Coffee Chat with a Science Diplomat: Dr Judith Reinhard

Coffee Chat with a Science Diplomat: Dr Judith Reinhard

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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.

2021-04-06 05:34

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