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The Networkers

Yasemin Soysal, Patryk Kusch, and Matthew Harder did research in Brazil and Berlin as recipients of fellowships for research alumni / next deadline for applications to the program for former guest scholars and scientists and their junior scholars.

Mar 11, 2019

Doctoral candidate Matthew Harder is currently a recipient of a fellowship from Freie Universität’s Research Alumni Program.

Doctoral candidate Matthew Harder is currently a recipient of a fellowship from Freie Universität’s Research Alumni Program.
Image Credit: Jennifer Gaschler

Postdoc Patryk Kusch – shown here in front of the Freie Universität measuring laser – did research at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil thanks to a Research Alumni Program fellowship.

Postdoc Patryk Kusch – shown here in front of the Freie Universität measuring laser – did research at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil thanks to a Research Alumni Program fellowship.
Image Credit: Privat

Matthew Harder is working on a doctorate at the University of Missouri. The American archaeologist is studying a small city in central Italy, specifically its development from 600 BCE to 300 CE. He is scheduled to travel to Amelia, in Umbria, for field research for the first time later this month, but right now he is in Berlin. Harder is spending six weeks at the Institute of Classical Archaeology at Freie Universität as a recipient of a fellowship from the Research Alumni Program.

Research alumni are international scholars and scientists who have done research at Freie Universität as doctoral candidates, postdocs, or visiting professors at some point in their past academic careers and have then gone on to further their careers in another country. The aim of the fellowships, which are intended to promote networking and support research activities, is to maintain ties with former members of the Freie Universität community and strengthen the university’s worldwide network with other higher education institutions.

“The program allows scholars and scientists to come to Freie Universität for another two to six weeks for research purposes, or they can send junior scholars and scientists from their working environment to us,” explains Franca Brand, head of the Alumni Office. In turn, junior scholars and scientists from Freie Universität can benefit from existing ties. “They can apply for a fellowship to spend several weeks doing research at international universities that have already sent visiting researchers to Freie Universität.” The Research Alumni Program assumes the costs of travel and the stay.

The Host Principle

A host welcomes program participants to the university in question. In Harder’s case, the host is Monika Trümper, a professor of classical archaeology. She and Harder had agreed beforehand on whom he wanted to meet at Freie Universität, Harder explains. “My dissertation topic is very specific, so it was really great to come into contact with other doctoral candidates who are working on similar projects.” A talk with computational archaeologist Silvia Polla was also very helpful, he says. The lines of inquiry for Polla, a junior professor, include the use of geographic information systems on excavation sites, a method that Harder hopes to use himself in the future.

Harder, who is engaging in the first long-term study of the ancient city of Amelia, is also using his time at Freie Universität to do extensive research at the campus library. “The long-standing tradition of archaeological research in Berlin means that the literature here is more extensive and more specific than in Missouri,” he says. Harder’s dissertation focuses above all on how the people of Amelia assimilated into the Roman Empire on the one hand, and on the other how they also actively negotiated their role in a time of political and cultural upheaval. Harder plans to present the findings of his research to date in a talk at the Institute of Classical Archaeology as well.

Harder came to Berlin and to Freie Universität thanks to research alumnus Marcello Mogetta, an assistant professor of Roman art and archaeology in Missouri, who is supervising Harder’s dissertation. Mogetta worked with Trümper as a postdoc four years ago on a project run by Freie Universität focusing on urbanism in ancient Italy.

International Cooperation

Yasemin Soysal is already familiar with Freie Universität. The first time she visited, she was a fellow in the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, which gives North American scholars from all fields of social science and humanities a way to specialize in contemporary German and European studies on site. Now a professor of sociology at the University of Essex, Soysal cooperates with scholars from all over the world in the fields of migration studies and human rights. Although her work focuses primarily on Europe, she has devoted her time to East Asia recently, turning to this region for empirical comparison, Soysal explains. In her role as keynote speaker at a conference of the research training group for East Asian Studies at Freie Universität, this brought her into contact one and a half years ago with Japanese studies scholar Verena Blechinger-Talcott, the group’s director and a professor of the politics and economy of Japan at Freie Universität. The two scholars soon discovered that their research interests and areas coincided, so they wanted to continue their intellectual dialogue, Soysal explains.

That was why, as a research alumna, she spent several weeks last September at the Seminar of East Asian Studies at Freie Universität. “This gave me a chance to become familiar with the current status of research and with researchers in East Asian studies – especially beyond my own discipline, sociology.” An international workshop titled “Cultural Mobilities and their Transnational Entanglements in East Asia,” which Soysal and Blechinger-Talcott organized together, allowed her to forge ties with other scholars who are working on phenomena relating to migration in China and Japan from a wide range of different perspectives.

“Berlin, and especially Dahlem, have had a significant influence on my intellectual development and my social life,” Soysal says. That is one reason she is always happy to return. She has lived in Berlin for four years in all: once shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, then again in the mid-1990s, the early 2000s, and 2014. “Every time I’m back here, it feels like I never left,” she says nostalgically. That is another reason she looks forward to continuing her work at the Seminar of East Asian Studies. A journal article co-authored with Blechinger-Talcott is already in the works.

Humans and Machines

Engaging in international dialogue within the field, even if the universities are physically far apart, is something postdoctoral researcher Patryk Kusch views as a major advantage of the Research Alumni Program. Kusch, a nanophysicist, spent four weeks last summer at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. His activities there included working with Ado Jorio, a professor of physics, whom he calls “a luminary in Raman spectroscopy.” He was also interested in the advanced tip-enhanced Raman spectroscope there.

This optical apparatus is used to break down light into the spectrum and then study how it is scattered on molecules or solids. This allows researchers to glean information on material properties, along with high-resolution image materials – an important analytical method for the Berlin working group headed by Stephanie Reich, which is studying the physical properties of systems just nanometers in size. His time in Brazil was “an incredible gain in terms of knowledge” for his team, Kusch says. “Jorio is one of the leading scientists working with this measurement method, and the tip-enhanced Raman spectroscope there was one of the first in the world.” The Institute of Physics at Freie Universität also has this kind of measuring device; a direct comparison with the Brazilian model allowed Kusch to find out which functions could still be added in Berlin. Samples are also illuminated from different sides in the two units, so the comparison values will benefit both research groups.

Knowledge Transfer and Cooperation

The link between the two research institutes was created several years ago by physics professors Reich and Jorio. There is now a “lively exchange of knowledge, including among us junior scientists and researchers,” Kusch explains. “Our cooperation will probably grow even closer in the future,” he says with enthusiasm. A joint publication with Jorio on this measuring method is in development, and the physics professor plans to travel back to Freie Universität for research purposes next summer. And thanks to the Research Alumni Program, it may even be possible for a junior researcher from the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais to come to Berlin for several weeks.

This text was originally published in German in campus.leben on March 5, 2019.

Further Information

The Research Alumni Program of Freie Universität is once again providing support for research stays lasting two to six weeks.

 The program is open to research alumni of Freie Universität (incoming), junior scholars and scientists from the research alumni’s home institutions (incoming) and junior scholars and scientists of Freie Universität (outgoing).

  • More information on the program can be found here.
  • Call for applications here.