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Transcript - Being a researcher in a foreign country

Transcript of the conversation with Ana Bergholz

Published onMar 20, 2023
Transcript - Being a researcher in a foreign country
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Jo: So another day, another show, another episode with Access 2 Perspectives conversations, and I'm very glad to introduce to you all Ana Maria Bergholz. She's a PhD student in Germany, Cottbus, to be precise. And yes, welcome to the show.

Ana: Thank you, Jo. Thank you for inviting me.

Jo:  It’s a great pleasure. And we've been chatting in various ways. We've attended a course I've given for the university and the PhD students, and then we just discovered that we have a lot of shared interest. And I think it's also important as I was an international student also during my PhD, or actually, I did my PhD in Germany, so it wasn't so international. But before I started my PhD, I traveled a lot, and I was working at the Max Planck Institute, where we had a lot of internationals.

I was basically exposed, or I witnessed basically the difficulties. And as much as it's fun and exciting to get to know another country and all of that, it's also hard work to settle in another country, in another continent, in your case. You're coming from Chile, right?

Ana: Yes, I'm from Chile.

Jo: And at the time, when I was myself a PhD student, there's also a PhD network for Max Planck and also in other research associations. And we made a big effort to put together welcome packages for the international students, which not many received or had received until then, to make it easier for somebody. And even if you're a German in a new city, it's always difficult to find your way around with the authorities. But then to add another language, there's another level of complexity. Okay, so we talked about these things, but also, to start with, would you please share a little bit about yourself, your background, why you made a decision to come to Germany, of all the countries in the world without weather, as a German nation in our complex history? Well, dreadful, to say the least, but you're also very rich in culture generally. You also appreciate it. So, yeah, please tell us about yourself.

Ana: Well, thank you, Jo. Well, I was born in Chile, and I started my bachelor's studies in Chile in Valparaiso culture and juice management, to be specific. And I really enjoyed my time in the university because I got engaged in a lot of activities, and I was working also as a student tutor, and after graduation, also as a professor's assistant. And everything was going great. I was very happy with my professional development. I was working for the University of Valparaiso. I was working in La Sebastiana, in Paulo Neruda’s house, who has a Nobel Prize in literature. So I was very satisfied with my development. But then, even though I was already planning to go abroad, because of nature, I'm a very curious person, so I always had this intention to go abroad. But I remember at that time, I wanted to apply for a scholarship or for a program, working and studying and I was thinking, maybe I can go to Australia or maybe I can go somewhere else. And to be honest, I never thought I'd be going to Germany. But then I met my husband and that changed everything. That changed everything. It took me a while. It's not that I met him and I decided, okay, I'm going to Germany. It took me like two years to make the decision because like I said, I felt like I was really fulfilled in my personal and professional life in Chile. But I was thinking, okay, I feel this side of my life is complete. I feel great. But in my personal life, I wanted to have a family. And I think I always wanted to have a family, but I never expressed it so openly. Or maybe I never allowed myself to think, oh, maybe I can have a family. But then I think when you meet the right person, I didn't even think like, this is going to be like, okay, I'm taking this decision. I didn't know what the future would look like. I just did it. So I moved to Germany in 2010. I told my husband, yeah, I moved to Germany and it's going to be a real change because in Chile I was busy and I was doing stuff and in Germany it's like you don't know anybody and you have to start from scratch, so you have to start from zero. And it was a very shocking moment for me. It was very difficult, it was hard. But I told him, I want to continue studying because this is where I feel happy. And I applied for the Master Program, and thankfully I got six months later, or I think six or nine months later, I got a place in the Master Program in International Tourism Management in Heide, in the University of Applied Science, West Coast University in Heide.

That helped me a lot to integrate myself in Germany and to feel like I'm part of a group again. Because like you said, for students, it's a difficult time, it’s difficult, but you know, it's also fun because you find other people who are in the same situation, like you. I think it's more difficult when you move to Germany and you don't have a plan or you don't know what you are going to do. I think that's more difficult is not knowing what I would say more difficult. And while doing my Master's studies, I had the opportunity to do a semester abroad. So I decided to go to Guangzhou in China.

Jo: Okay

Ana: Where is the place? It’s really far away. And maybe I will never have the chance to stay again. I'm going to China

Jo: I've been to China for ten days or something like that, or two weeks, and it blew my mind. Like what we hear in Central Europe about China is mostly, oh, they're copying this. It's basically just bad news. Oh, they're violating human rights. As if Europeans wouldn't do that. And I'm not trying to weigh one over the other. Just saying pointing fingers is always easy, but then seeing people in their own habits, in their own nation, and then I met a few locals also. It's funny, I was on a train, so basically I was in a fellowship also, and we had a visit to Beijing and then also Sichuan Chengdu, the city I never heard of. And I think they have more than 10 million people put up there. I just was not my writer. And it's so beautiful as a city, and the food is so delicious. I haven't eaten anything similarly delicious. Like the citron food is just for me. So I was, like, positively surprised as a heavy understatement. Anyways, how was it for you?

