Be Better than Standard Interviews 1: Jesús Fernández, Assistant Professional Researcher

I am happy to announce the release of the 1st Be Better than Standard Interviews.

This is a series of Q&A sessions to be posted every now and then. 

The session covers day-to-day concerns related to career development.

Feel free to participate into a constructive and lively space for discussion through the comments.

Tell me about yourself and the choices you have taken along your career

Hi, I’m Jesus Fernandez Bayo, currently Assistant Professional Researcher at the University of California, Davis. First, I’d like to explain what my position entails as it is not a common term everywhere (never heard of it before coming to the USA). I’m a researcher (meaning I can be PI in project) and I don’t have to teach in despite of being at an University. I’m not permanent employee with a salary from the University. This means I am “soft money” employee: I need to find funding all the time to have a salary to pay myself from project. This is quite challenging sometime. Likely, my formers PIs as postdoc they are strongly supporting my career.

About my career, I did my PhD in Granada (Spain) at the “Estación Experimental del Zaidin” (Spanish National Research Council). My general goal was to use agroindustrial vermicompost (wastes digested by earthworms) to “fix” pesticide in the soils and prevent underground water pollution. I continued my research in the environmental fate of pesticides in tropical soils as Postdoc at Supagro in Montpellier (France). After four years of postdoc, I decided to move out of studying chemical pesticides in soil. That brought me to the University of California Davis (UCD) to study Biosolarization an organic technology alternative to chemical fumigation. You can find more about this here.

I have been involved in so many different research topic related to add-value to organic wastes. One of those projects was to study Black Soldier Fly Larvae as sustainable and nutritious protein source for chicken by cultivating the larvae in almond hulls. This project got so much attraction that kind of “forced” me to start a startup thanks to my amazing team, supervisors and the opportunities open for entrepreneurs at UC Davis.

What is the difference between the You in the PhD, the the You halfway between your PhD and now, and the You now?

During the PhD I wasn’t worried about the future, I was very insecure and I remember kind of waiting for approval from my supervisor for any decision. I had a lot of lab work and not enough time to write. I was only focused on finishing the PhD. My halfway between then and now was excited about doing postdoc in different places in the world. I started to enjoy more research because I started to take more decisions. Today, I find myself less naif and more secure and independent. I enjoy writing project proposal and presenting results and I am lucky enough that I can still enjoy lab and field work in between writing.

How have you used your different experiences in the past (methods, technologies, experimental design, soft skills, networking…) along your career?

In many ways, actually, that is one of the best ways to realize that you are actually learning things. For instance, during my PhD I went to Germany (Forschungszentrum Juelich) to learn how to use radio-labelled pesticides to study their fate in the environment. That was the same technique I used for my Postdoc in France. Likewise, in France I learnt to take water samples in soil column to study pesticide leaching. I am currently using the same technique to monitor nitrate percolation in soil. In my opinion, it is extremely important to move to different labs and countries to enrich knowledge and to learn new techniques and different ways of managing projects, communicate results and understand cultures.

Order from the most to the least motivation factor: salary, work environment, career prospective, work-life balance, country/city, topic/field, challenging, comfort area.

  1. topic/field
  2. work-life balance
  3. country/city
  4. salary
  5. challenging
  6. work environment,
  7. career prospective
  8. comfort area.

When is a project or task too risky to be realistically obtainable?

With enough resources (funding, team, equipment and time) almost any project is realistically obtainable. If some of those pillars is unbalance it will be a challenge to achieve your goals. Outside of that, I think ethical issues could be the hardest part to make a project real.

Any advice for managing pressure?

Breathe. Slow down to plan. Going step by step, setting small goals. Delegating tasks to colleagues. Of course, being able of refusing tasks when you feel overwhelmed

Choose one challenging situation and how you overcame it

My current situation is quite challenging. I do not have a permanent position or visa and we are living one of the most unpredictable times in recent history. To manage this pressure I focus on every goal that I achieve. I try to do short-term goals but also work on projects/ideas that could help me for the future. For instance, I invest time outside of work in the startup. At the same time, I force myself to stop working and take time for me and my close ones to keep a healthy work-life balance.

How do you deal with procrastination?

This is one of my biggest issues. Fixing deadlines and weekly goals. I have a calendar that I use to block time to specific projects (writing, reading…in a weekly basis). But at the end, a hard deadline and pressure is the best way to fight procrastination. I also try to have a flexible schedule, meaning that if I find myself that I am procrastinating too much, I try to recover that time later that day.

In your opinion, what makes a good team leader?

A balanced person. That person must communicate well, understand the needs of the team, above all, it must be part of the team and not above the team

How do you handle your public speaking nerves?

I’m not a communicator by nature, I’m aware of it and to overcome that I do practice a lot.

