New call for interview partners from the Leibniz Postdoc Network: the pleasure (and pain) of interdisciplinary collaboration

Currently, humankind faces a series of immense societal challenges that will shape life on our planet for generations to come. Recent developments reaffirm our conviction that these challenges cannot be addressed without a strong contribution from science. To put it more precisely: interdisciplinary, evidence-based scientific approaches that tackle these enormous challenges from multiple angles are desperately needed yet their integration is often a huge challenge by itself.

As we have been announcing recently, our interview series that revolved around COVID-19 in 2021 will get a sequel in 2022. This time, we want to address a more general issue in academia namely the challenges and opportunities in interdisciplinary research projects1. The format we envision includes two (or, on occasion also more) postdocs who work together in a research project at one or more Leibniz institutes and who are going to talk with us about the interdisciplinary nature of their project and what they have learned during this kind of work.

More specifically here are the requirements:

  • At least one of the researchers involved should currently be a postdoc at a Leibniz-Institute. The second researcher might well come from a university or another research institute (e.g. a Helmholtz Institute), preferably from Germany (but we are open to international collaboration projects as long as at least one postdoc is Leibniz-affiliated). Interdisciplinary work involving partners from industry or federal agencies will also be considered.
  • We prefer if all researchers involved are in the postdoc phase but we will also consider submissions where part of the team is a doctoral student.
  • We are aware that where exactly interdisciplinary scientific work starts is debatable. For instance a collaboration between a physicist and a biochemist addressing protein folding mechanisms in molecular biology might be seen as a pure natural science project by a historian. As with the handling of our last interview series, we want to address this issue first and foremost with an inclusive approach – so in most cases if you think you are working in an interdisciplinary project team we will consider you interdisciplinary researchers.

If your work meets our criteria and you are motivated to answer some questions and contribute to raising awareness about the need for interdisciplinary research and about science communication in general, send us your informal application to by 31/08/2022. Please be sure to use the email subject “Interview WG2”! The email should include:

  • Title and brief description of the project
  • Name, institute, status (postdoc, PhD student, …) and email address for all scientists involved in the interview

We are looking forward to your applications and to working with you! Together we can make a difference!

1As a footnote we want to stress that the differences between inter-, trans- and multidisciplinary academic research were not completely lost on us but for the sake of brevity and clarity we stick with one term here. We envision that the differentiation between these terms and what they actually mean for us will form a vital part of the interviews in the series. Just in case you never thought about these differences here’s a short blog post on the topic.

Report from the Networking Meeting 2022 “Media for Scientists”

Facilitating networking is one of the most important topics of the Leibniz PostDoc Network. Since our annual general meeting has been held online for two years, we have organized a

Network Meeting – Media for Scientists

on June 22 and 23 in Frankfurt am Main

hosted by the Senckenberg Museum.

First things first: We would like to thank our spokesperson Marta Ferreira-Gomes for organizing this wonderful event. She was supported by Rajini Nagrani, our second speaker – our thanks go to her as well.

The session began with an engaging summary by Marta of the structure of our network and the activities of the working groups. Her presentation perfectly introduced the high-quality courses that followed. Our first workshop was an introduction to the use of social media for scientists, especially to reach the non-scientific community. The workshop could not have been more professionally arranged than by Rebecca Winkels and Janne Steenbeck from Wissenschaft im Dialog. The 18 participants were very engaged with the content and lively discussed the pros and cons of the different platforms. In the second half, we were able to test our new knowledge with the task of creating a post for one of the platforms.

Day 1 was concluded with a convivial dinner outdoors on a warm summer evening. Participants had the opportunity to network, discuss new collaborations and topics related to the Leibniz PostDoc Network.

It must be mentioned that our hosts provided us with excellent catering during the meeting. So nobody had to start day 2 hungry. This time we divided into 2 groups, one of which received a practical lesson on video creation with Mathis Horlacher.