Ana: I remember my time in China, like, the best time ever, maybe before my children were born, of course, but I would say I didn't know anything because, okay, maybe that's not 100% right, but what I wanted to say is I didn't know much about China. I knew maybe what we hear in the news and this idea that we have also, what you also referred to. But I didn't do any research because at that time I had this idea. I don't want to make any former ideas or prejudice, so I don't want to have this preconceived idea. I just want to go there just to see how it is. And that works in one aspect more than the others that work, because I didn't I'm not a judgmental person, I think, in nature. So I think that helped me a lot to get integrated in different cultures, like in Germany or in China. It was so easy to make friends. It's really easy to make friends because I think the perspective that you have is going to help you a lot. I got there, and I was just open to everybody. I was like, oh, hi. How are you? My name is Ana. I got along very well with my classmates and also with my flat mate. I was living with my flat mate because this is the other thing, it's full of surprises. I applied for a one person apartment, but I got a two person apartment, so that was my first surprise. I was like, oh, God, I have to live one time with a person that I never seen before. So I got there, and we got along so well, and we are still in touch, and I'm talking about ten years ago, and we lived five months together. And she was just amazing. She's a girl from Russia. We got along very well, and we're still in contact, so thank God I was lucky in that aspect. And the other thing that I didn't lose any minute because I saw many were like, yeah, let's go party. Let's sleep most of the part of the day because it's so hot. And it was in summer when I got there. But I was in Guangzhou, which is in South China and it was very humid, very hot. And I remember the first days, maybe the first two weeks, I couldn't really sleep at night because it was so hot and so humid and the mosquitoes were eating me all over. And I landed in the hospital like twice the first month first because I was very ignorant. So I was like, I think I eat like the Chinese. I will eat on the street, I will eat this and that.

So I thought, you thought you could handle your food? No, you can't. But you learned that way. And I think also that's the fun part of life. It's like I wasn't in life danger because I'm not that…

But I was thinking okay. And I was also in the hospital because of the mosquitoes. My leg was twice and my arms were twice because I also got an infection. So I think in the beginning was most of getting used to this. But once you overcome that part, then it becomes really rich because I met a lot of people really from China. I was in touch, of course, with the international, but the richest part for me was to get in touch with locals and I went out and I saw the cities and I tasted the food. So I had a great time and I never felt this is a very weird feeling, but I felt really safe in China, I have to say, like I never felt before. In Chile, I never felt that safety, being alone.

Jo: What part did you feel safe using compared to other places?

Ana: Outside. Because, you know, coming from I don't know, how is it in other countries, in Latin America? But growing up in Chile, I faced a lot of uncomfortable moments, especially with men. Because now I think it is changing a lot with the feminist movement and everything. And there's also the government involved in all these policies helping women and everything. But growing up it was like you always have to be careful. You didn't know if somebody was going to touch you on the street walking or on the bus. I had to face a lot of these uncomfortable moments. It was feeling unsafe all the time. And I felt safe, of course, in Germany as well. I had nothing to say about Germany but I have some experiences here that also were very uncomfortable. But in China, it never happened. Once I was in a club in Germany, we were dancing and a guy just pushed me. I don't know why, maybe he was drunk, but this really scares me. So I think in this kind of situation I was alone on the subway, on the street in China and I never felt like I am in danger, but that's my experience.

Jo: I'm wondering if it's cultural and meaning ancient culture, or if it's because China is known to be such a highly regulated state.

Ana: I think it's also because the people have this respect for authority. Because if a Chinese person steals from a Chinese person, everybody around will try to take this person and give him to the police. So people are defending themselves. And I saw once in the train station, I saw that a guy tried to take a backpack for someone and people just got him and they wouldn't let him go away. And I was very impressed with this. And the guy who did this felt really humiliated. And then it came to the police and he was quite quiet. For episodes like that, I didn't see much of like delinquency or situations like this kind of situation.

Jo: Right, okay. I remember also before I started my PhD, you know, I was an international student myself in Sweden and then France for three months. So I knew what it could feel like. And I think that's also why I was so sensitive to making it easy for the internationals now in Germany when I was doing my PhD. I don't know if you're ready to make the jump yet, so feel free to also fill any gaps you want to fill. But compared to the experience you had in China, now coming to Germany, how is that different or similar?

Ana: Okay, I think my experience in China was not so long. It was only a semester, like five months. So I don't want to compare because I don't think it's appropriate. I can jump to talk about my experience in Germany. And without comparison, the experience that I have here in the Master program was actually really good.

I will jump maybe to the experience, to the PhD now because I finished my Master's and then I have this family period. So I was like very long away from the university. And now I start at the end of 2021, I started with the PhD program and it's something that I wanted to do for a long time ago. I had it always in my mind because I know that BTU has this programme in heritage studies, and I knew that for a long time. My plan actually was to finish, maybe finish the Master and then go for the PhD. But then I realized, oh, if I want to make this family break, it has to be now.

So I had this time for myself, my family and now in the PhD program.

I think it's challenging in some ways because my case is a very special case. I didn't fly from Chile just to do the PhD, so I'm living here for quite a while. So I think I got used to many things in Germany. I think like you say, in the beginning, it's quite difficult to make real friendships. Acquaintances, it happens all the time, but these real friendships and I don't think it's only from the German side. I think it's also from my side because I feel that I need a long time to really get someone to trust in someone. This is a personal thing because I see it in my neighbors. We moved from Hamburg to Reinbek so I see it in my neighbors that they never met before and then the best friend, like three months later I was like the best friend and I can't do that.

