Good connections abroad
The Cluster of Excellence »The Future Ocean« relies on long-term relations with its alumni and is systematically building up a researcher network of scientists who go on to work abroad after their time in Kiel.
More than 200 scientists from various disciplines and numerous countries are currently working on research within the Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean”. However, everyone who has spent even just a part of their scientific career in Kiel and now works elsewhere in the world has a link to Kiel’s marine sciences, too. In order to maintain scientific exchange with them, the Future Ocean Cluster is systematically building up a researcher alumni network. Since 2013, funding of nearly 200,000 Euros has been attained for this purpose from the Humboldt Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Among other things, the funding enabled a researcher alumni conference to be held in the USA in autumn 2015 and a researcher alumni database to be set up. Around 250 marine scientists are already recorded in the database. Other activities for and with former members of the cluster are planned for this year and next.
“An active alumni network is beneficial to both university and alumni”, said Dr Nancy Smith, who is coordinating the researcher alumni work together with Dr Gesche Braker. “Alumni are the best ambassadors for universities and they form a valuable link to international research associations. For alumni, meanwhile, the network can be a great help to their career”, according to Smith. It is sometimes not easy to find advisers for new research projects. “But if we know people and they have a link to us, then they are more willing to support us”, said Smith, who also supervises cooperation with international partners in the cluster.
Often the alumni also act as an advertisement for Kiel and the research work of the cluster. For example, shortly after starting his new job in India, postdoc Arvind Singh was asked to give a talk on Kiel’s marine sciences and provide information on pathways to research in Germany. Gesche Braker, coordinator of the Future Ocean postdoc network: “Arvind was already closely involved in our network. His experiences here were so positive that he is happy to communicate the opportunities available for research and funding in Kiel to others. This is a perfect example of how the network can work and it is great.”
The network coordinators describe the researcher alumni conference in New York, USA, in autumn 2015 as a great success. The cluster’s local cooperation partner was the Earth Institute at Colombia University. Good links were established with this institute through Kiel’s alumni, too. “The conference was a success because the need for further cooperation with and between alumni was made apparent even within the framework of this first conference”, said Braker. And of course, contact with Columbia, one of the USA‘s elite universities, will enhance the Future Ocean Cluster.
It is also clear, however, that Kiel’s former and current scientists will not just get together by themselves. This requires personal contact and people like Gesche Braker and Nancy Smith to maintain the network. “We are also trying to offer additional benefits to Kiel’s former researchers, for example, by providing them with targeted information or inviting them to events relevant to their specialist fields. A personal link is therefore very important”, said Braker. And this link should be established while the scientists are still in Kiel. “As soon as we notice that a postdoc plans to move away, we work with him or her to establish ways of keeping in touch and maintaining that link.”
People who left the cluster a long time ago can also get involved again. The Future Ocean is present at the larger specialist conferences on ocean research with its own booth. And this attracts scientists with a link to Kiel, too. As Nancy Smith reported, “One year we got to know ten new alumni thanks to our stand at a large conference in San Francisco. And they are now involved in the network, too.”
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