Panel Discussion “Sustainable Research” held by the Working Group Sustainability

One of the major guiding goals of the Working Group Sustainability of the Leibniz PhD and PostDoc Networks is to create a sustainable community within and outside of the Leibniz Association.

In order to start a discussion, the WG held a panel discussion entitled

Sustainable Research – What can WE do and where do WE start?

on the 2nd of June, 2021

in which we discussed what role sustainability should play in research in general and in the Leibniz Association in particular. We invited four experts from different fields:

Diana Born, Business Development Manager at atmosfair gGmbH

Andreas Otto, Deputy Director of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) and Speaker of the Leibniz Arbeitskreis Sustainability Management

Falk Schmidt, Head of Office German Science Platform Sustainability 2030

​​​Juliane Schumacher, Researcher at the Leibniz Institute Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

In the following, we have summarized our major take home messages from our discussion topics:

What impact do individuals have on sustainability?

Greta Thunberg demonstrated very clearly what an individual can do. She became the face of a movement that motivated a whole generation. Her example shows that the main responsibility of an individual is to raise awareness and integrate the topic of global warming into our everyday life. Making conscious decisions about sustainable consumerism on a collective level can steer the money flow away from big corporate emitters. However, it cannot be denied that in a complex system like our society, structural changes like international regulations to enforce sustainable procedures in corporations would have the largest impact. Therefore, political actions are needed, meaning that the main responsibility of individuals is not to change their personal lifestyle but rather to advocate for political and structural changes.

How to do research sustainably?

In order to make research sustainable, fundamental restructuring in institutes and research culture (currently fast paced and economically limited) is necessary. Researchers should not be left alone with the big task of sustainability management in addition to their already high workload. Instead, institutes should allocate capacities for sustainability management and get experts to help researchers work more sustainably. Researchers should look for a connection to sustainability in their respective field of research rather than limiting it to research on sustainability.

The Leibniz Association has already initiated the first steps towards more sustainable research: Leibniz worked together with Fraunhofer and Helmholtz on the LeNa project, which serves as an orientation framework for sustainability management in the non-university field containing 8 criteria in doing research sustainably. Additionally, a Sustainability Management working group and the Leibniz research network Knowledge for Sustainable Development have been implemented. 

What can early-stage scientists do to create a culture of sustainability?

Early-stage researchers should push for change, get involved in political work inside and outside of research and most importantly communicate. Their qualities as early-stage researchers like critical thinking, looking for different solutions and open mindedness can help to create the necessary innovation to make society and research sustainable. In their individual research projects, every early-stage researcher can look for their personal link to sustainability and reflect on their work with the LeNa criteria in mind.

Take home message: 

The most efficient way to improve sustainable measures is by advocating for political and structural changes. Researchers should communicate their wishes for a sustainable research culture openly inside, with their institutes or research associations, and outside of academia.

To integrate sustainability in our “research life”, the WG Sustainability plans to organize further seminars on this topic as well as a science communication workshop for Leibniz members. 

If you are interested in the full discussion, you can listen to the audio here:

Kind wishes,

Your WG Sustainability

Fit for Teaching – first didactics workshop for Leibniz Postdocs successfully completed

If you ask a postdoc: “Have you ever been thrown into cold water – and if so: when?” They would probably answer: “Yes, I was asked to teach.” Teaching is a key element of an academic’s job, yet training opportunities are comparatively rare. In an effort to address this need within the postdoc community, the Leibniz PostDoc Network decided to organize a two-day course on didactics in higher education called “Fit for Teaching” together with Dr. Sandra Linke from the ‘International Centre for Innovation in Education.’ The training aimed to provide our 18 postdoc attendees, who were allocated a spot, with a toolbox of methods and strategies when it comes to design a course, align aims and methods or create a stimulating and engaging atmosphere in lectures and seminars.

After two exhausting days, a few participants, unfortunately, had already left us. Nonetheless, we were still in a good mood.