Jo: Yeah, for some people we run into it just clicks and then it's just easy with others. Maybe we are being triggered by fast experiences which I absolutely don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out for myself also because I think the older we get, the more picky we get about friends because we've already been hurt so many times and disappointed.

Maybe our subconscious is trying to protect us from more disappointments to come which also avoids and thereby we miss chances of having happy moments before the disappointments come. The question is what's the better idea? I don't know.

Ana: Yeah, I think it also has to do with ourselves growing as a person and learning from experience and learning also from ourselves. Because sometimes..

Jo: Sorry, I just wanted to add maybe also because the extra energy that goes into figuring out yourself in a new country, in a new city, in a new workplace and then there's only so much energy we have as humans which we can either dedicate to administrative things or invest in building friendships. And you can try both but it will not have the same opportunity depending on how much energy or how many resources you have available that you now have to devise. So now I'm thinking analytical, that is basically our analytical mindset that we become trained and as researchers or maybe by nature, but yeah, but keep going. I won't interrupt for the next couple of minutes.

Ana: No problem. So I think we also learn from ourselves, like performing in another country. I don't know if we are 100% ourselves and I don't know to what degree or to what extent we want just to be agreeable and accepted. I think that happens. Maybe all that happened to me, maybe that's my experience, I don't know. But when I started to work in Germany, for example, I realized that I will put a lot of effort and people to like me or people to affect me because I didn't want to be left aside or something. And I realized that that wasn't maybe so right because I was sure that I could do the job but most of the time I would be doubting. I don't know if that has something to do with that. I come from Chile and Chile. Maybe we are not considered first world countries. So we will look at the global north countries like oh my god, they are doing everything so right, you know, like they are so advanced and they have everything done and they create so many things. So when I got here I was with this kind of thinking. So I don't think that was appropriate and I shouldn't have doubt of my capacities because that really makes me insecure. And looking from some years apart I realized, yeah, that was only part of my insecurities because I thought I'm not at the same level, but actually I was. But that's what I said before. I learned a lot from myself in those experiences. So now I think I have another way to face those challenges.

Jo: That's interesting. And I wonder where you think you were given this information and how it was probably subtle when you were still studying and working in Chile. How is that image presented to you that you then manifested in your mind that the global north countries are further ahead? Well, probably technology wise, but not with the research. I mean capacity only when it comes to stuff, but the research approaches and research workflows would be equally valuable. Like now that you've seen an experience, but what made you think otherwise? So I'm trying to figure that out because that's one of the main topics that I'm trying to tackle with Access 2 perspectives: the North South divide and working a lot with African researchers and the African research environment. There are often these expectations of the Europeans bringing the money so they dictate how the research project is being planned and executed. Probably they also have more experience in the planning and execution of a big research project, some sort of international collaboration. But how can we yes, I mean I'm asking myself where can we tap into changing mindsets on either end for northern of a European or North American researchers to acknowledge the local knowledge and also some dividing but the knowledge and the research practices that are established and very much valuable and equally valuable in countries in Latin America or Europe America and Africa and Asia. So not to come with an assumption that everything is better in the west. And on the other hand, for researchers in Latin America and Africa and Asia to be self aware and self conscious and understand their own ground for how they do research, and that is equally important and not minors as compared to.

We probably won't solve the issue today, but maybe we can just try and analyze what we've experienced, each of us.

Ana: Yes, absolutely. I think that it has many answers. It's not one answer, it's not one aspect. It's a lot of aspects surrounding this topic. I think the way that the education system works, the influence the media has, I think there are many answers like the struggling that we have in Latin America may be quite different. The struggles that they're in Europe. I've been living in Germany for quite a long now, more than ten years. I see also the problems here and I see the struggles here. I really don't have an answer to that question. I think there are a lot of levels of complexity.

But I would say that a good thing that we have is that globalization is helping a lot in terms of the research from the global south or from less developed countries can come to more developed countries, and then they can realize, oh, you know what? We also have this body of knowledge. We also have these epistemologies that work for us, for our reality. So we don't have to impose things like the way that you do things in developed countries, in developing countries, because they won't work. And I think that happens a lot, happened a lot in the past, that you will have these experts from everywhere trying to tell us how to do things or how to solve our problems. And that is what I like about research, and especially about qualitative research, because you have the opportunity to integrate everybody in the discussion. You have the possibility to integrate local communities or cities or whatever, and people have this availability of resources to solve their own problems. So I really like that from participatory methods, for example. And I really like this idea that everybody can be an expert where they live and where they surround themselves. So I think that this is a good aspect of globalization that has helped us to get to know each other, to have a closer look to each other, and to understand that

we don't need this expertise from the local north or in all the subjects. We can also rely on our own body of knowledge. So I think that's a good thing. And I see it also in the PhD program and I see it also in conferences when it's getting so intercultural and it's getting so international. And I really like that. I think it's the way that we can enrich research.

