The last update to my postdoc-project was made some three years ago, which for some people might seem as if I were near its conclusion. Alas! that’s not the case: As some things have changed considerably since 2016. I had left academia and eventually have found work at the Institute for Higher Education Research at the University Halle-Wittenberg.
My work at the Institute is project-driven, which means that I have two main projects I’m working on and help out in a few others if the need arises. My first project was the finalisation of a report on communication repertoires of coordinating instances, ie. an investigation into the different ways coordinators of academic programmes communicate with academic personnel in their own programme (on which they are dependent for information and good will), with peers at other academic institutions and with the general public. I contributed to the report by categorising different sorts of communication, formulating best practices and hints on what to avoid.
On top of that, I became involved in a long-term project investigating science communication. That’s the transfer and translation of scientific knowledge to non-academic audiences, mostly disseminated by scientists/academians or dedicated brokers like science journalists. The Institute aims at investigating the techniques, chances and pitfalls of current science communication, and also incorporates experiences by its own staff. As the Institute is used to offer its research findings to non-academic (mostly political) experts, its staff members possess quite some experience with translations and transfer of academic knowledge. My role in this ongoing project is to keep up with the current literature in the field, to organise and conduct regular in-house workshops on the topic and to assist with bits and pieces of knowledge in the composition of various research proposals. It seems that science communication is a vast enough territory to be infused into a variety of research topoi.
Finally, for the next two years, I am mainly responsible for an empirical investigation into the role of advisory councils/panels/boards in German higher education. Fascinatingly, advisory structures (in which scientists counsel scientists of adjacent institutions) have proliferated in the last decade or so. In some cases, an advisory panel is mandatory (e.g. for many research facilities), sometimes it’s regarded as an advantage in a competitive environment (e.g. in some university institutes) and sometimes such advisory panels just seem to exist in spite of it. Still, the general assumption that the benefits of an advisory structure outweighs its costs (investments in money and, especially, time, that is) so far is unproven. The projects attempts to sketch out not only different types of advisory boards in Germany, but also the time its participants invested to attend meetings, prepare proposals, evaluate outcomes etc. This plus the financial investments (travel costs, rent for rooms and equipment, administration and protocols etc.) by all involved sides as well as the deteriorisation of academic output due to involvement in advisory panels have to be contrasted with the outcomes on the side of the advised side: Higher productivity and excellence there might simple be a transfer of talent from one place to another in academia. Yet, so far nobody knows for sure, and that’s why this project is quite timely.
My daily work thus is quite far from my original postdoctoral research interests. I have take quite a few sideways since 2016, but am confident that some day this path will turn out to cross the road to my initial plans for a postdoctoral investigation. Research into engagement of students and scholars or into the communication of crises aren’t too far off the mark for an entanglement with protest movements. I am optimistic that, apart from my cotidian chores, my present work will eventually allow me to pursue my interest further. When I’m up to something on that, information will definitively show up here.