After two intense days that contained a well-balanced mix of theoretical input and practical sessions, the participants concluded rather enthusiastically that this was “One of the best courses I’ve ever had!” and mentioned “This was a great experience, and I learned a lot! I met great colleagues and enjoyed the format and content of the course very much. Sandra is just great and responds to all individual needs during the course and in personal communications in the email. Thanks a lot for everything!“. One of the benefits mentioned in particular was the diverse group: “I really enjoyed the course and have learned a lot of things about teaching. The instructor is very passionate and helpful. The diverse group of participants and lively discussions are great!”. The course also seemed to be a good role model itself: “This was a great course, as Sandra taught by example. Many best practices and techniques that were covered she also implemented in the course itself (e.g., creating a welcoming atmosphere, connecting personally with students, practicing good communication, repeating content, offering breaks, I could go on). From small tips to the broader approach, I will try to put as much into practice as possible when teaching.”

We are happy the course was taken up so well and hit our postdocs’ needs. A big ‘Thank you!’ goes to the Leibniz Association, which has kindly funded the workshop. Surely, this was not the last course of such kind, and we look forward to further supporting the professional development of our postdocs. Watch out for our emails in the future!

(Sina Fackler | LIfBi)

P.S. If you want to get involved in the Leibniz PostDoc Network and maybe even help organize such courses in the future, please drop us a message!

Blog series #6: Health and wellbeing of university students during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Heide Busse is a postdoc at Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiologie – BIPS and does research on complex public health interventions for health promotion. In a recent study, she looked at changes in health risk behaviors among university students. In the sixth part of our blog interview series, she explains what universities should consider now.

Foto: Sebastian Budde

Name / Institute:
Dr. Heide Busse
BIPS – Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, Bremen
Head of Unit Applied Intervention Research
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Public health, interventions, evaluation, prevention

Main featured instrument or technique:

“I investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on the health and wellbeing of university students to inform health promotion activities.”

Why did you decide to stay in academia after your PhD?

What works, for whom and under which circumstances in improving health and wellbeing? How can we build health-promoting settings and environments for children and young people? How can we best enable families to move more and eat healthier? And what methods are best suited to test if a “health initiative” has been successful or not? These and more questions fascinate me and are the type of questions that I would like to conduct research on and contribute to find answers to.

My PhD – investigating the potential of mentoring programs for young people’s health, wellbeing and educational outcomes – showed me once more that there are still a lot of unanswered questions in public health, thus still a lot that we do not yet know.  Researching public health topics can be quite complex at times, which is why teamwork and collaborative working is required to tackle these challenges and find solutions. Working together with the public, with stakeholders and also with other researchers on these challenges and learning from one another is something I personally really enjoy about being a researcher in public health and this was yet another aspect that  made me want to stay in academia after my PhD.

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

My research concerns the development, evaluation and implementation of complex health public interventions for health promotion in the areas of physical activity, nutrition and mental health. I use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research methods to investigate which health interventions work, for whom, under which circumstances, and why. Most of my work focusses on children and young people and the settings in which they spend much of their time (schools/ communities/ etc.).

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

In our study, we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on the health and wellbeing of university students by conducting an online survey at five higher education institutions in Germany in May 2020. A total of 5,021 students participated in the survey and looking at students’ engagement in health risk behaviours, we found that most changes were reported on levels of physical activity, with 30% of students reporting an increase and 19% a decrease in their physical activity levels. Unsurprisingly, 24% reported a decrease in binge drinking and hardly any changes were reported in student’s tobacco or cannabis consumption. A majority of students reported the presence of depressive symptoms and this was related to changes in their health behaviours and their feeling about their academic life and progress. Our study was part of the larger COVID-19 International Student Well-Being Study (C19 ISWS), led by researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

Can you derive recommendations for universities or for university students from your study?

In short: I believe that a variety of approaches and initiatives – at the structural as well as the community and individual level are necessary to promote health and wellbeing amongst university students – also during (and after) the COVID-19 pandemic. For universities, one way to promote health and wellbeing among the student population is by making health and wellbeing a priority in the academic life. One way to do so is by providing and setting up appropriate structures for health promotion and facilitating a health-promoting culture and ethos in the university setting (e.g. establishing health promotion policies, offering easy access to services and facilities for all students, etc.).