Jo: Yeah, I think also language. So thanks for sharing that. I know for a fact that both of us know how important language is. And when I hear Global North global south. We spoke about this, was it just two days ago? I carry information that is also historically loaded by assumptions. Or when we talk about more or less developed countries, can we specify the remaining technology and nothing else? So if we have to use the term developed or underdeveloped or whatever, it's also relative and it's a very subject specific or centric, Eurocentric, Northern, Western, centric, whatever, because where has technology brought us really? Now we are able to blow the whole planet into pieces. Great. And we know that technology is very much basically depriving us of our livelihoods on this planet. So is it really a win with all the comfort and the comfort zone for the few to make that comfort for the few happening? 80% of the population on this planet suffers as a consequence or as a starting point. For me, that's not an achievement, really. It's a status maybe, but nothing anyone should continue aiming for. So I think also with research now and open science now, we have opportunity and also, thanks to globalization, like I said, to shuffle the cards in you and give everybody a new deck of cards to change the game. And the paradigms and to develop into a way together and inclusively where everybody, like every researcher from any part of the world, can contribute their aces, like their best achievements and their best knowledge or whatever that means now, but the most sophisticated and well explored. And with that I also mean indigenous knowledge because that's something that I'm also personally interested in professionally and thankfully, I'm not the only one. And there's no institutions like UNESCO who call for including indigenous and traditional knowledge systems into the solution finding for the global challenges that we have. And then I just wanted to also like what we said on Tuesday in our conversation to prepare for this meeting, how easy it was our time. Like, when I was asking you, I was referring to Americans, meaning you're Americans. And then I was asking you all of a sudden it hit me like, what? You're American? What am I talking about? You're from Chile. And that's America as we know, like the territory perfectly. How is it? And then I was asking you, how upsetting is that really for you? Do you want to go into that just with a few sentences again? What's the strategy now?

Ana: That, it used to be upsetting, but I think not so much anymore because it has been so accepted that they call Americans to the US. Citizens. I mean, it's everywhere in the news. It's the way that countries refer to the United States, the way it is portrayed in movies. So I think they kind of accept this. They just took over the continent. Like, yeah, this is America. But yeah, I don't know, when I say this, I just try to engage in the conversation, say, oh, you know, I'm American too. Oh yeah, really? From where? I'm from the south. Oh, yeah. Maybe. I don't know. New Mexico, south California. I don't know. More southern than that. Really southern than that. But we are from Chile, and they're like a little bit in shock. Of course. She lives in America. In South America. But America is a continent. So I think as long as you know how to deal with that. Because when I read this in the paper or when I saw this on television and in really renowned television shows or programs or I was going to write a letter because it's not appropriate that they say this is in America like that. That is just too broad that you cannot say even inside of the United States, you cannot say in America like this because it's so big. It's so different from state to state that I don't think it's appropriate for the United States, but like I said in the beginning, it's like they just accepted this way.

Jo: Economic power seems to grow in our minds with the extra size or how much a country or nation occupies in our because we have these discussions with African researchers or research projects or anything

With Africa and international research projects. Even if the project is with one or two countries and then it's Germany and Africa. Even if we're just working with one country or maybe two can name the country. Because if we look at the site Europe alone is tiny. And yet they compare. Or they put the whole continent with all its diversity outages of nations, economical situations, research capacities which are highly diverse.

And there's also an organization called Africa is a country where the answer would be hey, can I remind you of it's actually not a country, it's a continent. And we're talking about 54 countries and then other states as well just to call to the attention what we're doing with our language. But that organization, Africa as a country is basically a political organization calling out on the Western view we have on Africa and its citizens and its political schemas which is often just like what we have of China. Okay, so politics, by coming back.

Ana: I think it's an excellent point, the one you are making because it's a way in which we use language to represent realities. So we have to be careful. And that's why I like research because..

Jo: I have to stop you right there, because we took all the time to do medical research like not being specific. What is the result? Where was it conducted? What are the samples? Who was interviewed for qualitative research? What's the representation of a global society, if anything? If it's only Germans. Which Germans? Germany is also highly diverse country culture wise?

Ana: Yes.

Jo: Are you measuring women against men? What about all the other genders in between? Maybe not in between, but I think it's in particular to take charge of being aware. And that's where the knowledge is or should be in the first place of nowhere else when it should and must be and actually is at least accessible in academia. So why I think we can do better from what we just published sorry, but yeah, go ahead.

Ana: I totally agree. I totally agree. It should be like good research. It should be very specific. And I was discussing with us the other day, but also with my classmates we should be very careful when generalizing, we shouldn't be there… before. I told you, you cannot even say this is happening in America because what we know about America we hear a lot of  from Los Angeles, from New York, from the big city, from Western but what happened with the other parts of the United States? Not from America because of what happened in Canada.

Exactly. When we hear references about Asia when they say in some part of Asia. Okay, in which part of Asia?

Jo: Coming back to the United States, I just learned yesterday, apparently for the US. Americans as a term from where they live and grew up, it's called flyover states. They don't even give themselves names anymore because it's just a state. They tend to fly over as you travel from east to West Coast as if they don't exist. Like what?

