David Soto Oñate returns to the UVigo after a two-year stay in the US with a Fulbright scholarship

The researcher completed this stay thanks to a joint program of the  Regional Government of Galicia and the Fulbright Commission. In order to  be eligible for these grants, it is necessary to obtain a postdoctoral contract from the regional government and spend two years (or several) in a US research center.

“It is as if Regional Government of Galicia carried out the selection process for Fulbright. The salary comes from the Regional Government, and Fulbright’s health insurance. In my case it was enough economically. Once the contract is awarded, you immediately become part of the Fulbright program that offers spectacular support. I was assisted in all the formalities (which are many: visa, insurance, formalities with the university…) and they made a constant monitoring of my situation. Even in the midst of the pandemic, I was offered a free ride on a repatriation flight to Europe they were organizing. It makes a lot of difference to go to America alone or with this help. I had already done another research stay in the US in 2016, and the process had been much heavier operationally and emotionally. Nothing to see”, explains David.

The research project he has developed there was the continuation of one of the most important parts of his doctoral thesis

“The study seeks to demonstrate the importance of cultural systems in making political and economic institutions operate properly. To that end, I tried to show that certain cultural traits that promote cooperation and social participation among citizens improve the functioning of Western liberal democracies. Although this is observable at international level, I have focused the analysis on the case of the Spanish regions, and it has been very nice. You can see the result in the working paper that we uploaded a fellow student from Indiana University and I to SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3625273. We will try to put it in a good magazine, to see if there is luck!”, says the researcher.

Ostrom Workshop was the center where he made the stay

“This center is named after Elinor Ostrom and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, who founded the center and directed it for decades. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. Although her work dealt primarily with institutional analysis, and defended the relevance of culture and the so-called social capital, she was best known for her work on the governance of common goods (mainly collectively owned natural resources). The centre itself was highly oriented towards the governance of natural resources. So once there, inspired by that environment, I gradually extended my work to some old and new lines of research that had more to do with the green economy and the governance of natural resources. In this two-year period I was also working in fisheries governance, in the international regime on oil spill pollution, and in the circular economy”, he explains.

David maintains regular contact with the researchers he met in his experience, with whom he is conducting research on political economy and natural resource management. In addition, he participates in the “polycentricity” working group of the Ostrom Workshop.

“The experience has been awesome, on a personal and professional level”

“Life on campus was wonderful. It was situated in the middle of a spectacular natural setting. There were about 50,000 members of the university community. The campus was full of squirrels, and it was very common to encounter raccoons, skunks and roe deer (I even ran into a weasel and a coyote on campus). Social life was multicultural, kind and intellectually stimulating. On the other hand, the life of the US Midwest was also experienced: giant vehicles, tornado alarms, civilians carrying weapons quietly…”.

“Academic life was very enriching. There researchers make a considerable effort to make their work visible, and the centres encourage the participation of community members. Seminars and debates are constantly held in an effort to attract students and peers from other centres. They weave very useful and productive multidisciplinary networks. The atmosphere in the seminars is always constructive and friendly, both in the questions and in the answers. There is a very healthy culture of participation and debate. I believe that the experience in these two dimensions helped me to develop skills and attitudes that are very relevant to academic life: a greater ability to move in multicultural environments, a greater orientation towards results, greater tolerance for disciplinary diversity, greater ability to create and work in effective teams, etc. In addition, it has endowed me with an important number of friends and an extensive professional network”, says the academic.

“I hope that things will change and that I and so many other new researchers can find a place in Galicia to develop our work”.

Although the experience was very stimulating, David wants to continue working in Galicia. “My life project is in Galicia. I’d be badly treated here if I decided to go to another country. I have made this effort to go two years precisely to strengthen myself as a professional, and to have the possibility to carry my vital project here, working in Galicia and for Galicia. However, things are very complicated for new researchers, it seems that now there is a favorable attitude from the state government to resolve this situation. I hope that this attitude will lead to better conditions for this group. Without a doubt this stay put me in a good position to continue driving my research career and finally achieve some stability. In the end I suppose many of us want that: to be able to continue working with some stability”.

Covid-19 pandemic has also affected his stay

“At first I thought it would not affect me so much, but after half a year with the research center closed and all the classroom activities interrupted I decided to return to Galicia. The Regional Government offered me to stay 6 months longer in the hope that the situation would improve. But the situation is far from over. The president’s attitude was very different from that of the European countries. There have never been decisive measures to curb contagion from the federal government, and states were openly attacked if they imposed effective measures. There were also constant attacks from the White House on the scientific community and the foreign population. I didn’t give credit. Neither I nor any of my fellow Americans. In the rural areas instead there was a lot of support for Donald Trump. We will see what happens in the November elections”, says Soto.

Future challenges

“Currently I am not so much looking for new lines of research, but trying to choose well some of them and focus my efforts there. I like to be interested in various topics and I think that has made me develop a great versatility as a researcher. However, it is now my turn to focus my efforts on one line and form robust candidates for international research projects.”

“The circular economy is getting a lot of attention internationally. I notice that my works on circular economy receive more attention or, at least, are much more seen and cited. Moreover, it has been an area of interest for the European Union for years as a key strategy for the transition to sustainable economic progress. It is very likely that after finishing the projects I have open, I will concentrate my energy on the circular economy”, sums up David.