Dec 19, 2013
Researchers like to break new ground. But it can be useful to follow paths already trodden, as Freie Universität Research Alumni Program demonstrates. Set up in the spring of 2013, the program gives faculty at Freie Universität the chance to resume and strengthen collaborations with former visiting researchers. It focuses particularly on involving the young generation of academics in these existing international research networks.
Through the Research Alumni Program, doctoral students and postdocs at Freie Universität Berlin can “visit” former visiting academics, so-called research alumni, at their home institutions to carry out their own research there. In return, young academics from around the world whose supervisors are research alumni of Freie Universität can follow their path to Berlin, as 33-year-old Kristin Moriah did. As a PhD student in the English Program at the City University of New York (CUNY)‘s Graduate Center, she was carrying out research into how “Black Performances” by African Americans such as Josephine Baker influenced the development of a national identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Thanks to a scholarship through the Research Alumni Program, Kristin Moriah was able to accept the offer made by Professor Frank Kelleter to complete a three-month research stay at Freie Universität’s John F. Kennedy Institute as part of her doctoral research. The contact was facilitated by Robert Reid-Pharr, her doctoral supervisor at the CUNY Graduate Center, who is a former Humboldt scholar and research alumnus of the John F. Kennedy Institute. “I had a great time in Berlin,” says Kristin Moriah, a touch nostalgically. The visit to Berlin gave her the opportunity to attend several conferences and meet other scholars who are doing research on similar topics.
In this way, an existing link between an academic at Freie Universität and a research alumnus led to a wider network which is actively shaped by young scholars, who can make use of it during their academic careers. The opportunity to build networks which may lead to actual collaboration is an important aspect for junior researchers, as Nikolas Rathert (28), a research associate in Freie Universität’s Management Department, found. With a scholarship from the Research Alumni Program, Rathert spent eight weeks at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University in Chicago as the guest of Professor Edward J. Zajac, who had received an honorary doctorate from Freie Universität’s School of Business and Economics in 2012.
Rathert is currently working on his doctorate on corporate social responsibility (CSR), a term for companies’ social involvement which has now become standard practice. He was able to use his research visit to develop a collaborative project with Brayden King, another professor at the Kellogg School. They are now carrying out joint research into companies’ reactions to negative publicity.
Rathert values his research visit to Chicago in particular for the opportunity to make direct contact with researchers such as Zajac and King. “Even in the age of email and Skype, it is important to get to know research colleagues personally. This leads to valuable relationships and collaboration,“ as he puts it. Immersing oneself in a new intellectual field is a significant factor in the success of an academic’s own research.
During the pilot phase of the Research Alumni Program, which is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 16 other research visits of this kind have already been supported. In addition, over the past year, four international expert workshops with research alumni in Freie Universität Focus Areas on topics ranging from nanoscience to “Nietzsche and the Enlightenment” were supported through the Research Alumni Program. The active involvement of former guest researchers in Freie Universität’s international network building will continue to be an important subject even after the end of the pilot program in spring 2014.
The Freie Universität Research Alumni Program was a winner in the 2012 ideas competition "Research Alumni of Universities in Germany". The competition is part of the “International Research Marketing” project, jointly organized by the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and is part of the ‘Research in Germany’ initiative.