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Julia Wolanski

“Global Health” Research Coordinator in Objective 1: Grand Challenge Initiatives

Jul 10, 2020

Julia Wolanski

Julia Wolanski
Image Credit: David Ausserhofer

The Berlin University Alliance has dedicated itself to addressing contemporary social challenges of global significance (grand challenges). What "social cohesion" means and which developments are currently challenging societies worldwide are both central questions of the first Grand Challenge Initiative: Social Cohesion. The second main area of focus is the theme of global health. Julia Wolanski has been the research coordinator for this topic since April 2020. She graduated in molecular medicine and obtained her doctorate in biology with a specialization in immunology. Julia previously worked as a science manager in the Scientific Directorate Office of the Helmholtz Association’s Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.

Julia, coordinating the “global health” Grand Challenge Initiative, what exactly does that entail?

The Grand Challenge Initiatives form one of the overarching objectives set out by the Berlin University Alliance. The aim of the Grand Challenge Initiatives is to support projects within the Alliance and to establish domains in which the current challenges are addressed through interdisciplinary interaction on a long-term basis. I am responsible for the focus on global health, both within the Grand Challenge Initiatives and also in regard to the other objectives. This year, the coordination process will primarily include the preparation and monitoring of a call for inter- and transdisciplinary joint research projects in this area.

The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated how important global health is. Besides its obvious consideration of medical topics, the theme also covers other highly diverse aspects that have an impact on health, such as climate change, urban planning, migration, the working environment, and differences in how people live together. The fact that I get the opportunity to work with researchers from different disciplines and stakeholders from different areas of society is precisely what makes the topic of global health so fascinating for me. Ideally, I will manage to connect these people in order to initiate long-term, sustainable projects that will strengthen and advance the work on various aspects of the global health topic in Berlin.

For the Berlin University Alliance, networking, cooperation, and interdisciplinarity also play a very important role within its structure. How is this reflected in your field?

What's great about global health is that the topic plays into just about every domain. Amongst other things, there is a close connection to the knowledge exchange projects, which aim to transfer scientific ideas and research results into the broader societal context, as well as allow external perspectives and experiences to flow back into the research process. Especially within the context of global health, the exchange between society and politics plays a fundamental role.

When you observe the topic in more detail, it quickly becomes clear that there is a close link Objective 5: Sharing Resources in terms of the common use of infrastructures within the framework of collaborative projects. The same holds true for the cross-cutting themes of internationalization, and diversity and gender equality where we will also benefit from close cooperation.

What are you particularly looking forward to in your new role?

Without a doubt the cooperation with stakeholders and researchers from the various disciplines is what I am looking forward to the most, but also the fact that I will topic-wise be addressing something that I am personally very interested in. At the same time, it is enormously exciting to be involved in the establishment of the Berlin University Alliance as a new entity in Berlin. Even now, during my first three months working with the Berlin University Alliance, I have been given plenty of networking opportunities, which is something I really enjoy.

It is somewhat extraordinary for the three main Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin – and Charité to come together in such a union. What I perceive as truly special is the opportunity to set up something long-lasting and significant here, something which paves the way for an integrated research area in Berlin and represents an appealing partner for other Berlin institutions.