Reconciling academia and professional practice
Practical Projects at the BGHS
(Figure 1: Poster of the Discussion)
80 to 90 percent of researchers with a doctorate will not work as employees in academic research in the long term. This fact has been scandalised for years and solutions are primarily demanded from the universities, for example by creating more permanent positions alongside professorships and predictable career paths. As right as these efforts are, they will not change anything significant about the fact that the vast majority of young researchers leave academic science sooner or later. It does little good to suppress this fact; it must be given more attention, both by doctoral researchers and supervisors. And perspectives must be developed that link academic science and the non-academic world. This is the quintessence of the panel discussion on the topic of “Transitions between doing a doctorate and profession”, which took place at the BGHS on 10 November 2022.
Over the past four years, the BGHS has embarked on a new path that has enabled doctoral researchers in the humanities and social sciences to gain practical experience in the non-university professional world while focusing on their own interests and skills. In the pilot project “Non-University Careers”, which is funded from the rectorate's strategy budget from 2019 to 2022, doctoral researchers at the BGHS were able to apply for practical projects in cooperation with a non-university practical partner, which were funded by three-month scholarships. A total of eleven projects were carried out, and the last two are nearing completion. At the event, Marie Kaiser, the current Vice-rector for Personnel Development and Gender Equality, and Martin Egelhaaf, the former Vice-rector for Research, Young Researchers and Gender Equality, discussed with Gladys Vásquez and Yannick Schöpper, doctoral researchers and scholarship holders in the programme, as well as Ulf Ortmann, the programme coordinator, what experience has been gained in the programme and what this means for Bielefeld University's activities in the area of (non-university) careers.
When asked by moderator Ulf Ortmann how the BGHS’s project application was approved in 2018, Martin Egelhaaf reminded the audience of the “Tenure Track Programme”, which was launched by the German federal and state governments in 2016 to create 1,000 additional professorships for young researchers. To apply for these tenure-track professorships, Bielefeld University had to create a personnel development concept for the young researchers and also address the fact that not all of them can stay in academic science. And in this situation, the BGHS application fell on “fertile ground”, according to Martin Egelhaaf.
Yannick Schöpper is one of the scholarship holders who were able to carry out a practical project. He cooperated with the Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien e.V. (AEE).
(Figure 2: Results of the Study)
He gave a lively account of how he had dug deep into the theory of his political
science doctoral project before starting the project and was then confronted
with the empirical field in the practical project. The big challenge in
applying for the project was to find a topic that was connectable to
professional practice perspectives and had a relevance that was not only
scientific but also social. And his choice fell on the question of how local
acceptance of onshore wind turbines is, which he illuminated in a very readable
background paper for the AEE. “The direct contact with empiricism has clearly broadened
my perspective and this has also changed the dissertation project,” he summed
up positively. (Link to the Report)
Historian Gladys Vásquez also described the positive experiences she had during her practical project. When she applied for the project, her (doctoral) thesis had just expired and she was also thinking about her professional future in addition to working on her dissertation. She had already worked in the field of public history in Peru before her doctorate and wanted to return to this professional field. “Doing the academic work, I had forgotten some of my qualifications,” Gladys Vásquez recalled. But she also lacked a corresponding network in Germany. During a scientific symposia, she met her future project partners from “Kuskalla Abya Yala”, an NGO dedicated to the revival of Quechua, a widespread indigenous language family in America.
(Figure 3: Most spoken indigenous languages, Copyright: Gladys Vasquez)
This contact with the researchers of “Kuskalla Abya
Yala”, who are also activists, made her aware of the social relevance of their
work. And so she organised a joint workshop on the experiences and practices of
efforts to disseminate Quechua languages. The biggest challenge was to
communicate with the activists in the field, who did not always have access to
the internet or even the telephone. Almost unimaginable in our supposedly
digitalised world. Gladys Vásquez said she had become more realistic as a
result of the project. “I want a job that fulfils me.” And she is more likely
to find that outside the university, of course after completing her dissertation. (Link to the Report)
Marie Kaiser was impressed by the stories of the two doctoral researchers about their experiences in the practical projects. The university should not be a ‘bubble’, but what the scholars do must have relevance for the professional fields, she emphasised the aspect of knowledge transfer through the practical projects. In the discussion with the audience, it became clear that there are already many offers at Bielefeld University, for example from the Career Service and the personnel development for researchers. But, according to Marie Kaiser, counselling is something different from practical experience. “We have to think about that.”
