Margaret Wintermantel

Becoming and being
a HIAS Fellow—
From an inside and
outside perspective

Published in Issue #01 — Globalized Nature

In March 2023, I spent a month at HIAS and was not only able to dedicate myself to my own projects, but at the same time, as a member of the selection committee, I was finally able to get to know the daily life at HIAS from the inside. Here, I met the fellows in person I had once selected together with my colleagues in the HIAS Executive Committee and was once again able to convince myself that a fellow group lives essentially through its diversity: While a stay at HIAS primarily offers a great deal of freedom for one’s own research, the time spent there also enables encounters with many colleagues from other fields, whereby it is precisely this transdisciplinary exchange that often holds the potential for new ideas. Conducting research only in an isolated room is not the goal. Instead, HIAS thrives on dynamic discourses in the lecture room, kitchen, garden, over shared meals and collective music or theatre experiences. Art historians meet microbiologists, neurologists meet medievalists and together they develop new approaches. It was really impressive to be able to experience this on site.

It is a very complex task, which requires a lot of preparation and support from other experts and can sometimes lead to lengthy discussions among us during the selection process.

Bringing together such an interdisciplinary and curios fellow group is only possible through a differentiated selection process, which—to be precise—also has to be constantly re-evaluated and updated. The quality of an application is paramount and this together with the diversity of the group are the main pillars of the selection process—at all levels: diversity in terms of gender, career stage, discipline and country of origin; and quality in terms of the research project and past performance. Above all, it is important to us that the fellowship project—be it in the field of science or the arts (or both!)—is easily feasible in Hamburg. This is of course facilitated by the tandem principle, the specific feature of HIAS, according to which each fellow is assigned a person affiliated with one of HIAS’ academic member institutions in order to be integrated in the best possible way—not only in purely professional terms, but also personally. Often this may be the start of a new network and is particularly helpful for those fellows who know little or nothing about the German system and to whom we can thus introduce Hamburg as a science and culture hub.

Another selection criterion is the candidate’s potential, which is demonstrated by their individual enrichment of a group of fellows, the curiosity for other disciplines and the motivation to get to know new research landscapes such as that of Hamburg (or Germany). This is particularly relevant for academics or cultural workers whose careers are still at a very early stage and who therefore do not yet have a large globally dispersed network or a long list of publications. Here it is the selection committee’s role to identify the innovative character of the specific research questions on the basis of the application, and to be able to predict an up-and-coming career and the associated positive impact on Hamburg.

It is the responsibility of our committee to make this difficult selection. It is a very complex task, which requires a lot of preparation and support from other experts (such as HIAS’ Advisory Board) and can sometimes lead to lengthy discussions among us during the selection process. But it is worth it, as we can see, both in terms of enriching our own science system and in terms of creating new international networks, which the German Science Council recently rightly identified as an essential role of an Institute for Advanced Study.

Margret Wintermantel

Margret Wintermantel, Professor of Social Psychology. She was President of Saarland University, President of the German Rectors’ Conference, President of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and is member of HIAS’ Executive Committee.

Image Information

Snail shells, Cepaea vindobonensis—Banding variation, Search media—Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

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