The first group followed Matthias Horlacher, self employed media scientist for a 3 hour workshop containing theory and practical aspects about video production via the smart phone. This interactive course first introduced us to the concepts of a video production, such as making a story board (skript) and thinking about location and settings. In a hands-on activity, we learned how to speak freely in front of the cell phone camera of our colleagues and realized how important it is to get practice to feel comfortable in front of the camera.Then we learned a lot about the production process itself, about camera angle, light conditions and so on. We concluded with more tipps on editing using the right software (apps). In summary the workshop was a lot of fun, as through the small group we could ask a lot of questions and had lively discussion with our peers.

The second group followed Dr. Katja Flieger from Medientraining für Wissensschaflter into a media landscape survival training. We learned about offline and online media and strategies for dealing with them. Especially the tips on risks and critical situations will be of practical use for all of us. In the practical part, we created a post about our work and had it improved first by a partner and then – in a lively and stimulating discussion – by all participants and the trainer.

Watch out, non-scientists: we are professionals now and will explain our science to you with relentless clarity.

(Christiane Schmidt | ZMT & Christian Nehls | FZB)

PS:

  • We interviewed Marta Ferreira-Gomes about the Networking Meeting. Find her answers HERE.
  • If you would like to learn more about the Leibniz PostDoc Network or are interested in contributing to the network, have a look HERE or drop us a message!

Networking Meeting 2022: Interview with Marta Ferreira-Gomes

The Leibniz PostDoc Network is organizing a Networking Meeting. This year’s topic will be “Media for Scientists”. We have asked Marta Ferreira-Gomes what postdocs can expect from this meeting and why she thinks media competence is important for a scientist’s career.

Marta, thanks for being available for this interview. You are one of the spokespersons of the Leibniz PostDoc Network. What was your motivation to run for this position?

My biggest motivation was the feeling I could do a little more for the Postdoc community. As our job is so demanding – we need to be good scientists, writers, public speakers, teachers, managers – it is important to have a platform which listens to our needs, advocates for us and tries to support our career development.

Marta Ferreira-Gomes, spokesperson of the Leibniz PostDoc Network

The Leibniz PostDoc Network is organizing an Annual Meeting in fall and a Networking Meeting in summer. What distinguishes the two formats?

Our Annual Meeting is centered in the Network and its activities. For that we organize two days for presenting the Network, listening to the Postdocs and debating their needs, recruiting new active members and having elections. This meeting is organized in a virtual format so we can reach the maximum possible number of Postdocs.

The Networking Meeting is thought and organized having Postdoc needs in mind. We want to create a meeting with interactive workshops where Postdocs can learn or perfect skills which are important for our demanding jobs. All that in an environment that promotes networking and experience exchange.

Why did you decide for the topic “Media for Scientists”, and what can postdocs expect from this format?

Every year in our Annual Meeting we ask the participants what their needs are, and the topic “Media” has repeatedly popped up. Based on this, we have tried to organize interactive workshops which are beyond what is more commonly available. In this case on day 1 we start with a more general approach on how to navigate media and on day 2 participants can choose between a workshop dedicated to a new approach to science communication – the use of smartphones and video – and a workshop where the objective is to learn how to interact with the media and specifically journalists and what do they expect form us.

If we are to list key skills for scientists, most would not immediately think of media. What makes the topic relevant for scientists?

The importance of science communication has increased in recent years. More and more Postdocs face situations in which they need to present their work for non-scientific audiences. The Leibniz Postdoc Network wants to help postdocs to be prepared for this demand.

It was a pleasure to speak with you, Marta. We are now even more looking forward to this event. See you there!

You can register and inform us about your workshop preferences by following this link: https://drive.leibniz-postdoc.net/index.php/apps/forms/NNePesie22tLcCqk

Registration will close on June 15.

An update from the communication group

It’s been a while since we published the last interview in our COVID-19 interview series. We always had planned to publish a short recap post after the series is terminated and – better late than never – here it is! In addition we will also give a short outlook about what is going to happen next here on this blog.

First we present you a short summary of the 2021 COVID-19 Leibniz postdocs interview series: in total we featured 14 postdocs from twelve Leibniz-Institutes in twelve interviews on our blog between May and December 2021. Additionally, we published the initial call in February 2021 and an introductory post when we started the series. Links to each single interview are provided below. For a summary, also have a look at the bar diagrams below. There you can see, based on results from the last Leibniz Postdoc Survey, that Section E (Environmental Sciences) was highly over-represented. On the other hand, section D (Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Engineering) was severely underrepresented with zero contributions (Figure 1a). We can only speculate why this happened, maybe it could be partially explained with fewer topics that are directly related to the pandemic. The representation of the remaining three Leibniz sections in the interview series was fairly similar to their share of overall postdocs at Leibniz (Figure 1a).