The fact that the practical projects not only enable experience in professional fields, but also bring something to the content of the doctoral theses, as Yannick Schöpper told us, was a surprise for Martin Egelhaaf. It was questionable, however, whether this applied equally to all dissertation topics, for example, also to very theoretical work. On the other hand, there was no question for him that the concept of practical projects is transferable to other fields, for example to the natural sciences. Thus, it could be beneficial for applications for collaborative projects, which always have to address the promotion of non-university careers. The question of whether and how such a programme could be set up university-wide remained open.
The event “Transitions between doing a doctorate and profession” showed in how many areas Bielefeld University already offers a wide variety of support formats for young researchers in their academic and non-academic careers. But it also showed that the special format of scholarship-funded practical projects, which was developed and tested in the pilot project “Non-University Careers” at the BGHS, very successfully fills an existing gap. The development and implementation of a project lasting several months in cooperation with a non-university partner, which is based on the skills and interests of the young researchers, enables practical professional experience that is closely related to their own academic training. At the same time, it allows them to examine the social relevance of their own doctoral project and to develop their academic work accordingly. In this way, the practical projects also contribute to a considerable degree to the mutual transfer of knowledge between academic science and professional practice. They show: Science and non-university professional practice are not contradictory, they are reconcilable.
Here you can find more Reports about the Practical Projects.
Reports about Practical Projects #8
„Reports about Practical Projects“ are written by doctoral researchers who have designed and carried out a practical project in cooperation with a non-university organization. The BGHS has been supporting these projects with scholarships since 2020. In the eighth part of the series, Md. Moynul Haque reports on his core activity in the framework of a discussion session titled “Nonviolent Civil Resistance: Insights from Bangladesh and Beyond” that he carried out in a non-university organization called Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst e.V. (forumZFD).
Over the past few decades or so, unarmed people’s contentious mobilization on the streets has become a frequent incidence in many parts of the world. There has been a remarkable rise in the civilian’s uses of nonviolent strategies including sit-ins, slogans, demonstrations, singing, graffiti, art, and media-mediated activism. The dawn of the twenty-first century has witnessed unarmed insurrections, including the Arab Spring phenomena in 2010 in North Africa and the Middle East region and the Occupy movement in the US in 2011. Meanwhile, in the subsequent years, the People Power Movements surged across Europe and Central Asia, notably among the Indignados movement in Spain in 2011, the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013, and the Euromaidan protest in Ukraine which started in 2013. The Shahbag movement of 2013 in Bangladesh represents one of the biggest protests of this kind in South Asia.
Scholars have shown greater interest in studying political violence in South Asia. Moreover, Bangladesh is often portrayed as a country characterized by inter-party violence, rivalry, and political confrontation. The over-reliance on a violent perspective essentially provides a one-sided explanation of Bangladesh’s state-society interaction. It undermines the power of nonviolence which has been regarded as one of the major forces to bring about social and political change across the world.
Drawing from my ongoing doctoral research on civil resistance, I ventured to explore different perspectives, mainly coming from non-academic tradition, on civil resistance cases in order to make sense of how or to what extent theoretical understanding of civil resistance intersects with practical views. To reach this goal, I held a discussion session in the framework of the core task of my practical project with a non-university organization called Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst e.V. (forumZFD) located in Cologne, Germany. It was founded in 1996 by voluntary peace and human rights groups with a vision of promoting peace worldwide. The Academy for Conflict Transformation is a learning space of forumZFD that offers training, lectures, and workshops on peace and conflict-related topics.
My project was integrated into the regular program called “X-changes“: a discussion event for the alumni members of the forumZfD. The participants of this session came with practical insights into the areas of nonviolence for social justice, rights, and freedom.
Figure 1: The emblem of forumZfD and its series "X-change"
From the practical point of view, the project was intended to make sense of how the notion of civil resistance is articulated in the thoughts and practices of the non-academic community. The broader objective was to facilitate a dialogue between a PhD researcher and peace practitioners in answering some of the critical questions of civil resistance at this current juncture.
