Coffee Chat with a Science Diplomat: Dr Judith Reinhard
I am (actually) a trained scientist and neuroscientist to be specific. I've been in active research for over 20 years, funded by all the major German funding agencies like the DAAD, the DFG and the Humboldt Foundation. During my career in the lab, I was always really interested in connecting back to Germany. You never quite lose this connection to the country where you came from
and i have established a number of cooperations (research cooperations) with German partner universities but it wasn't as satisfying as i thought in terms of moving things forward. When the offer came to join the German embassy as a Science Counsellor, I jumped at the chance because I thought this is a very interesting career path where I can do a little bit more as a Scientist than just being in the lab. Usually when I get asked that, I consider myself a Science broker, which means I broker relationships; I build international networks; I create cooperation opportunities in the research, science and higher education sector. My responsibilities are quite
diverse. One big part is just observing and reporting on what's happening in science, research and education in Australia back to Germany; provide information about what's happening in Germany here in Australia; do some research marketing; identify cooperation investment opportunities in particular also with industry (to connect research and industry a little bit better); and when we do have delegations, pre-pandemic (we had quite a lot), I (helped these) assist these delegations and the visitors from government or from research organisations with their program; I introduce them to the right people and I identify opportunities for them. Of course I also organise (with the help of my colleagues at the Embassy), a number of events, symposia, workshops and the like. Main partners in Germany are of course the Foreign office, the Ministry of education and research, funding agencies, research organisations, universities and peak bodies and the same over here in Australia. We are very lucky in Australia that we have a number of really good German partner agencies other than the Embassy. We have an information center by the DAAD in Sydney, with who we work very closely; we have a very active Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Australia. So these are my main partners, otherwise think tanks and the like. Of course
the whole diplomatic corps, all the big embassies have science counsellors like myself, and we get together frequently, especially the ones from the European Union or the Member States and discuss how we can further not only our own countries but also the European agenda. We organise regular meetings with the other science counsellors but also with all the research agencies in Australia. It starts with reading - I do a lot of reading; so the news; you read briefs; you just find and analyse a very vast amount of information from a variety of sources. Digesting the information is pretty crucial. After reading comes the writing - after I have digested and analysed all of that, I have to write briefs for my Ambassador, for the Ministries in Berlin (Germany). I have correspondences - I spend a lot of time at the computer, writing emails; and now doing quite a lot of Zoom calls; I attend webinars; I answer inquiries that come from Australia and Germany; and also just protocol matters - for instance we have research vessels visiting Australian waters - there's quite a lot of protocol involved and I, with the help of my colleagues, my staffs, we organise that. Another area is research marketing - promoting German science landscape and funding,
which means I'm active on social media and on LinkedIn (it's my preferred platform). Whenever I see also from Germany, from the Ministries, from the foreign office funding calls, I promote these. I send them to other colleagues hoping that we can start new cooperations. In the diplomatic corps, socialising is of course very important - network is probably the alpha and omega in work as a science diplomat, as a diplomat per se. You have to build and also maintain personal connections, which was challenging during Covid, in lockdown because normally you meet people in person. We're great believers in face-to-face meetings but having regular phone calls, catch-ups, meeting people over lunch and dinner, attend events and symposium workshops.
An interest in science and research is critical and essential, if you write a job ad, because if science and research doesn't particularly interest you, you're not going to do a good job - you're not going to enjoy your job. It is not essential to be a scientist per se but having some scientific training and the more you have the more you understand about how science and research and academia work, the better you're going to be in your job. It's very helpful to have these insights - how universities work, how universities engage with government. You do need a fair bit of analytical ability but I would say this is required in all jobs of this kind. There's a lot of information which you have to digest, find out what's worth pursuing, what's not worth it, digest it down to a legible, understandable format for Ambassadors and Ministries. You need, of course, people skills but again this is something
needed in pretty much every job. Diplomatic skills - having a bit of a knowledge of politics and the political backdrop and the big political picture is useful but this is something even if you don't have it at the beginning, this is something you acquire quite quickly when you work in these circles. I mention this because I think it's important to know when you have the information, which areas, which cooperations and investments are worth pursuing, where do you go in this political backdrop. If you talk about science diplomacy, there are three pillars. People always say the first pillar is Diplomacy for Science, which means you use diplomacy to further international scientific cooperation - talking to people; finding things; setting things up. The second pillar is Science for Diplomacy, where you use science to further