A second category we can look at is the nationality of the postdocs that were featured in the blog series: Eight of the 14 interview partners were researchers from Germany while the other six have represented the rest of the world (Figure 1b). This reflects the overall relationship as revealed through the survey very well where international postdocs were only slightly over-represented.

Figure 1b: share of German and international postdocs within the Leibniz Association versus their representation in our interview series.

We conclude with the “winners” who received the highest single page views per individual blog post:

While we (Christian and Gregor) did most of the organizing and editing work for the series we want to also express our sincere gratitude towards all the people who supported us: Johanna and Felix for technical support, Marta for support with questionnaire design, the entire steering committee for help with proof reading and copy-editing, Marvin Bähr from Leibniz headquarters, and, of course, all participants who took the time to answer our questions. Thank you!

If you wonder now if there will be a sequel to our series: Yes, we are in the midst of planning and we will publish a new call in the next couple of weeks. The new call will also come in tandem with another interview which we won’t give you more details at the moment. Stay tuned for more 🙂

Yours

Christian Nehls & Gregor Kalinkat

PS: Here are the links to all other interviews:

Blog series #12: Multiple burdens: rheumatic diseases during a pandemic

Dr. Martin Schäfer is a postdoc at DRFZ – German Rheumatism Research Center and works in the field of epidemiology. In the twelfth part of our blog interview series, he describes factors associated with severe COVID courses specifically for patients who have rheumatic diseases.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Martin Schäfer
DRFZ – German Rheumatism Research Center, Berlin
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Epidemiology of the rheumatic diseases

Main featured instrument or technique (for COVID research):
Statistical analysis of data from questionnaire based observational studies

“I investigate factors associated with severe COVID courses, including medications, to help doctors know what patients may need extra protection or advice.”

Dr. Martin Schäfer, why did you decide to stay in academia after your PhD?

I have always liked to analyse and understand things and am generally passionate about science, so to stay in academia was kind of natural for me. At DRFZ, my research can make a difference for patients quite directly, which for me is very exciting and rewarding!

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

Over the last few years, I have been analysing observational data to determine which medications are most appropriate for different subgroups of patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, as defined e.g. by their age, sex, weight or certain comorbidities. With “most appropriate”, I mean most effective and reducing the risk of side effects as much as possible. Such results are helpful for doctors particularly when they ask themselves how to treat patient groups which are usually not investigated in clinical trials, such as older patients or patients with comorbidities.

What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you?

Among people with rheumatic diseases, the odds for dying of COVID are higher among men, older people or persons with specific comorbidities such as heart or lung disease. Such factors were already known from the general population and therefore confirmed my expectations. Furthermore, some factors specific for patients with rheumatic diseases are also associated with higher odds of COVID-related death: an elevated activity of their rheumatic disease and a few specific immunosuppressive medications, such as anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody B cell depleting therapies, which are also given to some cancer patients.

In addition to disease-related risks, is it possible to estimate how the medical care of rheumatic patients has been affected by the COVID pandemic?

This may vary between regions and countries. Generally, surveys have found that particularly during the first COVID-19 wave, most personal doctor visits were cancelled and patients primarily communicated with their rheumatologist remotely (limiting the ability to do, e.g., lab tests). A portion of patients even could not communicate with their rheumatologist at all during that time.
So, diagnostic delay temporarily may have affected many patients. Overall, most patients seemed to continue their antirheumatic medications, which afterwards became the recommendation. Still, in the German RABBIT study at DRFZ, we saw that at first patients and doctors were unsure about the potential risks of immunosuppressive medications regarding COVID, and medications were discontinued more frequently, increasing the risk of disease flare-ups. So, when later we came up with results from worldwide data on COVID implying that continuing the immunosuppressive medication was in most cases safe and important, it was reassuring for patients and doctors.

