A Magnet for Junior Researchers Worldwide

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship of the European Union enables junior researchers to spend up to two years doing research in Europe. In this respect, Berlin is proving to be particularly attractive.

Jun 05, 2019

The Berlin University Alliance organized a workshop for junior researchers who came to Berlin with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.

The Berlin University Alliance organized a workshop for junior researchers who came to Berlin with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.
Image Credit: Felix Noak

Harry Stopes is interested in how modernity came to the province. The historian is interested in finding out how globalization at the beginning of the 20th century changed the lives of people in smaller industrial cities, such as Manchester in England and Lille in France.

The fact that the postdoctoral researcher has now moved his research work from London to Berlin is not due to Berlin’s supposed provincialism. Rather, it is because, he claims, “Freie Universität Berlin is an excellent location for the study of global history, and one of the leading institutes for global history is located in this city. It was therefore a logical step for me to pursue my research here.” Namely, as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow. The EU program promotes foreign placements for postdoctoral researchers who want to do research in a European country for up to two years. The aim of the program is to improve the networking of the European research area and to attract researchers from outside of Europe.

Historian Harry Stopes explores how globalization changed people’s lives in smaller industrial cities at the beginning of the 20th century.

Historian Harry Stopes explores how globalization changed people’s lives in smaller industrial cities at the beginning of the 20th century.
Image Credit: Felix Noak

After successfully completing his dissertation at London University College, Stopes applied for the program. A year later, last August, he moved to Berlin. The field of global history was tempting for the researcher: the expertise for certain regions is spread over the three major Berlin universities, allowing the whole spectrum of the field to be covered. However, Berlin is not only interesting for students of global history. The opportunity to come here with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship attracts junior researchers from all disciplines.

This was demonstrated by a workshop that the four partners of the Berlin University Alliance – that is, Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin – jointly offered for the first time this year to support 20 promising candidates in their applications.

Priji Balakrishnan explores the light quality of daylight to find out how to best imitate and use it in rooms.

Priji Balakrishnan explores the light quality of daylight to find out how to best imitate and use it in rooms.
Image Credit: Felix Noak

Biologist Sara Tomiolo was attracted to Berlin because of the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research.

Biologist Sara Tomiolo was attracted to Berlin because of the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research.
Image Credit: Felix Noak

The workshop focused on practical questions relating to the complex application process, such as: How important are German language skills? What is important to the reviewers? When does a gap in a CV need further explanation? Harry Stopes also attended, and shared his experiences of applying. That is precisely what Priji Balakrishnan likes: “The insights into the application process from someone who has already gone through it are very valuable. I am pleasantly surprised at how much support we get here, that there is a team here dedicated to the potential candidates.”

Balakrishnan holds a PhD from Singapore University of Technology and Design. She researches the light quality of daylight, to find out how best to imitate and use it in rooms. In the Lighting Technology Division at Technische Universität Berlin, there is a laboratory with a spectral celestial scanner, “one of the very few in the world,” as Balakrishnan points out, precisely for this area of research. “I’m doing research in a very specific new field of research. Technische Universität Berlin is the only university in Germany that has a laboratory that works at precisely this intersection between architecture, sustainability, and spectral light.

Sara Tomiolo is also attracted to Berlin as a research location: “Berlin is a kind of gold mine for my research,” says the biologist, referring to the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research, a joint project involving Universität Potsdam, the Museum für Naturkunde, and other partners from all three major universities.

For Kristy Ou, the broad research spectrum of Charité was a decisive factor in her applying: she would like to continue research projects on inflammatory diseases in Berlin. A pharmacologist who received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, Ou has worked intensively in the field of epigenetics and was looking specifically for a supervisor in immunology. She said, “There are many immunological research institutes in Berlin, and Charité is home to fantastic researchers.” 

Pharmacologist Kristy Ou, who does research on epigenetics, came to Berlin to continue her research projects on inflammatory diseases.

Pharmacologist Kristy Ou, who does research on epigenetics, came to Berlin to continue her research projects on inflammatory diseases.
Image Credit: Felix Noak

“The Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellows benefit from the Berlin research landscape.”

Harry Stopes also benefits in his work from the stimulating research environment of the Berlin research landscape. According to him, the Global History Department at the Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut of Freie Universität, which cooperates with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, is small, but he appreciates the intensive exchange with his colleagues. “We have a strong institute here that provides a supportive environment.” This became apparent, for example, during a joint weekend trip to Brandenburg, which some of the academic staff attended to participate in a workshop. “All shared 20 pages of their current working process with one another. During the two days, everyone got to sit for an hour on the ‘hot seat’ and had an opportunity to have their own work discussed by everyone. That was incredibly useful to my work.”

During his time in Berlin, Stopes wants to make more contacts in the field of global history. In addition to all the professional advantages that Berlin offers him, he does not hide his personal motives from the applicants in the workshop: “I’ll be honest: not every decision is guided solely by intellectual rationale. I like Berlin and wanted to live somewhere else for a change.” He appreciates the city for its nature and is looking forward to summer. The Berlin aficionados among the potential candidates nod in agreement.