International Diversity on Campus
Some come as young researchers, others as established scientists; some stay for a few weeks, others forever. What they all have in common: they have left their home country. Forschungszentrum Jülich has made it its mission to offer guest scientists optimal conditions. This sometimes opens up completely new doors and perspectives.
She wanted to discover the world even when she was a child: Shizue Matsubara from Tokyo. The Japanese woman has done a lot to make this wish come true. Even as a schoolgirl, she spent the summers in California – far away from home. She studied and did her doctorate in Japan, Germany, Australia and the USA. “And now I have been at Forschungszentrum Jülich’s IBG-2 for Plant Sciences for 16 years,” says the 52-year-old. 16 years in which the international atmosphere at Forschungszentrum Jülich has developed considerably. “When I started here, German was the main language – in the seminars and working groups, but correspondence was also carried out in German,” says the researcher. It is completely different today. Communication by email is in English; young scientists chat with each other in different languages in the canteen; English has long been part of every scientist’s everyday life – regardless of nationality. English is the only language spoken in Matsubara’s working group anyway so that the doctoral students from Vietnam and Italy can follow as well.
“My experiences abroad have made me an open and interested person. I am not afraid or shy of new encounters,” she says. Homesickness played a role only in the beginning, at most: that was in 1995, when she started to study viticulture in Geisenheim – she looked in vain for Asian food in the 11,000-inhabitant town. “But even that has changed completely – a glance at the daily canteen offer at Jülich is enough,” she says with a laugh. Forschungszentrum Jülich has long since become a home for her: “The research infrastructure is unique – you have a contact person for every problem,” enthuses the Japanese woman. The only downer: as a group leader, she does not travel that much anymore. “I am all the happier about the many international guests at our institute,” says the scientist, delighted.
A total of 521 Visiting scientists from 62 countries conducted research at Jülich last year - which is almost one quarter of the scientists. these include doctoral researchers, doctoral candidates and postdocs, but also institute directors and established researchers. “Although most of them were from Germany, a significant proportion came from Asia, Eastern and Western Europe and the USA,” says Melanie dos Santos Mendes from Corporate Development, where she heads National and International Relations. This is the interface between the institutes, the Board of Directors and the administration.
“We want to offer scientists the best possible conditions so that they can find their ‘place to be’ at Jülich.”
Melanie dos Santos Mendes
“We regard ourselves as an international research institution,” says dos Santos Mendes. “We want to offer scientists the best possible conditions so that they can find their ‘place to be’ at Jülich.” After all, the aim is nothing less than to overcome global challenges, which do not stop at national borders: “And for this, Jülich needs the best minds in the world in the sense of internationally networked excellence,” summarises dos Santos Mendes.
At Jülich, the possibilities for international exchange are as similarly diverse as the composition of the international list of researchers: “There are doctoral researchers who start their careers at Forschungszentrum Jülich, researchers like Shizue Matsubara who advance their careers, and visiting scientists who have over the years repeatedly come to Jülich for several months to conduct research.” Forschungszentrum Jülich offers and uses very different forms of collaboration and cooperation: there are individual-related exchanges; strategic partnerships in which scientists work together in the long-term on the basis of a research programme; and classical project work in which researchers raise third-party funds.
And sometimes, new doors open for guest researchers at Jülich: one of them is Solomon Agbo from Nigeria, who came to Europe as a PHD student in 2007 and worked at Delft University of Technology on the development of solar cells and solar cell materials. After graduating from Delft in 2012, Agbo had a research stay at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic. In 2015, he came to Forschungszentrum Jülich as a Humboldt Fellow and joined Tsvetelina Merdzhanova’s research group at the Institute of Energy and Climate Research (IEK-5) – Photovoltaics. “I loved my work in the lab and my colleagues were helpful, open and kind to me. They have long been friends now and I’m still happy to work with them,” explains the 44-year-old.
Builder of bridges
However, his childhood in Nigeria has sharpened his view of the world: “I have consciously experienced the challenges of my continent!” Over the years, a thought continued to materialise somewhere in the back of Agbo’s head: “I wished for a position in which I could use and pass on all the experiences I had already gained in science in order to contribute to solving social problems,” explains Agbo. And when National and International Relations advertised a position for the management of international relations, he did not hesitate long and threw his hat into the ring – successfully. It was an opportunity for him to put science into practice outside the laboratory. “Although I no longer generate knowledge in the laboratory, I sit at the interface to exchange knowledge so that society can benefit from it. I still support my colleagues in the lab. As a team, we concentrate our know-how on positively influencing society and people’s lives,” says Agbo. “That makes me happy!”
He sees himself as a builder of bridges between his former position as a researcher and the idea of changing something in society: “I bring a lot of knowledge from my time as a researcher into the new job, which is very helpful,” he explains, adding: “As an African, I’ve worked in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Germany, I know what internationality is and how important it is – for everybody involved.” The exchange of people’s different international perspectives is of great importance for a global responsibility towards society. “And this is exactly what is happening here at Jülich,” the employee is convinced. Forschungszentrum Jülich has developed into an international intellectual hub in which science is not only conducted with the highest integrity and state-of-the-art technology, but is also shaped and designed in such a way that it achieves the desired results in society. “Here you can find people who can help and support you in almost everything – scientifically, technologically, socially, etc. This is the working environment that every employee wants, and I am delighted to be able to enjoy it at Jülich,” concludes Agbo.