The discussion of this X-change started with sharing the researcher’s current topic, briefly navigating the known and unknown facts of civil resistance in a relatively under-researched country – Bangladesh. After this, the X-change invited other participants to shed light on their country-specific experience of civil resistance. As such the X-change event turned out to be a resource point for knowing both known and unknown cases of civil resistance, capturing the viewpoint of both the researcher and practitioners.
Click here for ForumZfD.
Further information about the Non-University Careers Project can be found on the .
Bielefeld University services for doctoral researchers
How do I write a dissertation? What options do I have if I want to go abroad? And can I take a German course?
On Wednesday, 26 October 2022, the BGHS offered an information session with people from the International Office, Writing Centre and PunktUm to clarify these initial questions and to present the resources of Bielefeld University to support the doctoral researchers in their work.
Below you can find the presentations with the main information about the available services:
Practitioners in Talk Part 28
Many ways lead out of the BGHS. But where do postdoctoral paths lead? We talk to historians and sociologists who have taken up their career outside the university. Stephanie Geissler spoke to us about her work for „Arbeit und Leben VHS/DGB im Kreis Herford e.V.“.
Figure 1: Stephanie Geissler
Stephanie, you did your PhD in History in 2016. If you remember starting your career: How did you find your way into the job?
Stephanie Geissler: I had a scholarship at the beginning of my PhD. But as it is with a scholarship: the scholarship is over after three years, but the PhD is not yet finished. Parallel to doing my PhD, I started to develop exhibition concepts and fundraising strategies for museums on a freelance basis. At that time I also came into contact with “Arbeit und Leben”: By chance, an administrative position became available there at that time, and I applied for it. For me, it was a good opportunity to be secured with a half-time job and to be able to continue with my freelance work. No one expected me to finish my PhD. Neither did I. (laughs)
How did you get your current position?
Stephanie Geissler: I started working as an administrative assistant at “Arbeit und Leben” in 2007. One year later, I changed to a position as an education officer and mainly planned and conducted educational leaves, but also took care of finances and event planning. I have been managing director here since 2021.
You work for „Arbeit und Leben VHS/DGB im Kreis Herford e.V.“. Where do you work, exactly?
Stephanie Geissler: “Arbeit und Leben” was founded by the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) and the Adult Education Centres (VHS) immediately after the end of the Second World War to educate workers in democracy. Today, “Arbeit und Leben” exists in all federal states and – in varying densities – as local working groups. We in Herford are a registered association and offer training for work councils and an educational leave programme. We also run two projects: the “Mobile Beratung gegen Rechtsextremismus” for the Detmold administrative district and the “Fachstelle NRWeltoffen”, which does anti-racism work in the Herford district. We also organise political education events, for example on the war in Ukraine.
Figure 2: Stephanie Geissler during an educational leave in Prora
You head „Arbeit und Leben“. What are your most important tasks?
Stephanie Geissler: The last two years were very much marked by the topic of “finances”. We are supported by the DGB and the VHS, but we earn most of our salaries through the income from the seminars. Under Corona conditions, however, our seminars, where exchange and networking among the participants are very central, could hardly be offered in presence. And so we got into a financial bottleneck. So, to put it briefly: in the last two years, my main task was to take care of the financial drama. Apart from finances, personnel management is an essential aspect of my work: there are now eleven people employed here in the association. And finally, I have responsibilities in our educational leave programme. However, my tasks in the area of educational leave are not part of my duties as managing director, but are part of the operational business.
What tips do you have for colleagues from sociology or history who are interested in a career in the occupational field you are in?
Stephanie Geissler: I would say: Try it out! So, if someone were to call us now and say, for example, “I've been working on a regional historical, socio-political or trade union topic. Can we do something together?” Then I would think about it and sound out: What can we do together?
Stephanie, thank you for the conversation!
The interview was conducted by Ulf Ortmann. You can find the complete interview here.
Further information on the non-university careers project is available here.The previous interviews in the series are available here.
Book prize for BGHS alumna Mahshid Mayar
BGHS alumna Mahshid Mayar will be awarded the “Shelley Fisher Fishkin Prize for International Scholarship in Transnational American Studies” on 11 November for her book Citizens and Rulers of the World: The American Child and the Cartographic Pedagogies of Empire. The prize is awarded annually by the American Studies Association for original research in the field of transnational American studies.
Congratulations for this success!
(© Mashid Mayar)
Mahshid completed her PhD in History in 2016 with the dissertation "Citizens and Rulers of the World: American Children and World Geography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century".