How has COVID affected your life?

Since the start of the pandemic I have been predominantly working from home, with all meetings and exchanges currently taking place solely online. This has been quite a change compared to before the pandemic, where I would spend most of my work time at the institute, taking place in face-to-face meetings and sitting together with colleagues at lunchtime (which I do miss a lot!). Working in an epidemiological research institute, the COVID-19 pandemic has of course also led to a variety of new research projects and activities in our institute. Some of my colleagues remain closely involved in contributing their epidemiological expertise to counter the pandemic, such as through the Competence Network Public Health COVID-19 ( that has been set up at the start of the pandemic.

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

Effective efforts to promote student health and wellbeing continue to be required, also in times of the pandemic and beyond.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

My perfect day off involves getting up early to be active, followed by a leisurely breakfast or brunch (including a lot of good coffee!). For the remainder of the day I would choose to go spend as much time as possible outside, in nature, discovering new places, ideally with the sun being out and with family and friends around.

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

Find out more about Dr. Heide Busse and her work:

Blog series #5: How COVID-19 affects sustainable transformation

Dr. Prajal Pradhan is a postdoc at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). He is working on food systems and urban transformation in response to climate change.

Name / Institute:

  • Dr. Prajal Pradhan
  • PIK – Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • Leibniz Section E

Research topics:

  • Food systems & Sustainability
  • Bioeconomy & Cities
  • Climate change

Main featured instrument or technique:

  • Online surveys and online workshops

“To fight COVID, I generate knowledge on its challenges and opportunities for sustainable transformation.”

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

Since the beginning of 2020, my main research topic is to understand the impacts of climate change on the bioeconomy sector in Europe, considering its interlinkages with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). My research also focuses on sustainable cities, mainly from the food systems perspective. Before this research topic, I was investigating various aspects of sustainable food systems and interactions among SDGs.

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

We mainly found that COVID not only poses challenges to SDGs, but also opens opportunities for sustainable transformation. This finding is based on our Nepal case study. In Nepal, COVID has negatively impacted most SDGs, weakly promoting impacts on a few SDG targets in the short term. Many of these negative impacts may subside in the medium and long terms. Surprisingly, COVID has also opened a short-lived and narrow window of opportunity for sustainable transformation. These opportunities need to be utilized for achieving SDGs by 2030 before rebounds occur following past trajectories.

How has COVID affected your life?

COVID has both, negatively and positively affected my life. The negative effects are fewer physical contracts with colleagues, difficulties in balancing childcare and home office work, and no travel opportunities required for breaks and mental health. Among the positive effects were new opportunities to network and do remote cooperation with various colleagues across the world. Our study on COVID-19 and SDGs is one such example.

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

Somewhat it influences concentration at work thinking about parents and relatives exposed with COVID in the home country. However, this effect is not substantial.

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

We should look at crisis not only as a challenge, but also identify hidden opportunities behind this challenge for sustainable transformation and further development at personal and professional levels.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

A perfect day at work or “home office” has a mixture of activities, including meetings with colleagues, working on papers and proposals, and analyzing data. I start with a reviewing paper during the day off; if any review request is pending. Afterward, it would be more family time.

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

Find out more about Dr. Prajal Pradhan and his work:

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Blog series #4: Coping strategies of families during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Friederike Blume, Dr. Andrea Schmidt and Dr. Andreas Neubauer are postdocs at DIPF – Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education. For a project on the psychological adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic (PACO) of families, they are working closely together. In part four of our interview series, they show how a collaborative approach can successfully uncover psychological aspects of the pandemic.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Andrea Schmidt,
Dr. Andreas Neubauer and
Dr. Friederike Blume
DIPF – Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education Frankfurt/Main
Leibniz Section A

Research topic:
AS: social interactions, well-being, ambulatory assessment
AN: psychological needs, intensive longitudinal data
FB: self-regulation, instructional quality, ambulatory assessment, intensive longitudinal data

Main featured instrument or technique:
Daily diaries, online questionnaires

“We target what kind of everyday experiences help families and children cope with the pandemic.”