Ana: We can find differences everywhere if we go deeper and deeper. Especially in my field of study, in heritage studies, I read a lot about when people speak about communities, communities, even communities are heterogeneous in nature. It doesn't mean that if you have a community, even a small one, you won't find the same meanings or the same thinking in everybody. It's going to be diverse because that's our nature. We are diverse even though I didn't tell you a lot about this. I don't think I represent all Chileans. It's not possible. I don't think I represent all researchers, foreign researchers researching in Germany. We can give some perspective because this is a lot related to who we are, what is our background, what is our stories, what is our genetics. We carry with us all this knowledge and this is the way that we construct our realities. So I think that should be portrayed also in the way we talk, in the way we discuss. But we are living in a time in our society that everything is so rushed, everything is so in the now. And you have news every hour. There's no time to edit, there's no time to slow down and to think about this. Even myself, I'm listening to the news and I'm alarmed because 2 hours later, sports like three, better not to listen, better not to read, because at the end you're going to be so overwhelmed. One with all this information that like you said, most of the time it's just misinformation, it's not well informed. We hear of aliens happening this, any Latin America is happening this, okay, it's so big. Could you be more specific? Would you specify it? Because then everybody is so afraid to travel there. It's not the same. Every country is different, every reality is different. And it is so complex. We should really avoid generalization.

Jo: We have the same challenge and research with the publication pressure. And there's actually a terminal for slow science, meaning allowing research to begin to be slow because good research does take a whole lot of time. But a PhD student tends to only have three years and hardly any PhD student I met, including myself, manages to finish within three years. But it's crazy. And then you also have to publish two or three papers within the time unless some other PhD student has left the groundwork for you and you can just put the pieces together.

Ana: In the time we have as a PhD researcher, three years. It's very tight.

Jo: From a meta perspective because I'm also working on the research management side of things and things are changing to the better. So we're trying to figure out how we can assess research with quality measures and that's hard to define for all the disciplines or the research projects and topics. So unfortunately we don't have a quantitative measure. Like how many papers have you published in what journal? It's just not helpful. It's a thickening system and it brought us to not a good place. It causes a lot of mental issues also on the researchers because it's just too much pressure and it's nonsense pressure on top and we want to do valuable and meaningful research, but then we're being pressured to publish just the numbers. That doesn't make sense. So for the research culture, did you see differences? Are I still in touch with your colleagues or with researchers in Chile to see how the research culture works in Chile versus Germany, knowing that the pressure is also on there, but maybe there are still some, I don't know. I wouldn't say we've lost all the good research culture aspects in Germany, but it's hard to maintain even from what you've seen in all the different places. Because what I've seen in Sweden is that also with regards to managing work life balance kind of thing, the Swiss are so different from how they treat their staff generally, but also in a research environment where people come between nine and ten to the lab where I was working. Then they have a 1 hour lunch break, then there's a 03:00 coffee break and then they leave at five because they're picking their kids from the kindergarten school and whatnot? So Sweden apparently it's not perfect either, but it manages to at least give some ease of mind and be family friendly way more than Germany, I tend to say. They also have fewer people to worry about because Germany has a whole lot of other issues to deal with. Education system is certainly not the first priority, unfortunately, and that has consequences. But okay, but you are..

Ana: Okay. I remember when I was working and she lived back there where there was more room for but I don't want to generalize. This was my experience. I just have to highlight that we had a lot of room for creativity.

We could experiment, I would say so, for example, my personal experience was because I was working in culture and tourism management. So we really had the opportunity to get in touch with local companies and I could take the students to these companies to analyze how they work. So they were like how to say they were working together. So the companies will show students how they work and the students will analyze them. So it was like this, we were helping each other, the cooperation kind of working and in the university. So I think at that time in this specific case, there was a lot of room for improvement and creativity and to experiment like how we can create other work-educational environments because it was management. So this concept of learning by doing was a lot of in most of the discussion in terms of education. So there was this integration and in terms of research, it was also intense in terms of writing and to keep publishing. But I don't think at that time it was so pushy and stressful like in here.

Even though the work structure is like work, we will have a nice pause in the middle of lunch break and we will have some time, and we will have at least 1 hour because, you know, we want to just chill a little bit, to relax a little bit and then just come back. But even the working hours in Chile are insane, they are really long because of the structure, the social structure at that time, I don't know how it is now, it will help you. Like mothers will have the help from the families. So there's a more similar concept, it's not that maybe you will have your children in kindergarten, in baby care, but you will have support from your family, you will have maybe your mom or your sister or someone in your family that will help you. Here in Germany, my experience is that you are most on your own if you have family. So I think the first thing for the working mom, this environment they work in is very hard. Even though you can work part time, like 20 hours per week, 25 hours per week. But I still think that you will be judged for how much you do in the work. Like of course the person who stays full time every day and doesn't have to leave because you have to pick up your child from school or you have a sick child. I still think that we have this small traditional way of perception of work like someone who's there most of the time will be promoted and will be supported. That is what I saw. Like you said, I think Germany really has room to improve in terms of education and in terms of families, like we should be the core of society. But what I see is my opinion in general, it's very individual concentrated, like what is the best for the individual living more than for a family perspective and that makes it difficult. Also in my case, I am a mother and I'm trying to be a researcher and you have to work with the time you have and you can train your best, but the time is always there. You have these time constraints and you also miss some opportunities because you cannot unfortunately if you're doing your PhD and then you want to work how you should do it, if you have only three years to do your PhD and then to have a job and to have a family, it's almost impossible. One of those three things are going to last in production and are going to be left aside because it's just not possible. And yeah, so and I see it even for my classmates that don't have families, they are also struggling because they have to have a job. If they don't have funding for the project, they have to work and they have to do the PhD. And they're always divided between these two responsibilities. And even though you think, oh my God, it's the whole week I haven't read new pages or I have to read this very interesting book and you wouldn't have the time because you also have to do your job in order to get the money to pay for your living in Germany. I think there are a lot of topics around the difficulties or constraints that you will face, not only as a foreigner, I think for working moms in Germany, German moms that are also like this when they happen, I'm doing my PhD and like what a mom is doing. That's how you do it. It's like you're an alien because you're a mom and you're trying to do something that is difficult even for someone that has all the time to do this.

