researchers’ ability to do their work?
Laboratory work continues to be carried out normally, with extreme safety and hygiene measures. Difficulties have been most noticeable in carrying out field work, research stays abroad, and conducting interviews, especially because of the measures necessary with respect to the elderly. The European projects, in collaboration with partners from other countries, have had to adapt quickly to the online mode and personal contact has been lost. Our oceanographic center has had to take extreme measures, which has reduced the capacity of researchers to embark on new investigations or fully use marine laboratories.
In short, we have adapted most of our processes to an online format, but this has resulted in less interaction with our partners and colleagues. Personal contact and work visits can hardly be 100% replicated through remote work.
What are your top priorities at UCV around institutional partnerships and engagement with other institutions at this time?
We want to maintain all the relationships established with our partners, despite the difficulties that COVID-19 poses for international mobility and for face-to-face meetings. For this reason, we are prioritizing online meetings, and taking creative approaches with all our projects. We are promoting virtual gatherings, as well as partnership activities outside of the standard presentation format. A good example of this cooperation has been the third Global Governance Debate via Zoom, held on June 26th, between Yale and UCV students.
One of our star projects (EU-CONEXUS) is the construction of a single European university among six different European Union universities. We are working hard to offer two minors with shared subjects, two Master’s degrees among the six universities, and a joint PhD program. The pandemic has not stopped this work at all, although we have had to preference online meetings.
How are you engaging with your counterparts at other institutions at this time?
We are trying, not without difficulty, to keep our cooperation on activities at pre-COVID levels. This fall we received international students and sent students abroad, although face-to-face meetings have been reduced by a third due to mobility difficulties and restrictions. For example, we cancelled travel to America and Asia. In any case, we expect this crisis to be temporary and we are already working on plans for post-COVID scenarios.
Once again, a good example is the experience we gained through the CONEXUS project. We have had to cancel several face-to-face activities, but as much as possible, we have offered training seminars and online meetings with teachers and students from other countries. The experience has been very enriching. We believe that for international cooperation, face-to-face meetings between people are very important, but with the pandemic we have had to adapt and make the most of the resources offered by technology.
Describe your experiences working with other institutions within Spain. How are they seeming to manage in this time?
Restrictions on mobility within Spain have been based on prudence, avoiding public transport whenever possible. For meetings, this means we have switched to holding them all online. We have to learn to live with the virus carefully, but we can’t stop new initiatives, as our students would be the most affected. This semester we started classes in a face-to-face format, as long as the group could adapt to the space restrictions on campus. Otherwise, we opted for a mixed approach, in which half of the students follow the class in person and the other half follow it online from home. Whenever possible, we want to avoid moving to an exclusively online format, which would discourage and affect our students, especially the youngest ones.