You have applied as a team for our interview series. How closely do you work together, and why?

Typically, we work on separate projects and collaborate on topics within the projects that benefit from each other’s expertise. The PACO project generated a very rich data set – so we joined forces to analyze these data from multiple perspectives.

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

FB: I studied students’ self-regulation, also in the context of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how both clinical and classroom-based interventions may help students in overcoming academic underachievement. To this end, I used several methodological approaches, including neurobiological ones like electroencephalography (EEG), as well as virtual reality (VR) classrooms.

AN: I studied fluctuations and changes in humans’ well-being on various temporal time scales – from within-day, moment-to-moment fluctuations to long-term changes across the human life span. I was particularly interested in the use of ambulatory assessments, a method that allows to capture thoughts and experiences in peoples’ everyday lives.

AS: I studied peer interactions at school and how they are related to children’s well-being, especially in the context of the transition from primary to secondary school. We also used ambulatory assessment in our studies, so children responded to self-report items on research smartphones four times daily across four weeks.

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

AN: What we saw in the data was a large amount of inter-individual differences in how parents reported to respond to the pandemic in March / April 2020. On the one hand, some reported (as I would have expected) high stress level, uncertainty, and conflicts arising in the family. On the other hand, other parents reported the time in March / April 2020 as a quite positive experience with fewer obligations and more high-quality family time. Our findings also showed that everyday experiences made during this early phase of the pandemic (such as interaction between parents and their children) were related to how parents and family adjusted to the situation across the first couple of weeks of the pandemic.

Can you say a little bit more about what the factors are that are related to better adjustment to the situation? What do you think that families need in order to be better equipped against new global crises in the future?

AS: Better adjustment was linked to having and maintaining a positive parent-child relationship and positive family climate despite the crisis. Supporting children in their autonomy (e.g., giving children as much freedom as possible to decide for themselves what they want to do) can be one way to create a more positive family climate.

FB: On the end of learning and school related tasks, focusing on fostering strategies for self-regulated learning could be beneficial to support children and families not only during distance learning but also for in-person classes.

How has COVID affected your life?

FB: I joined my current team in April last year. As I did not meet most of my colleagues in person yet, it feels like I am still settling in. I also miss conferences and in-person meetings as the amazing feeling of being creative and productive together does not really evolve in virtual formats. Switching jobs also implied moving to a new city, Frankfurt. Luckily, I joined a handball team a few weeks after I had moved.

AN: I have not set foot into my office in over a year now. Not being able to interact directly with our team has really made life difficult – not so much on the level of productivity (we could move much of our research and communication to a virtual setting), but more on a personal level. In combination with many canceled in-person conferences, I feel that one of the things I enjoyed most in academia – the exchange of ideas in person, to spontaneously brainstorm about new ideas – has been missing.

AS: As most of my colleagues at the DIPF, I am working from home since March 2020. However, I am also working part-time in a psychiatric clinic, as I am studying to become a psychotherapist for children and adolescents. Despite wearing masks and trying to keep physical distance whenever possible, daily routines in the clinic haven’t changed that much during the pandemic. Although I am lucky to not be as deprived of in-person interactions as lots of other people working from home for more than a year now, I still miss having in-person contact with my colleagues at the DIPF, with other researchers, and – of course – with family and friends.

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?

AN: Research is evolving quickly, but it was my impression that this was tremendously accelerated for research connected to the pandemic. Also, public interest in my research before the pandemic was low, at best, but this changed when we launched our pandemic related projects. For me, this came with new challenges (communicating with media) that take up time and that you might need to get used to at first.

FB: Although I analysed data from the PACO project, I was not part of the team designing the study and collecting the data (I just joined the team in April 2020). Other than that, my research usually strongly relies on collecting data in schools (as I usually do not wish to draw conclusions on distance education settings only). As schools have been (partially) closed for a long time, my research projects have been on hold as well. I therefore have no brilliant advice of how to deal doing excellent research during pandemic.

