What have been the main steps in your professional life thus far?
I studied Geography at the University of Bonn and became more and more interested in natural hazards. In the course of an internship at the Flood Hazard Research Centre (FHRC) in London, I was able to explore the topic of water hazards in greater depth and experience real life work in a research team. My degree dissertation involved studies into the human perception of storm surges and, as these are clearly not a common occurrence in Bonn, I transferred to the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht for this period of time. Since 2010, I have been working as a research assistant at the Institute of Geography of the University of Hamburg.
What is your contribution to CliSAP?
One of my tasks in the project "StarG" (storm surges as regional geohazards) is to evaluate the minutes of Hamburg City Parliament meetings which include deliberations on dealing with storm surges. In the scope of my doctoral thesis I am studying mental constructions of climate change. I am thereby comparing the constructions of experts with those of the general population, in order to detect a potential need for more effective communication. Currently, I am one of three doctoral student representatives at the CliSAP Graduate School SICSS (School of Integrated Climate System Sciences). We provide a link between doctoral students, school management and the SICSS committee, thus supporting the activities of the Graduate School.
Reversely, how has CliSAP helped you most?
The doctoral students at the Graduate School SICSS come from a wide range of disciplines. CliSAP, therefore, offers a good platform to exchange views with other doctoral students – also beyond the boundaries of their own fields of study. So far these doctoral students have been mainly from the field of Natural Science. As a geographer with a focus on Social Science, I would welcome more contact with doctoral students from the field of Social Science via this platform, in order to strengthen connections between natural and social scientists. SICSS stands for “Integrated Climate System Sciences” and, in my opinion, that means an equal exchange between Natural, Social and Economic Sciences.
What is the current situation of PhD students in CliSAP?
SICSS is growing and the structure of the Graduate School is gradually taking shape. For example, a form of "Integrated Learning Course" is currently being discussed, in which working groups consisting of lecturers and doctoral students will present their work to each other. This offers a perfect opportunity to become familiar with the various thematic facets in the School and obtain a better picture of the School as a whole.
Is SICCS addressing issues of relevance for PhD students?
Yes, quite a number, in my opinion. Once a year we retreat for two or three days. At this meeting the new doctoral students introduce themselves and their topics, and working groups are also formed to discuss topical scientific issues. The objective of this meeting is to offer an opportunity for doctoral students to get to know each other, exchange ideas and form thematic networks.
Visits to scientific establishments are organised from time to time, in order to become acquainted with their research activities and to have an opportunity to exchange ideas on relevant topics.
In addition to this, diverse courses are provided. However, I believe that there is room for improvement in this area, as far as doctoral students from the field of Social Sciences are concerned. The courses provided to date, have been mainly tailored to the needs of the Natural Sciences. Therefore, more provision for social scientists would be very welcome. On the other hand, I find the so-called "soft skill courses", such as "Scientific English" or "Academic Writing" positive, as they are useful to all students.
How are the interests of PhD students taken care of?
The coordinators of the SICSS Graduate School, Oliver Dilly and Berit Hachfeld, are important as a first point of contact. They are both intent on ensuring the smooth running of our doctoral theses and taking care of any problems which many arise. For example, they help foreign doctoral students to find accommodation or assist with financial matters. They offer support, as and when required, in the coordination of the six monthly Panel Meetings. These meetings are attended by the doctoral student, first and second supervisors and a Panel Chair, to discuss the current status of the doctoral thesis, any problems with the content or personnel, and the next steps to be taken. Moreover, every doctoral student can apply for financial support to attend conferences or meetings.
Why did you choose a scientific career, and why in your specific working field?
I find Geography studies and, in particular, hazard research incredibly exciting. As a doctoral student I have the opportunity to be more intensively involved in this field and to pursue my own investigations.
What would you do with a million Euros for your research?
It may sound absurd, but the idea of a climate simulator has been spinning around in my head for some time now. It would help people to perceive and experience the potential impact of climate change, such as temperature increase, heavy rainfall, hailstorms etc. and the relevant consequences. For many people climate change is a phenomenon for which the potential impacts are not tangible at present. A simulator such as this could possibly help them to envisage what climate change can mean.
What do you think is the role of science within society?
Science and Society should complement each other. I believe that Science should be aware that it has a certain privilege which allows it to get to the bottom of things. Society should, at the same time, reap the benefits of the results of scientific endeavours.
Professionally, where would you like to be in 10 years?
… I am open to surprises!
The interview was conducted by Prof. Dr. Hans von Storch, Director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht, and Prof. Dr. Mike S. Schäfer, Head of the Working Group "Media Constructions of Climate Change" at the Cluster of Excellence CliSAP.