At the multidisciplinary Doctoral Program Asia and Europe, transcultural research and discussions alike are shaped by the variety of ideas, concepts and disciplines among its participants. In addition to offering glimpses of their individual backgrounds, doctoral candidates talk about their current alma mater. Their experiences and expectations reveal what renders the program special to them.
At the University of Zurich’s University Research Priority Program (URPP) Asia and Europe and its multidisciplinary Doctoral Program research between Asia and Europe finds its place. Uniting various departments and teaching staff, the URPP proves to be a unique platform for both graduate and post-graduate students from different countries and with different academic backgrounds and interests in Asia and Europe.
What do the URPP doctoral candidates think about their current alma mater? Justyna Jaguścik, a graduate student in Chinese studies, first came to Switzerland with a 6-month scholarship and spent her time at the Department of Chinese Studies of the University of Zurich. She recalled those times with admiration, saying how deeply impressed she was by resources such as the library and academic supervision. In Poland, her native country, she had studied social sciences―sociology and gender studies, to be precise―along with Chinese studies. At the URPP she saw the possibility to combine the topics and fields that interest her the most.
Aliya Khawari, a political science student, likewise acknowledged her interdisciplinary background that prepared her well for her graduate studies at the URPP Asia and Europe. In Pakistan she had covered public policy, public administration, management, accounting and statistics. In Germany, where she moved in 2000, she studied European studies taking courses in sociology, law, politics and economics. Working mainly with qualitative research methods, she was glad to be supervised by a professor who is more interested in working with quantitative data. “For someone who wants a mix of both methods, it is a perfect platform,” she says. When Aliya’s professor moved to the University of Zurich, she recommended that Aliya apply for the URPP, which is known for its interdisciplinary program. After completing the steps of the application process, Aliya was accepted into the Doctoral Program Asia and Europe.
Good luck was also on the side of Philipp Hetmanczyk, a doctoral candidate in both study of religions and Chinese studies, who by chance discovered an opening at the URPP Asia and Europe and applied for the position. He said he gave his best in order to get this position; after all, he had spent a year after his MA studies at the University of Leipzig writing and elaborating his proposal for a doctoral thesis.
But what makes the URPP Asia and Europe special to these doctoral candidates? All three unequivocally agreed that the interdisciplinary program of the URPP is what accounts for its uniqueness. The Students describe it as an enriching experience to encounter different ideas and perceptions from different fields, professors, and students. “I did not want a research position where I would be on my own. I wanted to have the possibility to get into a dialogue with other doctoral candidates, to get to know other theoretical approaches and perspectives. And I think I have broadened my horizon immensely,” stated Philipp. Justyna emphasized the practicality of working together and cooperating across academic borders and combining different methodologies. And finally Aliya reminded us about a “booming” student life filled with numerous activities such as student working groups, colloquiums, seminars, conferences and lectures, all of which raise interesting questions, open people’s eyes, and make people think.
Don’t lose your own point of view Having listened to all these responses, another question arose: How do doctoral candidates manage to keep up with their studies? Laughing, they pointed out that too many extra-curricular activities can pose a certain danger. On the one hand, being engaged in many activities is good and useful; but on the other hand, these very activities can also result in a lack of time for students’ main work― reading for and writing their dissertations. Accordingly, good organization, discipline, responsibility, and time management are of utmost importance when one sets a goal to pursue graduate studies.
Although the interdisciplinary nature of the URPP is its definite advantage, it can also be a challenge. What should a student do when he or she receives feedback from different academic fields? How can students incorporate it into a research project? Philipp gave a good tip: “You should learn to sort out what is relevant and important for your topic from what is less relevant and important.” Nevertheless, being aware of other points of view is never bad.
The students agreed that generous financial support was very much appreciated. Not having to look for a job greatly eases students’ lives and enables more time for both their thesis and their graduate studies. According to Aliya, “that’s a big benefit that we do not have to look for funds and apply; you save a lot of time and effort.”
Friendly colleagues are also one of the URPP’s many strengths that contribute to a pleasant working atmosphere through people’s interaction with one another. The students enjoy each other’s company both in and outside of the institute.
How do the URPP doctoral candidates feel about the larger world? Being confident that the knowledge and practical experiences gained at the URPP will help them in their future careers, they want to strengthen the bridge between Asia and Europe by being a part of and playing key roles in cultural corporations as well as international and developmental organizations. They also do not exclude the possibility of deepening their knowledge by pursuing interesting post-doctoral research projects and laying groundwork for their academic careers.
For further information on the Doctoral Program Asia and Europe, please see www.asienundeuropa.uzh.ch/teaching.html
(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 1/2012, pp. 13–14)