AS: Nothing to add 🙂

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

AS: One of my key findings in examining how families experienced children’s distance learning (i.e., homeschooling) in Germany was substantial heterogeneity between families. Thus, distance learning did not appear as another daily stressor per se: In some families, distance learning was linked to more negative parent-child interactions and lower affective well-being of parents and children, while in other families, it was associated with less negative parent-child interactions and better affective well-being.

FB: My investigation was concerned with how task attributes of students’ daily learning tasks might support students’ daily self-regulation at home, while schools were closed. At its core, we showed that teachers should definitively consider how much fun students will have while working on the tasks and how difficult the tasks might be perceived to be. This will help students in learning more independently from their parents.

AN: The real interesting question is not so much “How has the pandemic affected people’s feelings and experience?” but rather “Who has been affected by the pandemic in which way – and why?”. People differ in how they were affected and we need to better understand how and why they differ, and understanding everyday experiences are key to address these questions.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

FB: My perfect day is definitively a day spent outdoors in the mountains with friends. Either with hiking, with alpine skiing, or cross-country skiing. Since I like good weather, I prefer the sun to shine. The day will end with a rustic dinner, a glass of good wine or a beer, and lots of laughter.

AN: I love traveling around “rough” landscapes (as in Scandinavia or Scotland) – on foot, by car, train or boat, just traveling around there is one of my favorite things. Top that off with a good dinner (something spicy like Mexican or Indian) and you have my perfect day.

AS: I totally agree with Andreas and Friederike in how their perfect day off work looks like: spending time outside and having a good dinner – just no spicy food for me 😉 Despite that, I love to do yoga as a counterbalance to the hectic daily life.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Andrea Schmidt, Dr. Friederike Blume and Dr. Andreas Neubauer for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about our interview partners and their work:

Blog series #3: How SARS-CoV-2 spreads through the air

Dr. Ajit Ahlawat is a postdoc at TROPOS – Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research in Leipzig. In his research he investigated the role of aerosol particles in the (indoor) spread of SARS-CoV-2

Name / Institute: Dr. Ajit Ahlawat
TROPOS – Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research Leipzig
Leibniz Section E

Research topic: Hygroscopicity measurement of ambient aerosol particles

Main featured instrument or technique: Measurement of hygroscopicity (water uptake) of aerosol particles with a HTDMA (Hygroscopicity Tandem Differential Mobility Analyzer).

“I explored the role of indoor relative humidity in airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2”

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

Even before COVID-19 came into all our lives my main research topic has been the measurement of the water uptake ability (“hygroscopicity”) of ambient aerosol particles. For this purpose I mainly use an instrument called Hygroscopicity Tandem Differential Mobility Analyzer (HTDMA) at 90% relative humidity. For calibration and inter-comparison I also work with other aerosol instruments such as the Condensation Particle Counter (CPC), Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer (SMPS) and Faraday Cup Aerosol Electrometer (FCAE).

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

Air humidity influences the spread of corona viruses indoors in three different ways: (a) it affects the behaviour of microorganisms within the virus droplets, (b) it changes the survival or inactivation of the virus on the surfaces, and, (c) dry indoor air plays a crucial role in the airborne transmission of viruses. For instance, if the relative humidity of indoor air falls below a certain threshold, i.e. 40%, the particles emitted by infected people absorb less water, remain lighter, fly further through the room and are more likely to be inhaled by others. This means that in very dry indoor places with a relative humidity below 40%, the chances of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are much higher than in humid places with around 90% relative humidity. In addition, dry air also makes the mucous membranes in our noses dry and more permeable to viruses.

Based on our research we were surprised to see how low relative humidity indoors can have strong effects on the survival of microorganisms including SARS-CoV-2 in aerosol particles and droplets.

How has COVID-19 affected your life?

The majority of my research work at TROPOS basically involved laboratory measurements of aerosol particles. In the pandemic times, I had to juggle partially working from home while also regularly conducting experiments in the laboratory. This was quite a challenge. But in the end I have to say that after more than a year of home office it is now becoming adaptable for me despite the new work culture.