How has COVID affected your life?

I have worked from home office during large parts of the pandemic, but had rarely done this before. So the pandemic at first meant some adaptation for me, involving a somewhat greater need to structure daily work life. Also, I think that doing some physical activity outside every day is important.

Working at home can be very efficient, but it also implied to communicate with colleagues mostly by phone or in Zoom meetings, and after some time I started to miss the casual communication in front of the coffee machine or at lunch. At the same time, exciting new cooperations particularly regarding COVID research emerged during this time which I have enjoyed very much.

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic?

Such a fast-evolving and competitive new research topic requires urgency and dedication while your existing projects remain. So I think that time management is even more important than usual.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

For people who have a chronic condition like a rheumatic disease, adequate control of their chronic disease remains crucial during the pandemic, even when this involves therapies suppressing their immune system. With a few important exceptions, such therapies generally do not significantly increase the likelihood for a severe COVID course in patients with rheumatic diseases.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

A hike in the mountains (or hills) with good weather and nice people. Mountain scenery is so diverse, both stimulating and mind-relaxing. For me, it’s the perfect counterpart to office work!

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Martin Schäfer for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Martin Schäfer and his work:

Tell about your research – the 2021 Science Communication Day of the Leibiz PostDoc Network

In 2013, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government famously said that

“Science is not finished until it’s communicated”.

Professor Sir Mark Walport

A track in science communication is increasingly important at every stage of a researcher’s career, from PostDoc to professor, especially when it comes to job evaluations and appointments. Therefore, a full day of virtual science communication awaited the Leibniz PostDocs last Friday, 26 November.

We dived into science communication during pandemic times with Professor Hannah Schmid-Petri, chair for science communication at the University of Passau. She presented facts and figures how research was mediated over the past 18 months, and which topics and people dominated the media. The importance of knowing to whom you are explaining your research was outlined by Dr. Sascha Vogel from science birds. He vividly presented different target groups and even involved the chairs in his lecture to illustrate to the participants how to express different intentions.

In the afternoon, it was time to get active, and participants could choose one out of four practitioner-led workshops:

Presenting complex contexts by scientific podcasts was taught by Diana Erika Lopez Ramirez from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She is running her successful podcast ‘Rompiendo Mitos y Estereotipos de Genero’.

Dr. Susanne Berger from SciComm Atelier visualised science and explained the basics of graphical abstracts.

Simple texts, which can also be understood by non-expert audiences, were in the focus of Dr. Anna Henschel from Wissenschaft im Dialog. She concentrated on simple language and short sentences for lay summaries of publications or third party funding applications.

Daniel Quintana from the University of Oslo helped bringing research to the essential point via Twitter. He runs @dsquintana and in his book ‘Twitter for scientists’ he guides researchers on how to share their findings with the global community.

This science communication day definitely hit a nerve for the almost 80 participating postdocs of the Leibniz Association. In particular, there was an exceptionally high interest in the practice-oriented workshops. We are happy that we as Leibniz PostDoc Network were able to provide this opportunity, and thank the Leibniz Association for funding this event.

Yvette Meißner | DRFZ

Blog series #11: International cooperation in the time of pandemic

Dr. Scarlett Sett is a postdoc at DMSZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH and works in the area of science policy. In the eleventh part of our blog interview series, she gives us insight into her work at the interface between science and policy and what can be aligned there to deal with the pandemic.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Scarlett Sett
DSMZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH, Braunschweig
Microbial Ecology and Diversity Research group
(Science policy group)
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Who owns pathogens during pandemics

Main featured instrument or technique:
Science diplomacy

Trying to build bridges between science and policy to encourage cohesive solutions for global issues.”

Dr. Scarlett Sett, what was your personal motivation for joining the science policy unit of a Leibniz institute?

Honestly, I think it was a mix of serendipitous events that landed me in this group. I was looking for an opportunity where I could be challenged professionally. But, I felt I also needed to find a job that gave my work a sense of meaningfulness. The work we do at the science policy team gives me both.

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

I have been working with the practical implications of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) obligations and the Nagoya Protocol on academic research. Over the past few years, my role has been to enhance awareness among scientists about potential obligations they might have with countries if they use their biological material (i.e. non human material containing DNA/RNA, including human pathogens).

