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“Trust means having the same values and goals, but not necessarily following the same paths.”

Roberta Bottarin, Vice Director of Eurac Research, talks about how she experienced her role during the pandemic.

Jens Lelie
© Unsplash | Jens Lelie
11 June 2021by Valentina Bergonzi, Sigrid Hechensteiner

Putting yourself in another person's shoes: recognising their abilities and needs, being flexible and having confidence. Pragmatic lessons in humanism from biologist and Eurac Research Vice Director Roberta Bottarin.

Looking back at the past year: what caused you the most trouble and what did you manage best?

Roberta Bottarin: I think in our small universe we responded as best we could to a situation that was formerly unimaginable. In the most difficult moments, I was encouraged by the fact that we exchanged ideas as a team and decided on the next steps case by case - together. What I found most difficult was that the "duration" of the pandemic was a completely incalculable variable. The decisions needed in the short term were clear. In the medium term, the prospects were uncertain. And when asked about the more distant future, my most common answer was: I don't know.

Has this experience changed your view of those who, on a daily and professional basis, have to make far-reaching decisions that affect entire societies?

Bottarin: Absolutely! I am less quick to judge all those who govern in complex and new situations - provided, of course, that they act in good faith. It is not usually reported, for example, that decision makers don’t always have access to all information. And any decision, no matter how well-considered, is also likely to cause dissatisfaction. Before strongly criticizing certain decisions, one should at least try to understand the reasoning behind them.

It is not usually reported, that decision makers don’t always have access to all information.

Roberta Bottarin
Roberta Bottarin, Vice Director of Eurac Research© Eurac Research | Ivo Corrà

Do you believe researchers should play a more active role in the public and political spheres?

Bottarin: I think they were very involved during the pandemic. We were all personally affected during those months and learned as much as we could about viruses and the spread of disease - that knowledge was important to protect ourselves, but also to make decisions to protect the community. We should keep it that way in other areas where the impact on individuals is not so immediate and direct at first glance, such as climate change. In my eyes, it is therefore absolutely necessary not to let communication and cooperation between research, politics and society break down again. Personally, I experience a certain frustration that my research ends once the data is evaluated and the results are presented. Will the data be used? How will it be used? How can we direct our research so that it is of use to those who make decisions in policy and administration? I would like to have a more constant exchange here.

Personally, I experience a certain frustration that my research ends once the data is evaluated and the results are presented. Will the data be used? How will it be used? How can we direct our research so that it is of use to those who make decisions in policy and administration?

Roberta Bottarin

How willing can researchers be to compromise if their results are not really taken into account?

Bottarin: To put it bluntly, collaboration is necessary, but it only works if you trust each other. Trust means having the same values and goals, but not necessarily following the same paths. Those who do research and those who do politics, sometimes make different considerations. Instead of rigidly insisting on a particular point of view, we should accept and respect that it is possible to reach a goal by various means, and then together consider how to reach an outcome that meets all needs. If I may draw a comparison to the family sphere: there are many reasons for mutual incomprehension - from the choice of clothes to school issues; but what counts are the values. For the rest, both sides must learn to trust each other.

Eurac Research: The Pandemic Year in Numbers

"Trust" was also the key word in this year of Smart Working.

Bottarin: Indeed. This solution may not suit everyone, but again, trust and commitment go hand in hand. We would have understood and accepted one or two absences, but how the employees reacted to this situation exceeded all our expectations. And I know that it was sometimes very tedious to reorganise working from home; moreover, I really missed the research in the field, taking measurements and samples in nature.

I don't want to forget anything we experienced; we learned from it, we grew from it, it is part of our emotional wealth of experience.

Roberta Bottarin

What image will stick in your memory from this year of working in a pandemic?

Bottarin: Instead of speaking to a hundreds of smiling faces on the evening of the Christmas party, this time I stood in front of a camera in mid-December to record a Christmas greeting - a few end-of-year thoughts that would reach employees online. It moved me; I felt how much I missed the personal contact and how irreplaceable this part of our work is, too. This video is symbolic of all those months when our social contacts were reduced to zero. And yet I don't want to forget anything we experienced; we learned from it, we grew from it, it is part of our emotional wealth of experience.

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