diplomatic goals - for instance if you promote the goodwill with a partner country, if you have lots of really good scientific cooperations, it helps then on a different level in political talks. The last pillar is Science in Diplomacy, which I think we've seen quite a lot in the last year, where you use science to inform and advise foreign policy and political decision making. Well as you mentioned, we are quite lucky because Germany is well known as a research destination but Germany and the German government being extremely organised, they have a whole campaign about research marketing. It's called Research in Germany and Study in Germany. It's a wonderful website,
it's easy to google and have a look at and they produce a lot of brochures, answering a lot of questions about the research landscape. So we're using this website and the powerpoints that they offer with that and the brochures to promote what we have and what we do in Germany. We do this work in the Embassy itself, in close cooperation with other agencies as already mentioned, in the German Academic Exchange Service that we have in sydney and it's a big part of their job but we also do this in cooperation with visiting research organisations and universities. Once the borders open and we have delegations visiting again this is what they do - they travel. We had the
Fraunhofer delegation, we had a delegation from the Leibniz Institutes, they travel throughout Australia and visit various institutions and organisations and always showcase what they're doing, what they're there for, where the funding is coming from. So we get a lot of help from those and as well from the funding agencies when they visit. What we do have is, we have created a platform of alumni and these alumni (usually either Germans or Australians) who have received funding from German fellowships from German agencies and have remained and continued their work as researchers in Australia and we recruit them to help us because Australia is a big country, with lots of cities, and lots of universities. We have their help to also provide this information about what German landscape is like, research landscape or funding opportunities there are. In spite of all of these, there are two challenges I think which
are quite uniquely German (in a way), when you try to promote this. One is obviously it's language - so a lot of people, as much as they would like to go work and study in Germany, I think German is a hard language to learn. It's not the most obvious language to learn, it's not like English and we have to overcome this hurdle by reassuring them that A) Germany is quite a multicultural country and pretty much everyone on the street speaks English or at least a little bit, so you'll get around with English in your daily life but also that German universities for instance have moved to teaching quite a lot of their courses in English - certainly in the post-grad courses and for instance, at Max Planck Institute, the standard language in the lab is English because so many researchers are from different countries. B) The other thing is a funny one. You may know that in Germany, higher education is for free. There are no universities and study fees or enrollment fees and this is something that's always been like that and will be like that - it's a big bonus. But if something is free, a lot of people think it's cheap. So how can
an excellent university education be worth anything if it's for free and this is a thinking we have to especially in anglo-saxon countries where universities for international students cost a lot of money, this is a thinking we have to work with and explain to people only because education is for free and you can study for free doesn't mean it's cheap and not worth anything - it's still high quality. So these are the two main challenges we face. Germany has a good reputation as a research and innovation power house. Everyone knows for instance, Fraunhofer. It's a standard name and made in Germany the quality and reliability of German products are also well known and this applies to the research as well. Possibly the German culture and nature to be very precise, very meticulous, really hard working and focusing on this. People also know that the German government supports research and occupation with a very very strong and constantly growing public funding support which unfortunately is not the same in all countries. So we're proud of this in Germany
and very grateful to the German government to support its researchers and scientists in that way. One thing you should not underestimate is that Germany is not alone. Germany is within Europe and whenever you go to Germany this is very attractive. Germans of course, German research organisations have many different cooperations within Europe to other European partners, access to European funding and by coming to Germany, a researcher from overseas (from outside the EU) gains access to many more opportunities within the European Research Area.
The scientific diaspora as they are called for every country are very important. Australia is an attractive country and there are many many scientists like myself who went there to study or do a Post-doc and they like it so much that they stay. Now they are crucial because they're not so much a brain drain for Germany but a science bridge because like me they connect back to Germany. We rely on these alumni to assist with our work of research marketing and networking and building cooperations.
Germany has the Humboldt Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service who run fairly large alumni networks but if you haven't received fellowships of these and you are a German in Australia researcher, you are not part of the alumni activities. So about three years ago, the German Embassy jointly with the Australian Embassy thought we have to do better - we have to create a network of everyone interested in bilateral research cooperation between Australia and Germany - the alumni included of course but everyone else as well. This includes also industry, chamber people and funding agencies. So we created the so-called Australia Germany Research Network (AGRN).