What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you?

The main results confirmed our suspicion, namely, that pathogens do not fit into the traditional role of a resource that can be negotiated bilaterally between two countries. The nature of pathogens and the speed and scale at which they spread makes it very difficult to pinpoint an exact origin. Based on our data, we showed that during a global pandemic, like the current one, rapid exchange of information and material is critical for the development of counteractive measures to fight the spread of the disease.

With this knowledge, can you speculate what conditions need to be established to facilitate global collaboration in the future?

I think in general, as researchers, it is in our nature to work collaboratively. But as a foreigner, I also know the reality in other countries. I think our efforts should go simultaneously into training and infrastructure development to make sure we have spread infrastructures and trained personnel ready to react when this happens again. Otherwise, unfortunately, we end up with highly trained researchers in countries without infrastructures or highly advanced infrastructures without trained researchers to properly used them.

How has COVID affected your life?

I signed my contract only one month after going into full lock-down and thus started my position already on a hybrid home-office arrangement. The position was in another city to where I lived so I personally enjoyed the opportunity to reduce traveling and be at home with my partner and dog. I was no stranger to home-office, so I applied the same strategy of strictly defining work and free time hours. We have a time logging system at the Institute and this enables to easily define when you work and when you stop.

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What circumstances made this possible?

My direct work with COVID was by accident. Our proposal had envisioned to develop a report describing the potential implications of ABS on the exchange of pathogens during epidemics/pandemics. Luckily, the COVID pandemic was a “real life” case study which showed us how we benefited from having unrestricted access to pathogens to quickly develop countermeasures.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

Global collaboration is key to address global challenges.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

No alarm to wake up to. Brunch on the balcony. A long walk in nature with the dog. Nap in the afternoon. Pizza and a movie for dinner.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Scarlett Sett for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Scarlett Sett and her work:

Blog series #10: The intricacies of anthropological field work during a pandemic

Dr. Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa is a postdoc at ZMT – Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research. As an anthropologist and geographer, she investigates how coastal cities in Southeast Asia adapt for the future in a warming world. During the first half of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Siriwardane-de Zoysa reflects on changing transregional partnerships, while moving between her field-site countries, third spaces, and physical workplace in Bremen. In the tenth interview of our blog series, she tells us about this unique experience.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa
ZMT – Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research, Bremen
Leibniz Section E

Research topic:
Infrastructural futures of urbanizing shorelines

Main featured instrument or technique:
Virtual multimodal ethnography (online qualitative interviews and transect walking through participatory film and other modes of visualizing).   

“I aim to rethink transregional research partnerships to foster new practices of engagement during times of immobility.”

  • What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

Since 2017, I’ve been tracing how the coastal cities of Jakarta, Manila, and Singapore – in their own diverse ways – have been infrastructurally shaping their densely-built shoreline edges in the face of relative sea level change, erosion and land subsidence.  

As an environmental anthropologist, I am particularly interested in the speculative futures and ‘afterlives’ of engineered coastal adaptation interventions. These include seawalls and artificial islands, and the ways in which they pattern social inequalities and transform urban practices of land use and placemaking.

  • What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you?

We found ourselves in the midst of fieldwork in Jakarta, as the pandemic was unravelling in March 2020. At the time Indonesia was not internationally red-listed and much of our interviewing was done among urban informal fisher-settlers living around the Java Sea.

Moments such as these gave us a glimpse into how impoverished and socially marginalised coastal zones are also imagined as spaces of communal retreat and solidarity far distanced from the contagion of urban centers, despite being heavily policed as illicit sites of sea-based mobility.

We were also prompted to rethink modes of fieldwork praxis (and meanings of the „field“) as collaborative researchers atomised from one another across continents, and the opto-haptics of doing fieldwork in early pandemic settings which we’ve collectively published in the Fieldsights series of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

  • How has COVID affected your life?

At first, the novelty of professional life in-lockdown was intriguing as it meant more time for immersive deep work, as I live on my own. All at once, access to institution-based events around the world that were often closed to non-members became possible in ways that were once unimaginable. Yet, the uncanny melding of work and home environments finally caught up as months rolled by. I even found myself renting a co-working space for a month or two, simply to shake off the monotony and stagnation.