I would also say that the past one and a half years of COVID-19 have provided good opportunities to spend more time with my family. On the other hand working from home with a small kid can be sometimes overwhelming.

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?

Indeed, the research topic is challenging and my advice for postdocs is that there are further requirements for experiments and modeling in order to get more detailed information on seasonal variations of indoor humidity and virus transmission. Another important and more general advice for aerosol researchers is to build on and expand collaborations with virologists, epidemiologists and other specialists to further our understanding of the spread of viral diseases. I think this is crucial for the mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic but also for other diseases caused by airborne microbes.

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

Use humidifiers, particularly during wintertime, which will keep the indoor relative humidity maintained at 40-60%. In summertime you should open windows for natural ventilation in absence of mechanical ventilation, use N95 masks regularly and keep on avoiding mass gatherings.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

A perfect day is a day spent with my family. In COVID-19 times it’s also much better to spend most of that time outdoors and stay away from mass gatherings.

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

Find out more about Dr. Ajit Ahlawat and his work:

Related publications

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Blog series #2: The immune response in severe COVID-19 cases

Dr. Marta Ferreira-Gomes is a postdoc at DRFZ – German Rheumatism Research Center Berlin and does research on B cells. In her studies on severe courses of COVID-19 she encountered an unexpected feature of the immune response.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Marta Ferreira-Gomes
DRFZ – German Rheumatism Research Centre Berlin
Leibniz Section C

Research topic:
Maintenance of memory B cells

Main featured instrument or technique:
Single cell sequencing

“I analyzed how B cells from severe COVID-19 patients react to SARS-CoV-2 infection”

Why did you decide to stay in academia after your PhD?

I am just passionate about my work. The idea of contributing to new knowledge pushes me to always do more. And there is rarely real boredom with new projects constantly coming up, which makes it an exciting job. So despite the many challenges we have in academia, I keep wanting to go on.

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

The focus of my research is how memory B cells – cells that preserve memory on how to produce antibodies against antigens they have encountered – are maintained for long-lasting protection. In order to achieve this, I look at different aspects of these cells such as their generation mechanism, heterogeneity, migration capacity and specificity.

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

In our study, we analyzed B cells from severe COVID-19 patients that required prolonged intensive care. Because B cells are imprinted by the different proteins present on the site of activation, they are perfect sensors of the ongoing immune reaction. What we could conclude was that in severe COVID-19 cases, B cells start by being imprinted by interferons (proteins released in response to viruses) but with time they become predominantly influenced by TGF-beta, which leads to the production of IgA antibodies. Surprisingly, these antibodies do not target the virus nor do they relocate to the lungs of patients, which means that SARS-CoV-2 triggers a response that no longer targets itself.

Is there any indication what function these IgA antibodies have?

We speculate that these IgA antibodies actually recognize self-antigens – like in autoimmunity. Supporting our hypothesis, more recent studies have indeed described autoantibodies in patients with life-threatening COVID-19.

How has COVID affected your life?

By being involved in this COVID-19 research project, the main change for me was – lots of work! Because patient samples usually arrive later in the day, this meant longer and more unpredictable hours in the lab. But I am a bit of a workaholic, so this made the pandemic a little easier for me.

Did you find a good way to maintain the teamwork aspect during that particular time, or did part of that get lost?

This project was highly dependent on team work, so it only highlighted its importance. While everyone did their part on their own (hygiene rules applying), there was constant communication so that everything would run smoothly between sample preparation and analysis. And the fact that time was of importance really pushed us to look for who had the expertise rather than establishing several new methods ourselves. This also led to fruitful collaborations between working groups and with other institutions.

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?

It is an extremely competitive topic, so the only advice I have is to embrace it with as much urgency as fighting COVID-19 needs.