In general, the push that you mentioned with the publishing in China was also this way. They were very productive writing like crazy and sleeping in the library for people sleeping during class. So they are really pushed. It's not a healthy environment, I would say. It's not a healthy thing to do, but it's with the rhythm. We really need this slow or maybe to go a little bit back to the slow work or maybe from this perspective, it doesn't have to be so rushed or so competitive.

Jo: Yeah, I feel it's also a question of time management. But the time management responsibility should not only be with an individual researcher, but also the institution needs to have an awareness that people have families and those that don't have a family of their own, they also have relatives and usually parents they need eventually to take care of. Also friends like friendships they have for their own well being. They have to spend time on nurture and holidays, for sure. So I think a workplace and very much also academia needs to provide room and also remind their staff and their people to take charge of their personal lives, not only their professional lives, because like reminding us as individuals of, oh yeah, you just need to manage your time better. But with all the pressure coming from the institution, how that's humanly impossible in some circumstances. Did you ever feel you had to decide? I think I heard something like that earlier when you spoke. Did you feel that you had to decide between family, like having a family, having kids or your academic career or was it always clear to you, you will find a way forward to manage both.

Ana: I definitely when I want to have children, I had to decide because at that time, my German wasn't that good. So my working possibilities was quite limited to international jobs. And even though I work with my two children who were born between that time, but before that, I finished the Master program, and then I told my husband, okay, now we should try to have a baby, because I really wanted to have the time for that. And I think that also is a privilege. I mean, let's be honest. In our time, if you want to have a baby, most of them, you will continue working because you have to save money for your retirement in Germany, this is a big deal because you really have to think in your future and, oh my God, when you're retirement, would you be able to pay the rent? Would you be able to live well? These are very concerns in Germany. So I think for me, it was like, I'm not going to look for a job because I know that I can't deal with the stress and I really want to take the time. And that was a privilege. So I had the time to have my baby, and I was with my daughter at home for at least one and a half years. And then I contacted one of my professors in the university where I did the Master, and I wrote here and was like, I'm just looking for an internship for an opportunity. If you can give me a job when I can work 20 hours, I would be really grateful and happy to do it. And he said, of course I want to offer you possibility. So I started with internship, and then he hired me. So I work there because I have this contact, but it's very dependent on what your circumstances are. So I think in that case, I have this luck that I knew, someone who put me in a position, who put me in a company. I think you always need these connections and this network, because if you're doing on your own, you don't know how it's going to be, and you cannot decide. So I think it was luck that I had this contact and I worked for this company for a while.

Jo: Yeah, I don't think you were lucky. You were proactive, so you were taking charge of the opportunities that you saw lying in front of you. And I was very hesitant for many opportunities that I saw because I always felt like, oh, I'm not good enough, or, this is not for me, I don't know. But just to go for it and also to be proactive, to openly ask somebody or reach out, hey, I enjoyed working with you, and now I'm in a position to take up work again after I spend time off for the children. Do you see any possibilities proactive, and that's usually rewarded by the universe or despite physical metaphysical loss as you take action, not everything might be replied positively, but there's always other opportunities that are coming away as you move forward. So instead of sitting there and hoping for something coming our way, which would be easy, sitting in our comfort zone, but it actually matters to reach out like you did, and then that's when opportunities arise. I wouldn't call it being lucky. Of course, the circumstances need also be right, that the person you're reaching out to has the capacity to provide you space and money eventually to work for them. But if not one, then probably the other will have that.

Ana: Now that you mentioned, you just hit me because it's true. I think it has a lot to do with my background, because I wasn't supposed to go to the university because my parents couldn't afford it. So I just started to work at a very young age because I realized I was very young, oh my God, I'm poor, so I have to do something to go to university. So I started a very young age to pay for my education. So I think that has been like the way I confront life. I have to do something to reach my goal, and I have to be proactive. And even with the PhD, because after I had my daughter and around 2016, I said, oh, I really want to apply for the PhD. And I had to say my proposal written, and I wanted to apply. And then I got pregnant with my second child, and I said, okay, if I get it, because I can do both and the same thing. I didn't want to have the stress. I wanted to concentrate on my child. I really believe in this one thing at a time, because if you concentrate on many things, you wouldn't have the energy to pay attention to anything. So I want to concentrate on my child. So I have my second child, but time is ticking. I was like, oh, my God. Maybe I'm too old. The gap is too big. I'm too far away from I haven't published anything. Oh my God, I don't have the chance. And then I say, okay, I'm going.