As a positive spin-off, being grounded in place also opened up expansive spaces for project partners to take on more initiative in practice, given if co-creation and joint ownership is often built into the design of projects.

We’ve also been relying more on remote digital modes of research that have also enabled participants to ‘tell their own stories’ (without the presence of researchers) through walk-abouts and in ways that can be directly archived, while being cognizant our own ethics of inquiry.

  • Does the COVID situation in your host country influence your research?

It was uncanny to say the least, because during the first global lockdown in spring 2020 I flew from Jakarta to Colombo were I’d planned on visiting my parents during a short Easter break.

Sri Lanka, despite the low infection rates at the time, had iron-clad national quarantine policy spanning several months, and of course all flights were grounded. It felt like being in double or triple exile – remotely writing about and theorising on a part of the world (the Indo-Malay archipelago) that you’d have no access to, while inhabiting another city a continent away from your professional base, and all the while having to explain to bewildered audiences at online events why you inhabited different time zones.

  • You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic? 

At the height of the first lockdown, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) launched a funding call for projects that fostered collaboratories in the Indian Ocean region. It was here that we first seeded our idea for a ‚Southern Collective‘ (led by my colleague Annu Jalais) on democratising the production of marine knowledge through south-south partnerships, connecting across 8 countries.

Creating a knowledge network in these times of geographic fixity (particularly among institutional strangers) seemed an odd idea. Yet, the initiative itself was woven around experimenting with multimodal forms of storytelling and narrative research among pandemic-impacted coastal communities in precisely moments of disconnection, and we’re still picking up lessons on transoceanic partnership – building along the way!   

  • What would be the one take-home message of your research? 

While the pandemic – as well as the climate emergency – seemingly rupture old ways of doing business-as-usual, the underlying structures that enabled seem more durable and reticent to progressive change. Therefore, debates around paradigm shifts and systemic transformation will gain even more ground particularly in the wake of COP26, begging the question how far a “crisis” needs to be devastatingly so, for whom, and in which ways, for real actionable change to be felt across scales and regions.  

  • How does your perfect day off work look like? 

A technological detox (sans Netflix!). A weekend away somewhere in the Niedersachsen countryside. Or evenings spent running in the parklands, pottering around with plants, or meeting friends.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa for supporting our blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa and her work:

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Blog series #9: Stress resilience during the pandemic

Dr. Sarah Ayash is a postdoc at Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research – LIR and investigates stress resilience. In part nine of our blog interview series, she explains how we can positively influence our own resilience.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Sarah Ayash
LIR – Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research, Mainz
Area: Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Resilience
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Stress Resilience

Main featured instrument or technique (for this specific COVID study):
Cross-sectional online survey conducted in 24 languages during the most intense phase of the lockdown in Europe (March 22nd to April 19th 2020) in a convenience sample of N=15,970 adults

I investigate stress resilience promoting factors during the pandemic and ways to positively employ the stress induced by the crisis to increase one’s resilience, a phenomenon known as “stress inoculation”.

With a biology background, what was your biggest motivation to get involved with psychology and eventually resilience research?

My curiosity about the brain drove me into neuroscience. Given my admiration of Avicenna from an early age, I personally consider a biological approach to questions in psychology a necessity for a better understanding. Here, the approach has been largely disease-oriented. What attracts me in resilience research is that it is a health-oriented approach. The health state is the fascinating observation. If we understand this state, there is a huge potential not only to be able treat the disease one but also develop prevention approaches.

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

Establishing ecologically valid and translationally relevant mouse models to study stress resilience mechanisms.

What are the main findings of your work; and did the results surprise you?

During COVID, I was involved in a large study that aimed to gain mechanistic insights about the relationship between specific psycho-social resilience factors and resilience specifically in the crisis. In comparison with other resilience factors, good stress response recovery and positive appraisal specifically of the consequences of the crisis were the strongest factors. Results were in line with our expectations*.

How has COVID affected your life?

