School of Research opens Courses to Early Stage Researchers from CIVICA Universities

Interviews by Alina Thiemann. Read all of the testimonies on the page of the School of Research.

True to its goal of fostering more collaboration in academics across European universities, CIVICA enables doctoral fellows and researchers to exchange on ongoing research, team up for collaborative projects, and network with colleagues through various existing and upcoming joint initiatives and opportunities. Among these is the Early Stage Researcher (ESR) course catalogue, an online resource that brings together classes, workshops and seminars open to (post)doctoral researchers from across the alliance.

The Sciences Po School of Research contributes with different inter-semester courses to this catalogue: seminars and classes aiming to respond to the needs of early stage researchers from CIVICA partner universities, from all over Europe. Some of the first CIVICA participants in School of Research courses thanks to the catalogue share their impressions about this unique experience.

Could you please shortly introduce yourself and tell us more about your area of research? 

Mădălin BLIDARU: I am a PhD student in International Relations at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest, Romania. Currently, I am in the late stage of my PhD programme, preparing to submit my thesis. My area of research is the foreign policy of the European Union. I am particularly interested in the relations the EU has established with regional cooperation and integration organizations across the globe, what are the asymmetries among them, how these relations developed and how we can compare and assess them.

Matthias Emmanuel HӒNSEL: I am a second year PhD student at the Department of Economics of the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE). My main area of research is Macroeconomics. While my current projects involve housing markets and monetary policy, I am also interested in labor markets and “long-run” topics such as structural change.

Haoyu ZHAI: I am Haoyu, a second-year PhD candidate at the European University Institute. I’m also a pre-doc at the Nuffield Centre for Experimental Social Sciences, Oxford. My field is political science, and my main research areas are comparative authoritarianism and political methodology.

You are one of the first users of the CIVICA ESR Course Catalogue. Which course(s) did you attend and what motivated you to participate in CIVICA offers?

Mădălin BLIDARU: I discovered the CIVICA ESR Course Catalogue after an announcement from the doctoral school at my university. The decision to attend these courses was based on my training needs as an early stage researcher, on the one hand, and on some questions for which I needed additional preparation in my field of study and research. Thus, I found it useful to participate in two courses: Ethics and Research Integrity, and International Trade, provided by Sciences Po. The first one allowed the participants to improve their research data policy and to discuss sensitive issues related to the collection, storage, and use of data. The second one helped me to get accustomed in a structured way with some theories of international trade. I considered that it is necessary to have a more robust understanding of this area from an economic standpoint, apart from my PhD focus and my background being in Political Science and International Relations.

Matthias Emmanuel HӒNSEL: My motivation for considering CIVICA ESR courses was that I knew several other CIVICA partner universities having experts working in my fields of interest, so I naturally checked out whether there were courses that could be beneficial for developing and implementing my own research ideas. I decided to register for the Numerical Methods class at Sciences Po, because macroeconomic modelling relies heavily on numerical methods, so getting a better understanding of them should be useful for my research. Also, it seemed like a good opportunity to improve my skills in the Julia programming language, which was used for the class.

Haoyu ZHAI: I joined the Numerical Methods course at Sciences Po for two (very vanilla...) reasons: interest and need! I am always interested in numerical and computational methods, especially their applications in empirical political research, and one of my main research areas happens to be the same stuff. Political scientists and political methodologists have always looked beyond our own discipline, in search of good ideas and good methods from sister disciplines (economics, sociology, etc) to solve our own problems and advance our own field. I hope to do the same, and the CIVICA initiative has been great in helping with this. In particular, since I have had some prior training with economists at my institute earlier this year, the Sciences Po-led online course seemed a natural next step for me.

What was your overall experience with these classes?

Mădălin BLIDARU: My feedback is a positive one. I had the chance to ask questions of concern, to receive useful answers and recommendations. The classes were very interactive and the lecturers delivered excellent content. Interested PhD students and early-stage researchers are taking part in these classes, hailing from different institutions across the CIVICA network. In light of the pandemic, you can attend the courses from your home country or wherever you are doing your research. I hope this project will be a sustainable one within CIVICA, even after the pandemic, because the content has its added value for interested students, PhD researchers and postdocs.

Matthias Emmanuel HӒNSEL: Overall, my experience with the class was very good. The course teacher not only provided extensive lecture material, but also did a good job in creating an interactive atmosphere despite everything being online.

Haoyu ZHAI: It’s been great! I’m not going to hold back from my praise for our lecturer — Florian Oswald — for his excellent teaching and support throughout the course. He’s been super helpful, patient, and responsive, and the course contents are, despite (obviously) economics centred, quite useful and inspiring for other social science disciplines (such as my own) too. I felt welcome even as a non-economist. The cohort is also very friendly and get along well with each other, even if it is just online.

Based on your experience, would you recommend other early stage researchers to attend CIVICA courses, seminars or workshops at other CIVICA partner universities? Why?

Mădălin BLIDARU: Firstly, I recommend them to check the course catalogue, to see how the CIVICA offer can help them. And from this perspective, there are available courses, seminars, workshops that are helpful to answer methodological or theoretical questions, and even to help them plan their PhD life. I’ve seen that there are some opportunities from various CIVICA members to help them deal with questions such as PhD time overload, to improve the early research stage of their career, to deal with some research integrity questions, and many others. Additionally, it is important to highlight that CIVICA provides access to a European campus. There are eight leading universities in the social sciences providing these physical or digital opportunities for students and researchers. And there is diversity among the topics proposed by CIVICA courses for the PhDs and postdocs. Of course, each individual early stage researcher will know better how these CIVICA courses can support them and their research programmes.

Matthias Emmanuel HӒNSEL: While my experience with CIVICA seminars and workshops is limited, I would definitely recommend checking out the CIVICA PhD course offering. It gives you access not only to more experts to learn from, but also opportunities to interact with other students from outside your home institution.

Haoyu ZHAI: Absolutely! This is a great opportunity to pool our resources together, expand our knowledge reserves, make new friends, and access new ideas and new tools. It’s also probably the one positive thing that emerged out of the whole COVID-19 misfortune: harnessing the power of the modern ICT and building knowledge networks across institutions and disciplines. Less geographical barrier, more intellectual energy! Why not?

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This article was first published on the website of CIVICA - the European University for Social Sciences.

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