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International honour

Fellowships strengthens research partnerships in Germany and beyond


By Jeff Green

A political scientist – back home after spending time in Germany – is encouraging other researchers to apply for a prestigious fellowship program.

From left: Drs. Scott Matthews and John Molgaard.
From left are Drs. Scott Matthews and John Molgaard.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Scott Matthews is the latest Memorial researcher – and the first from his department – to receive an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, named in honour of the famed German geographer and explorer, who would have turned 250 years old on Sept. 14.

Dr. Matthews spent time at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research, one of the leading centres for the study of politics and society in Germany and in all of Europe. It is based at the University of Mannheim in Mannheim.

“I was exposed to a parade of great researchers from around the world.” — Dr. Scott Matthews

“The specific program I participated in was aimed at experienced researchers and it gave me the opportunity to connect with a wonderful group of scholars in my field,” said Dr. Matthews, an associate professor who specializes in the study of elections, voting and public opinion in Canada and the United States.

He is broadly interested in the psychology of political learning and attitude change in multiple domains of political behaviour.

“I was exposed to a parade of great researchers from around the world who visited the centre for short research stays and to present their work,” he added.

“Beyond that, I worked principally on two ongoing research projects, one concerning political persuasion during election campaigns and the other on the politics of economic inequality. The project on campaigns was my major reason for choosing the centre as my academic home, as my host, Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, is a pioneer in the study of campaign effects in Germany.”

Each year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards more than 700 competitive research fellowships and awards, allowing researchers like Dr. Matthews to work on a project or collaborate with other scientists and scholars. The fellowships aim to help strengthen ties between Germany and the rest of the world.

The Humboldtians

Over the years, researchers from various disciplines at Memorial have spent time in Germany as recipients of Humboldt Fellowships.

The “Humboldtians” have included Dr. Sean McGrath, Philosophy (2008); Dr. Jie Xiao, Mathematics and Statistics (1999); Dr. Vit M. Bubenik, Linguistics (1983); Dr. Bruce Shawyer, Mathematics and Statistics (1979); and Dr. John Molgaard, Engineering and Applied Science (1975). Dr. James Bradley, Philosophy, who died in 2012, spent time in Germany in 1984 as a Humboldt Fellow.

“I can’t say enough about the great experience I’ve had as a Humboldt fellow.” — Dr. Scott Matthews

Dr. Molgaard, Honorary Research Professor, spent his time at the prestigious federal institute for research on materials, the Bundeanstalt für Materialforschung (BAM) and the Technical University (TU), both located in West Berlin, occupied and protected during the Cold War by the U.S., U.K. and France.

From left are Drs. Scott Matthews and John Molgaard.
From left: Drs. Scott Matthews and John Molgaard.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

There he completed papers, guest lectured and collaborated with German researchers, in particular Prof. Dr. Horst Czichos and subsequently president of BAM.

“Life within the Berlin Wall, then a vibrant “island” of freedom and culture – art, music and theatre – surrounded by communist East Germany, was also an experience,” he told the Gazette during a recent interview.

“My family and I lived in a TU apartment building in the British sector, next to a forest with wild boars, which provided a pleasant silvan cycle route to BAM in the American sector – including a path that took me through an open area with not-so-wild nude sunbathers whenever the weather was warm!”

‘Great experience’

Dr. Molgaard encourages researchers from across the disciplines to consider applying for a Humboldt Fellowship.

“All branches of university scholarship and candidates from any country, are eligible for support,” he pointed out.

He says the foundation’s support for families should be a significant bonus and draw for potential applicants: Dr. Molgaard was joined by his wife and three children.

“I can’t say enough about the great experience I’ve had as a Humboldt fellow,” added Dr. Matthews.

“The Humboldt Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the German system, but my sense is that the program is not very well known to Canadians. I always compare the program to the Fulbright program – which brings Canadians to the U.S., among other things – in that both programs aim to integrate their home country’s scholars with international researchers.

“One difference is that, frankly, Humboldt scholars are generally better funded than Fulbright scholars – and I say this as a proud former holder of a Fulbright research chair at Vanderbilt University.”

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