Advantages and disadvantages of working in the two most different environments that you have experienced? (industry vs academics, research centers vs universities, policy vs entrepreneur…)

In my case it would be academy vs entrepreneurship. Advantages of the academy are: interaction with a lot of people, many opportunities to learn new things and I’d say more financial security. The disadvantage is that you share your time with a lot of bureaucracy.
As entrepreneur, I have enjoyed the possibility of making an idea true to really help society. You focus mainly in one project. If it works, you can make money! (but I’m far from that step). The disadvantages may be that you need to learn many field you may have not learnt on your research career: finances, legal, marketing…Finally, depending how and where you develop your business, you can face a lot of financial risk and insecurity.

What would you do differently if you could go back in time knowing what you know now?

My career hasn’t been perfect but I do not regret any of my decisions in general. I think one of the issues that have limited or influenced my career is that my goal has always been to find a quality job in Spain. Unfortunately, the opportunities and working conditions are so low that the competition is extremely high. I have been trying more than 10 years to go back home….
If have to say something more specific, I think, I would have planned my career goals and fill some gaps on my CV to achieve a most permanent position in the academy

Springer Nature makes key textbooks free

Only until July!

Springer Nature, one of the greatest scientific publishers, allows downloading for free more than 400 books (approx. 8 GB) from all fields of knowledge. You can find all of them in this Excel sheet:

These are complete books, written in English, some of them quite technical. They are in PDF (or ePub) and have no digital rights management (DRM), just a watermark outside the reading area. Thus, the books can be converted to any reading device, such as a tablet or e-book reader, using a software such as Calibre, which can convert PDF or ePub files to Amazon’s Kindle format.

How to download a book?

1: Find the book you are interested in in the excel sheet above. TIP: Use the drop down menu of the column “English Package Name” to filter by subject e.g. Behavioral Science, Biomedical and Life Sciences or Computer Science.

2: Once you found a book, follow the link in the column “OpenURL” of the excel sheet. Then click the download button.

Keep safe keep learning!

Alexgand made a python script to download them all:


EU Prize for Women Innovators until 21st of April

EU Prize for Women Innovators is a SWFS Recognition Prize for entrepreneurs with the framework Horizon 2020 (EU). Deadline date for applicants :21 April 2020 17:00:00 (Brussels)

This award scheme (single-stage) recognises the role of women in bringing about game-changing innovations to market, and celebrates the outstanding achievements of women running innovative companies. The EU Prize for Women Innovators will be awarded to up to four women innovators in total (three women in the main prize category, and one Rising Innovator at the beginning of her career) who have created the largest impact on the innovation ecosystem by transforming ideas into new and advanced products and/or services for the benefit of European citizens

1. Eligible countries:described in the Rules of Contest.
2. Eligibility and exclusion criteria: described in the Rules of Contest.

The response of open access science to the coronavirus

Two open science platforms: Frontiers and Figshare are doing their part in the fight against the virus.

“The Frontiers community is mobilizing to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, Frontiers have launched our Coronavirus Knowledge Hub – here you will find the outputs of several new initiatives intended to coordinate and support the efforts of our community, as we confront the public-health, economic and societal effects of the rapidly spreading disease.

As part of this initiative, Frontiers is assembling many of the world’s leading coronavirus scientists and epidemiologists to participate in the Research Topic: ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Pathophysiology, Epidemiology, Clinical Management and Public Health Response’. This article collection will highlight how interdisciplinary research can provide insights into the COVID-19 epidemic, addressing knowledge gaps and generating evidence for its improved management and control.

Coronavirus Knowledge Hub
A trusted source for the latest science on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Frontiers has also waived Article Processing Charges (APCs) and established a priority peer-review process for manuscripts submitted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will further help ensure robust scientific research becomes openly available as soon as possible, for other researchers to build on and to enable evidence-based decision-making for public authorities worldwide.

As we pull together as a community – calmly, responsibly, and resolutely – during this COVID-19 outbreak, Frontiers is keen to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to send your ideas for new research directions, stakeholder engagement and initiatives around coronavirus and the current global health crisis. Making science open has never been more essential to global well-being and Frontiers thank you for your contribution and dedication”

Figshare is also committed to continuing to provide a platform to share the latest research on an international scale. As such, Figshare will continue to supply and maintain our normal service during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are also in a unique position to help the research community during this time so the team has been working on some new initiatives to aid the rapid dissemination of research in any form, be it preprints, datasets, presentations, or software.
The significance of sharing research is vitally important, now more than ever, which is why we want to help in any way we can. To allow researchers to publish any COVID-19 related research, we’re launching a free portal at

All researchers will need to do is create an account on Figshare and upload content with COVID-19 as one of the keywords on their metadata form and we’ll pull it into the COVID-19 Open Research Portal.