We decided to not have a website for this platform but rather relied on social media because website requires quite a lot of work and social media is in our opinion the way to go. So we have a LinkedIn member group - it is open to anyone who wants to join. We currently have 1300 members and we use this platform in addition to e-newsletters and emails to keep all of our members informed of what's happening, funding calls, policy changes, opportunities. The members use it to connect with each other to, for instance, showcase some great bilateral research they've done, some paper they have published and also for instance find industry partners. We support this with a number of network meetings in different cities both in Australia and in Germany and starting last year we wanted to have an annual online AGRN conference which connects everyone from both countries and we're looking forward to hosting this again this year in 2021. Everyone knows that modern science cannot be done in isolation - you rely on cooperation, be it with a researcher in the lab next to you or internationally. An international
scientific cooperation is central to Germany's science and research policy so every new strategy that is being published just like recently, the bio-economy strategy, the AI strategy or the Hydrogen strategy, they all have an international chapter/ international component on it and usually funding for international cooperation in it. Germany has MOU's with quite a number of partner countries about cooperation in Science and Technology - they have one with Australia dating back to 1976 - so, over 40 years and based on this, cooperation has been growing and growing. We have currently, I think, over 600 cooperation agreements between Universities in Australia and Germany. Interestingly in December 2020, so just a couple of months ago, the German Foreign Office released a strategy paper on its new focus on Science Diplomacy, meaning that international science and science cooperation has even reached the foreign office in its relevance. For me personally, it's pretty simple - without this
very strong focus on international scientific cooperation from Germany, I would not have a job. So, I think becoming a science diplomat was a very smart move when I did because international scientific cooperation has become more and more important not just between Australia and Germany but between Australia and Europe and further countries. As we know, Germany with the rest of Europe is going through the second wave and it's quite severe and I think they're seeing very slowly the light at the end of the tunnel but it's a long way to go. The challenges in managing the pandemic were in Germany quite similar to Australia in a way. One example is that it has strong Federalism and I think this was a challenge in Australia because you had all the federal states and you had the federal government and they might have different ideas and they might also pursue slightly different management strategies.
So this is something that was a challenge in Germany as well. The good news was that with Chancellor Merkel we had a Scientist at the head of government and in her very analytical approach, she has also approached this pandemic analytically and calmly and Germany does owe her, how she has really listened to scientific evidence and advice, how to go forward also now with the vaccination strategies. I do think that science and science diplomacy were really crucial in managing the pandemic and we've all noticed how all over the world, people have governments turned to Science that help us out; what is going on and scientists have really worked around the clock for over a year now, trying to find ways, develop vaccines, but also just advise, learn about this virus and from every month (every week) brought new insights which were crucial and see how we're managing it. And we're not at the end yet, it is going to continue. There's one difference I think between Australia and Germany and I think Australia has a great advantage in having positions like a Chief Scientist and a Chief Medical Officer for the whole nation. This is something Germany does not have and it was probably a bit more difficult to have a whole group of experts in Germany, possibly also disagreeing on the way forward and for the government then to decide what do we do. While here in Australia, you had one voice, also one
public voice to speak to the people and I think this was very helpful and this is something where I'm thinking Germany might consider potentially establishing something like that. The other thing that I admired about Australia was the rapid research information forum established by the then Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel at the Australian Academy and they worked extremely efficiently. They pumped out really well scientifically researched papers to crucial questions, for instance, about Covid and they did this often with a turnaround of a few days and these papers helped the Australian government enormously in making decisions. So these are things where science has played a really important role in managing the pandemic. I have been thinking a lot about this and I found this question hard to answer. There are so many wonderful memories that I have. Personally being a Science nerd I must say, I absolutely enjoyed
being able to visit our research vessel, Sonne, when it was in Perth. So, being able to walk around and see a research vessel with all its details, for me that was fascinating. I really really love this - a big thing. I do hope to go to Hobart at some stage and see some of the fantastic icebreakers that are now in Australia.
But rather than a memory, I would actually share my thoughts on three benefits of being a scientist in politics rather than a scientist in the lab and I have seen both sides. I think (just don't get me wrong) I love being a scientist, I love doing research but you do have a tendency to get really narrow in your research, you're very focused, you're in a niche and going into politics and becoming a science counsellor, I meet so many interesting people, inspiring people from all walks of life and I learn something new every day. I get to read about Quantum Physics which I had no idea about before. I get to read about Antarctica but also about research in the social sciences and archaeology, which as a scientist you never have the time or the interest to actually do. But the most important benefit is
that you can, as I had hoped, you can really make a difference. You can bring about change and you can because by setting up these cooperations and maybe helping other scientists succeed in their research, you can really make a contribution on shaping this world and help move forward and help tackle all the great challenges much more so than when you're sitting in a lab. Absolutely - I haven't looked back - I haven't regretted it for a minute. I know it's very very hard and the longer you are in research the harder it gets to leave because there's a lot of pressure and expectations on when you get a PhD, especially in Science and Engineering, to continue down the path and become an academic but there are many many more interesting opportunities out there and I would always encourage (not just personally but also in a bigger picture), I would encourage scientists and researchers to try and pursue a career in the public service, in Ministries, there are many out there. I think it is crucial and I must say this is something I again admire about Germany.
Within for instance, the Ministry of Education and Research, half the public servants have a PhD and they usually chose this career shortly after and being trained in analytical thinking is very important in making things happen also in policy. So, it is very interesting - it's extremely rewarding (I find) and you wouldn't regret it. You still get to do science, at least read about science as much as you want, and meet all these interesting scientists. So you're
not going to miss out. You still get to go and visit wonderful labs, just many more of them.