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

In severe cases of COVID-19, the SARS-CoV2 triggers a chronic immune response that does not contribute to immunity against the virus itself.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

Definitely spent having a nice lunch or dinner out with friends! I hope we can soon do that again with no pandemic looming around us.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Marta Ferreira-Gomes for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Marta Ferreira-Gomes and her work:

Blog series #1: The Digitalization of Working Worlds

Dr. Alice Melchior is a postdoc at GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences and does research on digitalization. In her research on the digitalization of working worlds, she finds connections to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first part of our blog interview, she explains constraints in which digitalization is embedded.

Name / Institute:
Dr. Alice Melchior
GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences Department: Knowledge Exchange & Outreach
Leibniz Section B

Research topic:
The Digitalization of Working Worlds

Main featured instrument or technique:
Qualitative interviews and observations

“I am restraining myself to mostly virtual interactions like classic video conferencing, online pub quizzes, and virtual workouts.”

How has COVID affected your life?

The current pandemic constrains my empirical work in the field, especially in terms of the necessary observations of daily work routines. Since we are comparing the logistics with the healthcare sector, virtually conducted interviews with various actors are hard to obtain. On a more personal level, I moved during the pandemic and started a new job, which brought its own hiccups.

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

Over the past 1-2 years, I have investigated how creative processes are organized in the music and pharmaceutical industries. I have examined virtual communication and the valuation of ideas. A notable result was that negative valuations are an indispensable driving force for creativity.

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

Simultaneous interaction through on- and offline media leads to different needs and requirements such as availability and response presence. Each communication tool implies an expected feedback time frame, i.e., direct response in a call or a physical meeting, usually a few minutes in a chat, and maybe two days for an email. Consequently, the interaction partner has a response presence. Being available, in a meeting, or absent can be conveyed via status indicators. These changes in the way we communicate can be condensed to the following phrase: “Being aware” supersedes “Being there”. However, the generation of artistic content or scientific knowledge is still surprisingly strongly anchored and embedded in local situations despite the digitalization of work.

What local situations can these be precisely, and to what extent is the digitalization of work related to COVID?

While one might expect that the digitalization allows to standardize processes to facilitate delocalized implementations, I have ascertained that this very possibility reinforces the local context, e.g., in terms of legitimacy. Despite an experiment having a rigorous protocol, its result is not independent of the local context as slight variations in equipment, staff, and knowledge networks affect the outcome. While it might be a bit extreme as an example, a result obtained in a university lab is commonly higher valued than a garage-project outcome despite the digital enablement.

COVID revealed that tasks like planning, administration, and coordination can be digitalized effectively while others can or should not. In the healthcare sector, the patient itself cannot be digitalized and the digitalization of patient care is constrained by, e.g., ethical considerations.

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?

My already forward-oriented research gained additional attention due to COVID-19. If I were to give advice, it would be that if you are investigating a forward-looking topic, then you should stick to it – your time will come.

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

Virtual communication should not be understood as a secondary mode of interaction, but rather as an interaction context with its very own requirements and constraints but also unique opportunities.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

My perfect day off work starts with a half-day bike tour on my own enjoying the nature on a bright day. Then, I spend some time in my hammock with a coffee before meeting friends for beers.

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

Find out more about Dr. Alice Melchior and her work:

Putting Leibniz-Postdocs in the spotlight. An introduction to our blog series

In February 2021 we published our call for contributions to a new blog series. The aim of this series is to showcase the diversity of excellent research that postdocs at Leibniz institutes have been contributing to illuminate the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. This week we are going to start our series with the first interview. Thanks to the enthusiastic feedback from our fellow Leibniz postdocs we have several more interviews in the pipeline that will be published on this site in the coming weeks and months.

