From Knowledge to Development

Just Checking: Fellows Take Stock

By Christina Schuh

How do Georg Forster Research Fellows fare after their stay in Germany? How many alumni return to their countries of origin, what problems do they face, and what opportunities open up for them? Findings of a survey.

On the anniversary of the Forster Programme in summer 2007, the Humboldt Foundation carried out an online survey of the 273 fellows who had completed their first stay by June 2007. They were asked on the one hand, about the influence of the Georg Forster Fellowship on their professional career development and mobility following the research stay and on the other, about any reintegration difficulties on their return to their own countries. 215 alumni replied – a response rate of almost 80 percent. Distribution according to country and discipline is largely representative, too. Disproportionately high response rates come from engineering scientists and fellows from Sub-Saharan Africa, while those for humanities scholars and fellows from Asia and the Pacific regions are disproportionately low.

What is your country of permanent employment?
What is your country of permanent
Grafik: Humboldt-Stiftung

More than 95 percent of the fellows who responded are now back in their countries of origin and working in academia. 70 percent are still in active contact with their academic hosts in Germany. Th ey thus fulfil the decisive preconditions for maintaining and extending international networking. More than half of those who responded had serious career prospects when they returned home; a third had a concrete job off er, and many say they had been able to return to a position they had held before the fellowship. Half also state that another reason for returning was the commitment they felt to their own countries. One of those asked, for example, had returned “to help solving water and environmental problems in my country and to have new technology for my research team“.

A further important precondition for scientific transfer between Germany and the alumni’s own countries is that fellows are still actively involved in research today. This is true in 95 percent of cases. A mere eight of those asked said they were employed in another field or out of work. The alumni’s academic success is demonstrated, amongst other things, by the fact that almost a fift h of them have since managed to become full professors and 15 percent have advanced from being post-docs to senior lecturers. In many cases, the scientific results of cooperation with their German hosts and the stay in Germany itself may have had a positive influence on their career development as a whole. More than 80 percent of those who answered had at least one publication in a journal to show for their stay in Germany, a third had even more than three articles. In addition, there were conference papers (71 percent) and monographs (16 percent).

New members of the Humboldt Family

Effects of the Georg Forster Fellowship on the professional careers
Effects of the Georg Forster
Fellowship on the professional
Grafik: Humboldt-Stiftung

In the online survey, the alumni themselves confirm that the hoped-for transfer of knowledge and methods had taken place. 92 percent of participants fully agree with the statement, “I have learnt new scientific methods“. They emphasise, above all, the positive benefits of the Georg Forster Fellowship for their careers, greater access to international academic networks, knowledge gained about German culture, improved equipment procured at home on the strength of alumni sponsorship, and, for some, special personal experiences, such as, “I had the opportunity to increase my self-confidence when judging how good or bad I am“ or “I was able to be more independent scientifically“.

But besides all the many positive effects, were there stumbling blocks, too? Were the alumni confronted with difficulties in their own countries on their return home? Over 70 percent state there were no particular problems. Up to a mere 30 percent mention family problems, the tense economic situation in their own countries, difficulties with differing ways of working, or a lack of adequate job offers. One problem that is cited by 10 percent is poor provision of specialist literature, technical and financial means at their own institutes.

Many fellows have mixed experiences during the reintegration phase. In spite of the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the academic world, however, they are oft en optimistic, “I had difficulties in bridging the technology gap, especially working with my postgraduate students; but five years after I think I am making progress.” Optimism is also boosted by the feeling of having made lasting contacts in Germany and of having become a member of an academic network. “It was indeed a great opportunity to be in Germany. I can keep in contact with the German host institute, and I frequently visit them.”

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Christina Schuh Christina Schuh 

Dr. Christina Schuh is head of the Evaluation and Statistics Section at the Humboldt Foundation, and her responsibilities include implementing the Foundation‘s evaluation concept. She was involved in designing, carried out and evaluated the online survey on the anniversary of the Georg Forster Programme.

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