Connecting science and diversity pays off at the PRBB

Building cohesion and trust is not a matter of weeks and months. It takes years.





Highly diverse research groups are “winning at science” according to a recent news feature in the Nature journal. Especially ethnic diversity correlates with increased citation counts – much more than age, gender or affiliation finds an analysis of more than 1 million papers in 24 academic subfields.


This confirms an earlier study in which papers with 4 or 5 authors of different ethnicities had 5–10% more citations on average than papers from authors of all the same ethnicity. The reasons are not fully clear. It could be papers by top scientists who can attract people from all over the world or a higher variety of international authors may lead to a wider sharing of the article in a more diverse network.



Cohesion and trust seem to be key factors to entangle different cultures, also in a research centre.

In neither case it is easy to make diversity work. Cohesion and trust seem to be key factors to entangle different cultures, also in a research centre. But, how can we achieve this in laboratories that are embedded in societies who have lost trust in social structures, politics, businesses, the media and financial institutions?


In 2007 we introduced the slogan “We connect science and diversity in one creative space” at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). It was rather a vision to create brand throughout our communication campaigns. Today, ten years later, we understand much better, why diversity means excellence and creates impact.


Throughout the political and financial crisis in Spain, the overall spending of 90 million € per year of the 6 academic research centres at the beach of Barcelona remained stable, even increased. Scientists attracted 26 projects of the European Research Council (ERC) and represent a community of 1,400 people from 50 different countries. Many Europeans, but also from Peru, Iran, Lebanon, India or Japan. Each year these researchers produce about 1,200 papers, 12-16 articles of those in Nature and Science.



Building cohesion and trust is not a matter of weeks and months. It takes years.

Building cohesion and trust is not a matter of weeks and months. It takes years. At the PRBB, we implemented 3 main lines of action to connect the different scientific cultures in subfields like bioinformatics, epidemiology, molecular biology, theoretical physics, genetics, or hepathology.


In the first place are scientific conferences. About 300 take place every year at the PRBB with speakers coming from all over the world. Here scientists of the park meet with themselves and the speakers to exchange knowledge, to get to know each other better and maybe initiate potential internal or international collaborations.


The second activity is PRBB Intervals. This continuing professional development programme of 38 courses provides residents with a range of education and training opportunities in areas that complement their professional experience, from Mindfulness to Critical Thinking – for free.

And third, in order to fuel trust and belonging, people need to know each other also at a personal level. So, social activities are key. Can you imagine a Beach Volleyball Championship with 60 teams and more than 500 participants? That’s the PRBB where you can even join a choir, a symphonic orchestra or go to yoga sessions throughout the week.


I believed that the success of the scientists at the PRBB came from its interdisciplinary approach in an open-space setting. Entangling the molecular with the populational, and the basic with the clinical perspective in life sciences and biomedical research. If it is, as shown now, also the capacity to create an ethnically and culturally diverse research community with the same lines of action, even better.


Resources:

These labs are remarkably diverse — here’s why they’re winning at science, K Powell, Nature, 06 June 2018


Countries of origin of the PRBB Community (interactive worldmap)


PRBB Performance Report 2017


PRBB website