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The importance of research rankings

Pedro Rodríguez, director of SEER UPC

At the beginning of the year, several rankings have been published that analyze innovative activity at all levels. They have revealed that the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya·BarcelonaTech (UPC) tops the ranking of technical universities in terms of scientific output and productivity, and that South Korea, Germany and Switzerland are on the pedestal of innovation, at global level, according to Bloomberg.

These are two examples of the increasingly common rankings that are published in the research and development environment. Each one uses its own method, so results differ, but if we analyze the rankings in detail the leaders do not change: the top ten countries tend to be the same, although the order varies. The same situation is found with universities and research centers. Regardless of the system that is used, the best are always at the top.

However, it is difficult to assess research results at individual level. Numerous awards recognize the best researchers in their respective areas of knowledge, but it is clearly much harder to analyze and compare research work at a general level using objective parameters.

One method that is considered valid worldwide is citation analysis. The aim is to determine the impact of the papers published by each researcher on all scientific knowledge. The number of times an article is cited is used to check its importance, and h-index can be used as an indicator of the quality and impact of scientific output.

The publishing company Thomson Reuters, which indexes all of the papers published in high-impact journals, as well as conference papers and books, has released lists of the most frequently cited researchers in the world.

One person who features on the lists is an electrical engineer called Pedro Rodríguez Cortés, the head of SEER UPC (Renewable Electrical Energy Systems, a CIT UPC member center). His intense activity has led to the publication of 66 papers since 2005, which have obtained 2,528 citations (over 44 per paper, on average) and raised his h-index to 26. According to Reuters’ data, Pedro Rodríguez is one of the 54 researchers working in Spain who have reached the top 3,000 science researchers worldwide.

This recognition is particularly important as it increases the visibility of applied research and its relation with the production sector. Pedro Rodríguez’s work in the field of renewable energies, smart grids, power electronics and distributed electricity generation, most of which is associated with industrial developments, has also received the approval of colleagues worldwide who have used his studies as the basis for new contributions to scientific knowledge.

The work carried out in technology centers, to bring technology to companies through research and development projects based on knowledge derived from the university, is the key to the CIT UPC. The task of over 500 researchers who are associated with the CIT UPC Technology Center is successfully concluded when the companies we collaborate with obtain competitive advantages that enable them to improve through technology.

However, for this to happen, the production sector must first value the potential of this mode of research. This recognition is not easy to achieve, because although companies know their opportunities to improve better than anybody, in many cases they do not consider collaborating with a specialized technology center.

This is where external recognition comes into play. Beyond everyday activities, which in the case of CIT UPC produce results that speak for themselves (over 12 million euros of revenue, 110 patents registered, over 500 projects and research and development agreements, among other results), the fact that our researchers appear in global rankings of excellence is a valuable factor that contributes to making our work more visible.

For this reason, we celebrate Pedro Rodríguez’s success and want to share his brilliant contribution to international science. Our work is based on the efforts of researchers who, like Rodríguez, make their knowledge and the capabilities of our centers available to companies. The best reward for us is to have grown every year since our foundation five years ago, and to offer more and better technological developments to the production sector. We want to be at the top of this ranking too.