Jo: That's what we hear. I also heard that to be successful in research, you have to stay on one year, you're out of the system. It's not true. People like researchers change topics, meaning they start from scratch in a new research field, sometimes late in their careers, and they can still be successful because nobody can take away the experiences and also the logical capacities that we built, even from primary school. It doesn't get lost if we take a year off doing something else. And running a family or managing a family is a lot of project management. So you can also apply those skills that you establish and coordinate, managing the household is very similar, not like more or less the same for the workflow as we experience or have to coordinate and research.

Ana: Yeah, but you know what, Jo? We really need to find that information somewhere. So if you can write a book about it, that would be great because it's very difficult to find those experiences. We are just surrounded by this successful story. I am so successful. I did this for like 30 days. It's like, oh my God, we're just bombarded with these successful stories. We really need more struggling stories, like how somebody started from scratch. We really need those stories because we all believe, oh my God, everybody is doing everything and I'm here and what is going to happen? And you're absolutely right. After my second child, I said, okay, the possibility is over because the gap is too big. It was way too many years away from academia. So I'm going to get a job, and I got a good job at a private institution, but I wanted to stay in education. So I got into a private institution and I was working there also. I was in touch with professors and with students, and it was a great experience. It's funny that I mentioned this, but I remember I went to the Chilean consulate because I had to do something like I needed a certificate or something. And I explained that. They asked me, what are you doing? I got this job and I'm doing this and that. And they were like, oh, but that's a great job. Yes, of course it is, because normally Latin Americans, they won't see you, like, oh my God, he got a really management position. It's like that, especially due to other kinds of jobs, like lower positions and so on. So I was thinking, okay, that's also this kind of thinking that we cannot do more. I don't like that. But anyway, that's just a parenthesis. What I really want to tell you is like, I was doing this job and then Corona came and I was losing my position because last in, first out.

What I knew, okay, they offered me to stay, but when I was working there, I was always thinking, why I'm not trying to do research again? Because that's my passion. That is what I want to do. I feel so comfortable, and I also have this intellectual need. I know it's in myself. And I was struggling because I was suffering. Even though the work was great and my colleagues were amazing, I had an amazing experience there. It was great. But inside me I was like, why am I not writing anything? Why am I not creating something new? So when I knew I'm going to lose my job because Corona and those people lost their position as well. So I contacted the university. So I wrote to the university, and I got an appointment with the coordinator. And the first thing I asked was like, tell me the truth? Do I have a chance? Is the gap too big? Am I too old? Is it possible to research with my family? And I'm a foreigner, but I'm a German, but I'm a German on the paper, but I was born in Chile. So all this during the mixture of experiences and she was like, of course you can. Who told you you cannot? But of course you can. Just send your proposal, we will see. And even though this process took a lot of time, because it took me time to come back, it took me time to write the proposal, to get familiarized again with the research process and with methodologies and with school of knowledge. So in the end it worked. And I feel very fulfilled. So, yeah, I'm happy that I acted proactive again.

Jo: Being rewarded, taking charge of our lives. And also, like you said, feeling even though we're being told we have a good position and we cannot appreciate it, but to be aware or become aware eventually of our purpose and our calling, like what you really enjoy doing is everyday practice how you want to work, knowing that academia can only provide for that. But why? Is there maybe other organizations outside academia that can provide a similar work ethics and that's shifting all over societies and sectors? So we can also design a workplace for us and find the best possible fit. But I agree, like, academia is a unique place to be in. It's very elitist, not necessarily monetary wise. But I don't know, not saying that it's only for the chosen few, but it requires a dedication or personal dedication to be willing to function.

But yeah. Okay. So maybe concluding as we touched on the various aspects, challenges, opportunities in academia besides academia, balancing work life if you and I tried to make a short list of the usual challenges and then he said he wanted to share also how you are tackling those and finding in a piece for yourself despite always the challenges. Also, a challenge free world would be really boring. It's just a matter of how we approach them and learning resilience or being resilient about them. And I think it's also a matter of personal responsibility as a word or a term that I only recently embodied for myself. Like, we are personally responsible about how we feel in our lives and then we can also make informed decisions how we want to change certain things or what we can also expect from a workplace and the managing people in the workplace, we don't have to take any distasteful piece of meat or coverage that's being handed over. I don't know, I'm making funny images now. I think it's also a matter of personal responsibility in the sense of knowing what we want and what we enjoy doing and what we are ready to deal with to a certain extent and where do we draw a line? Well, that's still manageable and that's too much to handle. So I'm leaving academia or I'm leaving this group, or I'm focusing more time on family because that's what I need for my own well being. So what's your current approach? Not saying that it is a final, I think we're all constantly adopting. So I'm trying to say but what is your final? The final strategy will only be final when we leave this lifetime. So what's the current strategy that you found for yourself to deal with the challenges that you've seen?

