This Postdoctoral Fellowship Program entitled “Institutional Change and Social Practice. Research on the Political System, the Economy and Society in Central Asia and the Caucasus” is a 3-year project funded by Volkswagen Foundation and managed jointly by Bielefeld University and TU Dortmund University. The project´s core is its fellows, whose postdoctoral fellowships are supplemented by an overarching academic and professionalization program. Therefore, the structure of the project is twofold: Each fellow pursues her or his own research project while also attending various ongoing events (such as conferences and workshops). The aim of this “professionalization-through-research” approach is to systematically combine and interweave the goals and activities of research and professionalization as a way of enhancing the fellows’ skills and academic qualifications.
Each fellow applied for a 3-year fellowship, granted to undertake a research project that in the majority of cases focuses on “present-day political, legal, economic, and social developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus” (Volkswagen Foundation´s call “Institutional Change and Social Practice. Research on the Political System, the Economy and Society in Central Asia and the Caucasus”). While most of the fellows come from social sciences and humanities backgrounds, some are from the field of life sciences (Volkswagen Foundation´s call: “Environment, Natural Resources, and Renewable Energies – Interdisciplinary Transboundary Research on Human-Environmental Interactions”), thus completing the interdisciplinary group.
The fellows themselves are all based at a research institute or university in one of the countries within the region (see map above), while their project partners are based in Germany. Twelve postdoc-tandem-partners as well as nine German hosts collaborate closely with the fellows on each individual research project as a way of promoting international discourse, networking, and partnerships.
To strengthen the international discourse, the networks and partnerships mentioned above are not limited to the individual research projects but are intertwined in an overarching program. More broadly, the project includes three accompanying events held by Bielefeld University and TU Dortmund University. The first two of these events will focus on the fellowship projects themselves as well as on professionalization and networking activities, and the final conference will be the main scientific and research pillar of the accompanying academic program. To further connect the participating regions, these events will take place in different parts of the countries represented in the project.
All events will focus on the next generation of Central Asian and Caucasian academics and on promoting their academic careers and will incorporate network-building both within the Central Asian/Caucasian scholarly community and between Central Asia/the Caucasus and Germany/Europe.
One pillar of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is its diversity. The research projects in the social sciences and humanities all examine institutional change on a political, legal, economic, or social level – or a combination thereof – and form therefore an interdisciplinary group with diverse subjects. Those projects in the field of life sciences followed a call for interdisciplinary approaches and now complement the project´s diversity enormously. Besides the diversity inherent in the research projects’ topics, methods, and approaches, the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program thrives on the diversity of its participants, all of whom come from different academic and cultural backgrounds.
Each fellowship is granted to a highly qualified research project. Each 3-year research project consists of attendance at and/or the organization of conferences or workshops, the preparation of publications, and the conduction of research activities such as field trips, research stays (e.g., at the respective partner institution), library visits, or interviews. Moreover, publications will be generated not only in each individual project but also in the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program itself. The third accompanying event will concentrate on research questions that focus on the results obtained by the fellows and their German postdoc-tandem-partners as well as on desiderata for future research.
Sustainability, with its many facets, is requisite for a project to be considered successful. Research itself is by its very nature sustainable through such products as discourse, information sharing, and knowledge, as well as through its safekeeping and dissemination through published works. In addition to the individual projects, accompanying events will take a “professionalization-through-research” approach and are intended to be sustainable in many ways, such as by enhancing the interdisciplinary research capabilities of junior researchers in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Moreover, the connections made among all the participants will lead to long-term positive effects on several levels – scientific, societal, and personal.
One additional aim of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is to establish a long-lasting and professional network that will encompass all the participants – not just the fellows but also their German postdoc-tandem-partners and German hosts. These connections are strongly intertwined with the project’s research orientation and sustainability. Both international cooperation and interregional communication should enrich and advance the current state of the art within the respective fields of study and should ensure future collaboration among Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Europe. The outcomes will reflect positively on the fellows themselves and their German partners as well as on the Volkswagen Foundation and the managing universities and departments.