Before we start highlighting the fascinating work by our colleagues we want to lay out the reasoning behind this series in more detail here. The idea and motivation that sparked this series was to highlight contributions by those people that are crucial for carrying out the research on lab benches or before computer screens but are much less in the spotlight compared to professors. For many of them, including researchers from various Leibniz Institutes like Clemens Fuest or Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, the pandemic meant they were pushed into the public spotlight like scientists have never been before. Of course we notice that some professors use their public platform to highlight that science today is largely a team sport. Among many positive examples Professor Dirk Brockmann released a 9-minute video where he praises his team of junior researchers and student assistants. Moreover, those scientists in the media spotlight have also garnered an enormous amount of social media followers. For instance, Christian Drosten from Charité Berlin has now more than 750,000 followers on Twitter. Notably, on social media there are also junior researchers giving insights into their work during the pandemic. One prominent example is Emma Hodcroft, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Berne in Switzerland. She has more than 63,000 followers on Twitter and uses her platform for extensive science communication around the phylogenetics and evolution of SARS-CoV2. In a news piece in Science in March 2021 she was quoted “I am precariously employed; I don’t have a long-term job. I feel a lot of pressure that this is my opportunity and I cannot waste that” and we think this quote is an excellent segway into our series.

With the following interviews and profiles of postdocs at the Leibniz Association we want to showcase the diversity of disciplines represented at Leibniz and how researchers with various backgrounds are trying to help us understand this exceptional situation. We also want to highlight that professional scientists who are not professors not only exist but are in fact main creators of knowledge in academic research.

We hope you enjoy our series. Please follow us on Twitter and/or LinkedIn to receive regular updates about our output.

PS: to learn more about how academic expertise has been communicated during the pandemic in Germany we recommend this recent preprint by researchers from the Department of Science Communication at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Invitation to a Panel Discussion on Sustainable Research

The recent changes to our environment caused by human activities are undeniable and have already led to an unprecedented rate of climate change and decline in biodiversity. Furthermore, those changes unproportionally affect vulnerable communities and feed into social injustice. We, therefore, carry a social responsibility to acknowledge the global climate and biodiversity crisis as the currently most crucial threat to the future of our planet.

Guided by the political frame of reference by the United Nations Sustainable Development goals (2015), higher education facilities like the Leibniz Association have to play a significant role in addressing our current climate challenges through their research and through educating and spreading awareness.

Therefore, the Leibniz Association is inclined to develop a “culture of sustainability” that continuously reflects on the environmental impact of our activities and research to promote global social justice. 

This road to a “culture of sustainability” is long. To lay the foundations for sustainable developments within the Leibniz Association, the working group Sustainability of the Leibniz PhD and PostDoc Networks is organizing an online seminar series.

We would like to invite you to participate in our first online seminar:

Sustainable Research – What can WE do and where do WE start?

On the 2nd of June, 2021 4.00 – approx. 5.30pm on Zoom.

Here, we want to discuss with you what role sustainability should play in research in general and in the Leibniz Association in particular. To start the discussion and to identify potential fields of action, like implementing grassroot initiatives at individual institutes while also promoting administrative actions and developing new policies, we have invited four experts on sustainability as panelists:

Diana Born, atmosfair gGmbH
“Imagine you wake up in a sustainable world: how does it feel, how do you act? To me, sustainability means to envision such a system, feel the joy it gives me and use this motivation as fuel to pull it closer every day.”

​​​Juliane Schumacher, Leibniz Institute Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)
“For me, Sustainability means working in solidarity for a just, livable and durable future. Sustainability means respect – for other humans, now and in future, and beyond humans, for the planet and all its inhabitants.” 

Falk Schmidt, German Science Platform Sustainability 2030
“Sustainability is at its core about providing current and future generations with at least the same if not more options / alternatives for living a decent life in an autonomous way.”

Andreas Otto, Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) and Leibniz Arbeitskreis Sustainability Management
“We must firmly anchor the guiding principle of sustainable development in all our activities, not only through research topics, but in the entire work process and operational organisation of scientific institutions. To quote the Leibniz Association’s Sustainability Mission Statement, it is therefore important to establish and continuously develop a ‘culture of sustainability’.”

We therefore would like to invite you to take part in our discussion and to play an active role in shaping our working group’s goals towards a sustainable future of the Leibniz Association.

If you are interested in joining the discussion, you can register here.

We look forward to our discussion, to hearing your ideas, and in the long run, to creating a “culture of sustainability” within and outside of the Leibniz Association.

Kind wishes,

Your working group Sustainability of the Leibniz PhD & PostDoc Networks