It created me an opportunity to communicate, and thus bridge my research, to the public. Specifically, I felt there was a huge interest from the side of the public in stress resilience research as a result of the lockdown measures. I was invited at an unprecedented rate to interviews to talk about mental health during the lockdown. Overall, the experience made me appreciate the importance of communicating science and engaging in conversations related to my research with the public.

Does the COVID situation in your home country influence your research?

Yes it did but in an indirect way. Specifically, I became engaged in translating findings and research material related to mental health as well as online surveys of my institute – specifically intended to study resilience during the crisis- to the language of my region to gain insights and provide information on mental health to that part of the world as well.

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic?

Observe what is happening around you and think of ways you can bridge your work to it. Sometimes including or changing few elements is sufficient to achieve this. As a scientist I believe you should not work in a bubble detached from your surrounding.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

Stress resilience is the norm. We have the needed capacity to adapt to adversity and endure it even when we think otherwise.

What measures can one take to increase his/her stress resilience during adversity (including that of the pandemic)?

Perceive the situation as challenging rather than threatening. Facilitate a positive perception of the consequences and seek social support.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

It starts with a slow breakfast at a lively cafe while enjoying the week’s print of “The Economist” followed by a long stroll around the city, a visit to a museum or a gallery, and finally it ends with watching a good movie with friends and family.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Sarah Ayash for supporting our blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Sarah Ayash and her work:

Blog series #8: How does a pandemic lockdown affect light pollution?

Dr. Andreas Jechow is a postdoc at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). With a background in optical physics he is investigating the environmental impacts of artificial light at night in a young and highly interdisciplinary research field.

Name / Institute:

  • Andreas Jechow
  • IGB – Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin
  • Leibniz Section E

Research topic:

  • How artificial light affects ecosystems.

Main featured instrument or technique:

  • light at night measurements
  • ground-based cameras
  • satellite imagery

“I looked into how the COVID lockdown affected light pollution, which is too much artificial light at night disturbing the natural environment.“

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

I had two main topics. Most relevant for this interview, I worked on how a special form of light pollution “skyglow” impacts ecosystems. This research brought me to the darkest places in Germany, Europe and Asia and I did field work in remote areas like Northern Scandinavia or Kazakhstan. Furthermore, I worked on observing water quality with remote sensing techniques from space, airplanes, and buoys.

What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you or did they basically confirm what you had thought before you started this study?

We were expecting that less artificial light was emitted during the COVID lockdown because of reduced human activities. However, we observed that the light detected by satellites was the same or more than pre-COVID lockdown. The lights actually stayed on after the curfews and left lit ghost towns – not very sustainable. Surprisingly, we found that skyglow, which is artificial light scattered within the atmosphere, was reduced – contradictory to the other observations. We conclude that reduced air pollution, particularly because of less air traffic is the cause for this reduction. 

How has COVID affected your life?

I have 2 small kids, and my wife is a “system-relevant” medical doctor. Therefore, I am the stay-home parent and must take care for the kids including homeschooling. Admittedly, I have spent much more time with my kids than pre-COVID, which is very good. Work-wise things were disastrous in the beginning but have improved over the months, and I could do field trips (not abroad and only if get the childcare organized) and can work family friendly from home (although much less efficient than before of course).

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic?

I had this one night off from family duties in March 2020 and used the opportunity to do field work. If you see such a chance, don’t hesitate – just do it, but don’t wear yourself off too much of course.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

Reduce unnecessary emission of artificial light as much as possible for the environment and sustainability. Also, air pollution should move more on the agenda of researchers and conservationists that deal with light pollution.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

Normally this would be the day with the family out in nature with the campervan starting with a dip in a lake and a coffee, going on with a little hike and finishing with a beer for sunset. Now, 15 months into the pandemic, I am more eager for spending that day at a dusty rock festival with loud music and all that stuff.

Has COVID changed your view on society and science?

Firstly, we often take system-relevant jobs for granted and should be more grateful to all those that are essential for the functioning of our society. Secondly, science communication and scientific integrity is particularly important when scientific results become pivotal for government decisions with huge implications and when preprints become more popular also in the media.  

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Andreas Jechow for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Andreas Jechow and his work:

Photo credits: Andreas with camera – Andreas Hänel; Andreas on the lake – Volker Crone