Program Manager for the Berlin Student Research Opportunities Programx (StuROPx) in the Cross-Cutting Theme: Teaching and Learning
Dec 01, 2020
Teaching and learning is a cross-cutting theme within the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) which strengthens cooperation in teaching and learning across institutions and promotes participation by students. One core offering is the Student Research Opportunity Programx (StuROPx). This program aims to draw on a variety of formats to strengthen and develop research-oriented course offerings and projects in the context of research-based learning. October 2020 saw the start of the first call for proposals for X-Student Research Groups and X-Tutorials for students and junior researchers. Since June 22, 2020, post-doctoral researcher Nina Lorkowski, in her role as program manager, has been responsible for StuROPx (Cross-Cutting Theme: Teaching and Learning). She previously worked as a coordinator of project workshops/tu projects at Technische Universität Berlin, as a research assistant in the History of Technology department, and as head of a project laboratory (HistLab) in the orientation studies MINTgrün (mint green).
Nina, in your role as program manager, you've been responsible for the Student Research Opportunity Programx since June. What can you tell us about this program?
StuROPx gives students the opportunity to do research independently on their own initiative and also together in collaboration with junior researchers. Two formats are central to the program: Firstly, you have the X-Tutorials, as they are known, which involve the funding of projects initiated and organized by students. These are research tutorials that are held over one or two semesters and involve students working together on a specific topic as part of a team. Secondly, you have the X-Student Research Groups which are run under the guidance of doctoral candidates and post-docs. Here junior researchers can transfer their own research into teaching in the form of seminars.
Both formats seek to give students the opportunity to collect research experience at an early stage of their studies. They get the chance to further their specialist knowledge and methodological skills in practical application, take detours, make mistakes, and find solutions on their own initiative. StuROPx also aims to lend more visibility to student-based research in the context of the excellence alliance. Because, as of fall 2021, we will be holding the first annual Berlin Conference for Student Research. At this event, student-based research will be presented in different formats. We really hope that the conference can be held in person at some point toward the middle/end of the coming year, because for us having that personal interaction is very important.
You are working in a cross-cutting area, namely the cross-cutting theme Teaching and Learning. How do you cooperate with the other objectives of the alliance?
StuROPx is the central offering of the BUA for connecting (top-level) research and teaching, and has points of contact with many areas. This way researchers, for example, who are funded as part of the Grand Challenge Initiatives, can offer an X-Student Research Group and involve students in their research. I think it’s really important that this format also makes a contribution toward developing the profiles of our junior researchers. Doctoral candidates and post-docs responsible for an X-Student Research Group collect experience in how to lead a (student-based) research group. In addition, the leaders of these research seminars get to expand their teaching portfolio – in connection with their own research project and without the competition often perceived between teaching and research. This also creates links to Objective 4: Promoting Talent.
The StuROPx formats are aimed at students with a particular research interest. In collaboration with colleagues from objective 4, we plan to inform these students at an early stage about the routes available for pursuing doctoral studies. More specifically, a cooperation with Objective 3: Advancing Research Quality and Value is also envisaged. For example, the plan is for the program committee for the Berlin Conference for Student Research, in which students also play a leading role, to be instructed on topics relating to research quality in peer review processes and/or for workshops on research quality to be offered to the leaders of the X-Tutorials and X-Student Research Groups.
The students are enrolled in the partner institutions – the three main Berlin universities and Charité, right? Does your cooperation therefore also stretch beyond the excellence alliance?
Without the close cooperation with the departments of teaching and learning across the four institutions, it would be impossible to implement the formats supported under StuROPx! More than 113,000 students are enrolled in 581 study programs across the partner institutions. They should all have the opportunity to participate in the new formats and earn credit points along the way. Employees working in the student service centers of the partner institutions provide us with significant support in terms of clarifying questions about the creditability of performance, module assignments, and similar, in order to make this viable for the future.
What are you working on right now?
We, that is, my colleague Julia Rueß and I, are in the middle of the first call for proposals for the X-Student Research Groups and X-Tutorials set to begin in the summer semester. More than 200 interested researchers and students attended the information events where they received advice about the application process. And of course I’m excited to find out which tutors and junior researchers will be chosen for funding. We’ll be able to let the relevant parties know by the start of the coming year.
At that point, we’ll also be able to offer training tailored to the format for the projects and organize meetings between the projects over the course of the semester. This will help us keep in regular communication with these exciting projects! I’m very much looking forward to this exchange of content with researchers and students from all institutions and disciplines.
In your opinion, what makes the Berlin University Alliance interesting not only for researchers but also for students?
The excellence initiative – the predecessor of the current excellence strategy – was criticized in that the funding did not reach the everyday life of students, i.e. outstanding performance in research was funded, but the added value for teaching, for example, was not taken into account. The Berlin University Alliance, on the other hand, attaches great importance to linking research and teaching, and StuROPx is key to achieving this goal. Many people only think of student research – and if at all – in terms of students in the advanced phase of their master's degree programs. StuROPx supports students interested in research at an early stage and gives them the platform to participate in research projects.
After five months in the alliance: What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
With StuROPx, the Berlin University Alliance offers students something that, in my experience, is very much desired by students, but which does not yet exist in this form or to this extent: the opportunity to deal with a topic of one's own interest over an extended period, to implement a project on one's own initiative, to gain research experience, and to be involved in current top-level research. At the same time, we can draw on many years of experience with various formats of research-based learning and research oriented teaching at BUA's partner institutions. It's really exciting to be involved in the development of such a program.