Please note, if your institution uses Figshare as a data or institutional repository, please continue to use that platform to store and share your COVID-19 research. COVID-19 research stored in institutional Figshare platforms will also be aggregated into

If you’d like to learn more about the portal or have any questions, please visit the Figshare blog, here or reach out at

The beauty of life […] find your smile when you are about to cry

The beauty of life, the beauty of helping each other, especially in difficult times, find your smile when you are about to cry.

A poem by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, 1979.

We plant a seed that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation
in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,

VIII International Symposium SRUK/CERU – interested talks relevant to the day-to-day life of any researcher

On 12th of March, the Organizing Committee, being its primary concern the health and wellbeing of everyone, has decided to postpone the International Symposium until the WHO declares that the risk related to COVID-19 has disappeared. As soon as we know the new date, we will publish it, in order for you to have greater certainty about your travel schedule and plans.

Date to be confirmed!!! The VIII International Symposium SRUK/CERU (new date different from 10-12 of July) to be hold in Oxford! With its theme Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (A. C. Clark), we will look into how science has evolved in a way that was very difficult to imagine in a not so distant past. More details to follow, here and on SRUK social media.

Speakers on Leadership, Science Policy, Science Divulgación (youtuber, )
Grant proposals, Resilience for researchers wellbeing, Time Management… Be ready to develop soft and hard skills and meet other colleagues to share goals and maximise opportunities and benefits.

We want you!

We are looking for a student that wants to do a short research stay in The University of Sheffield, UK

The student should be highly motivated to do research and experimental, lab work.

This is a multidisciplinary project, that fits students from last years of bachelors to PhD degree, from degrees on environmental sciences, geotechnical engineering, chemistry, hydrology or geology .

Research Areas: Environmental Sciences, Geology, Hydrology, Geotechnical engineering, Chemistry.


Project Description

Title: Evaluation of recycled landfill barriers against pollution: from centrifuge scale to reality
Research topic of the short-stay period:
The dumping of waste produces a toxic liquid (namely leachate) that percolates downwards, polluting the surrounding areas and groundwater. To stop the migration of the leachate pollutants, barriers are required. The objective is to predict the performance of recycled and reactive barriers in the long term to build sustainable landfills. For this, we will use one of the biggest (2-m diameter) and most advanced geotechnical centrifuge ( There are only 30 centrifuge of this type in the world and no one in Spain. To mimic the landfill barriers, clays blended with recycled materials will be compacted until 3-10 cm height at their optimum moisture in a cylinder of 10 cm diameter. The compacted cylinders will be permeated with Manchester landfill leachate and gas (50% CO2) while spinning in the centrifuge, to ensure conditions similar to reality. The speed (gravities) and time of spinning (days) set in the centrifuge will provide equivalences to barriers of 2.5 m thickness max. and time of 30-100 years. After centrifugation, each cylinder will be sliced into 6-10 samples, representing different depths of the barrier. The porewater (obtained in aqueous extracts 1/2 -1/2.5 solid-to-liquid ratio after bench centrifugation and 0.45µm-filtration) will be analysed for pH and electrical conductivity (electrodes), major anions and ammonium (IC), metals and rest of major cations (ICP-MS) and carbon (TIC/TOC analyser). The barriers tested will then be ranked from the least to the most effective one. The effect of rainwater on the reversibility of the attenuation will be considered, too.
Knowledge, skills and competences acquired by the student at the end of the short-stay (expected Learning Outcomes):
S/he will:
– acquire scientific knowledge covering from fundamental research (namely experimental analysis of multi-component solute transport in compacted porous media) to applied research (namely geotechnical and geochemical engineering design of barrier systems from first principles)
– develop theoretical, practical and modelling skills in the evaluation and design of sustainable barrier systems to mitigate contaminant emissions from wastes disposal facilities
– access the noteworthy training offered by the host institution, such as:
—> research project, team-building and effective communication
—> academic and research writing in English, good publication practice guidelines and bibliometric analyses
—> effective presentations to different audiences using different media…
Monitoring plan: Available under request
Evaluation plan: Available under request
Benefits of the research short-stay to the host
In turn the student will provide relevant support in lab-scale experiments for studying the attenuation processes through landfill barriers. The supervisor will give continuous training to the student and transfer her/him unique analytical and technical skills, from the very first moment. This will ensure a rapid productive start of the student in the host institution, under appropriate knowledge and direct supervision. Specifically, student will help in the:
– preparation of barriers (homogenizing, sieving, blending, moistening, curing, compacting)
– geotechnical engineering tests (soil consistency and permeability)
– sampling of barriers after geotechnical centrifugation
– preparation of aqueous extracts and determination of moisture contents 
– sample preparation for chemical analyses