Ana: I think the first thing is that you have to see yourself in your inner, inside yourself. Like, you have to really know who you are, what has been your path, what was your background, what you have achieved, what have you overcome, what difficulties have you overcome? So you really have to be aware of what has been your way till now on that part. And I think it's also you have to love yourself and to forgive yourself and to be kind to yourself, like to understand yourself and treat yourself like this inner child that is content constantly with you. And this inner child was also doing all this along with you. So I think doing peace with yourself is the first step. I think there's another thing that we have to consider, like what are the resources that you have? Because I am fortunate that my husband supports me, but imagine single mothers or imagine people who are alone and don't have family or don't have support or don't have funding or don't have a job. So it's very also dependent on the circumstances. And the other thing that I think is very important is we have to get away from the constant, this temporary satisfaction. Like if you want results, I want results now. I want results today. We have to postpone the reward. We have to postpone the reward and to see what you're doing. This is very short, but I watched a psychologist yesterday and he was explaining the difference between pleasure and happiness. And he said pleasure is temporary, but happiness can be a lifetime with you. So the pleasureness gives you this dopamine, which is the constant reward. You know, I'm going to watch something or I'm going to eat something to make me happy now because I'm too anxious or I'm too worried. Don't have too much excess of future, you're not to live in the present just one day at the time. One day at the time to live now, where am I, what am I doing? And these are not my words, these are words from the psychologist I'm reading. And to concentrate on that and to live one day at the time and to postpone the reward, you know, what I'm doing now it doesn't have to be rewarded tomorrow or next week or next month. Of course, in the case of the PhD reward will come later. So if you have that state of mind that is telling you everything you are doing now is going to have a purpose in the future is fine. It's just going to be fine. Just concentrate and put quality on what you are doing right now. Take care of yourselves, don't have too many expectations and think positively. Like be happy with small things and don't compare yourself to who you were a month ago, a year ago, ten years ago. And if you're happy with the development, just continue doing what you're doing. Keep going.

Jo: I've also learned that concept recently in a business development course that I'm taking. And they talk about the day you plan to see it is not the day you harvest the fruit or eat the fruit. Even so, harvest comes before then. And that's very much true for research, experiments and workflows quicker on forever.

And then also when he said looking at the rewards, can we also reward ourselves for the accomplishments? Like well, appreciating what we accomplish over a day and feeling satisfied that we've actually done the work and rewarding ourselves that day, that moment, so that we have not only a feeling of accomplishment but also allowing ourselves and celebrating the accomplishments and rewarding ourselves in the sense of also some time off. Like, okay, now I entitled myself to spend time with my family and friends and that then gives me energy again for another day to plant more seeds and to eventually harvest and then eat the food. So I think that's also important to only live in the now and work in the now and then wait for some future to eat the fruits, but also eat some fruits that you can already buy in the market in the meantime. And the market being, like any leisure activities, going climbing, mountain hiking, just chatting with your best.

Ana: Yeah, and what you're mentioning, it goes hand in hand with the importance of relationships. Because I listened a coach from Spain. Coach? I think it was a volleyball team, I'm not sure. But he said if you want to advance rapidly, you should go along. But if you want to advance to get a really big accomplishment, you should work together. I think the importance of relationships are huge. What I mentioned before about the reward is like, we live in a society who expects everything to get now. Our parents used to work for 30 years and to buy a home and we want to buy it now when we are 30. That's what I meant. Like, you don't need to, you don't have to have this obligation that you have to do things because everybody else is pushing themselves and stressing them out and to do those things. But you can have your own approach to happiness. Your happiness can be to work out with your dog. You are the own owner of your happiness.

Jo: That's a perfect final statement, because not so coincidentally, but we have an episode that's already published on Being a Happy Person by Sarah Hefty. She's a friend, colleague, she specialized out of her own life experience in dedicating herself to be happy, like, deliberately. And happiness is work. Feeling happy in the moment is quite a bit of work and it's so rewarding. So you can work towards being happy, not ten years from now, but today and tomorrow. And it takes effort, but you'll feel happy. And that's like the best feeling ever. Happy in the workplace, happy with the family, happy. And I think it's being aware and dedicating time to find energy to go and experience stuff, to meet new friends, new people, to spend time with your family, deliberately making room in your calendar for your kids. And that sounds very mechanical, but it opens opportunities for connecting with the people that we love and are also responsible to make them happy. And they can only be happy when we are happy, and we are happy when we plan for happy moments. And the happy moments cannot be in the workplace by being appreciative and purposeful. Also in the work, we do like checking in with our value systems and knowing that we are actually enabled by the institution to work according to our personal, ethical and value standards. And there's quite a bit of contradiction there in the current system, but there's also still a lot of opportunities that have persisted over the years and over the pressure points.

Would you like to add something for that closing remark dialogue?

Ana: Just thank you for the opportunity to talk about these topics and maybe we can have another episode. It’s so much fun to talk to you. Thank you, Jo.

Jo: Likewise. I learn so much every time in the podcast generally and also with you in particular. So you’re welcome back any time.

I think I can speak on behalf of us, some of many or all of the listeners. I wish you all the best and hope to have you in this show sometime soon. Hearing about your accomplishments, like how you continue to pave your career and build a meaningful or continue working a meaningful life, I can't make sense now what I'm trying to say.

Ana: Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Jo. Bye.

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