Welcome to a new semester!

Many of you had wished that you could get back to a normal everyday life. But after a longer lockdown earlier this year, we are currently facing our everyday life with further ‘Corona-measures’. The ‘new normal’ continues to make encounters, research and networking difficult and many students have had to reorient their research approaches in a methodical way in order to adapt them to the worldwide pandemic. While the university attempts to keep up ‘business as usual’, we at BIGSAS also try to provide the Junior Fellows with as much presence as possible. An example of this was the Welcome Seminar, which took place last week from Monday to Wednesday. After a quiet start on Monday with only two new doctoral candidates (general information about BIGSAS were shared by Dr Christine Scherer and a small hello from the Junior Fellow Representatives followed), the seminar picked up speed in the afternoon. Dr Christine Vogt-William, Director of the Gender & Diversity Office of the Cluster, and Dr Aminata Mbaye, Deputy Director of the Gender & Diversity Office of the Cluster, spoke about Intersectionality and Critical Diversity Literacy Approaches.

On Tuesday morning, the Junior Fellows were introduced to Research Data Management, led by Dr Petra Steiner, data curator in the Digital Solutions portfolio in the Cluster. Later, the participants gained further insights into the BIGSAS structure, such as research funding and other administrative aspects. Wednesday morning provided a chance to answer individual questions. Considering the fact that currently only a maximum of eight people is allowed to sit in the seminar room at the same time, one can say that the events were well attended. We especially welcome the Junior Fellows who came to BIGSAS this year and started their journey to Germany and Bayreuth under difficult conditions. The Dean and the Deputy Head of BIGSAS are also pleased to welcome new junior researchers. Additional Docs & Deans meetings offer a chance start a conversation with the Dean and Deputy Head as well – new meetings will be published on the BIGSAS website. In addition to the Welcome Seminar, we would like to share some information about Professor Dr Martina Drescher (Dean of BIGSAS) and Professor Dr Martin Doevenspeck (Deputy Head of BIGSAS), in order to give a face to the management of BIGSAS.

The Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS) is represented by Professor Dr Martina Drescher (Dean) and Professor Dr Martin Doevenspeck (Deputy Head).

They are part of the BIGSAS management and members of the Steering and Executive Committee

One of the main tasks of Professor Drescher is the representation of BIGSAS interests and concerns within the framework of the Cluster of Excellence Africa Multiple, on whose committees (Management Board and Academic Committee) she is a permanent member. BIGSAS, as an older and well-established institution, has recently been integrated into the new framework of the Cluster. An expression of these efforts is, on the one hand, the revision of the BIGSAS Regulations, which were adopted in summer of 2019, and on the other hand the revision of the Doctoral Regulations, which were approved by the Steering Committee of BIGSAS in October. The discontinuation of the previous Research Areas and the employment of doctoral candidates into Cluster projects brought changes to the admission procedure. At the same time, the Dean endeavoured to firm up already existing formats such as the BIGSAS Colloquium and to improve regulations concerning the doctoral examination procedure such as an extension of time for the inspection of the expert opinions.

Within BIGSAS, Professor Drescher chairs the above-mentioned committees (EC and SC). These committees decide on matters that directly affect BIGSAS. 

The Steering Committee is responsible for far-reaching decisions such as the admission of new Junior Fellows (as well as Senior Fellows).

The EC serves primarily to handle day-to-day business, such as applications for research or conference trips, printing subsidies, or granting scholarships such as the transitional funding. 

At a graduate school like BIGSAS, it is of course essential that everybody works together to provide the doctoral students with the best possible resources. For Professor Doevenspeck, it is above all the teamwork that motivates him to continue as Deputy Head of BIGSAS – even if it entails lots of communication and a not inconsiderable expenditure of time. After the former Dean Professor Dr Dymitr Ibriszimow resigned from his duties in BIGSAS in 2018, the two former Vice Deans took over the management of the graduate school. However, the other employees, including Dr Christine Scherer and Juliane Fender, as well as the administrative assistants Anette Volk and Sabine Wagner, continued to back the Deans, to the best of their abilities. 

“The excellent team has been very supportive and helped us to grow quickly into the new position”. – Professor Drescher 

Despite having all the support of this team, even the Deans often reach their limits, especially by holding several positions at the University of Bayreuth and beyond. Professor Doevenspeck is Head of the Geography Department and spokesperson for the Mobilities Research Section in the Cluster. “You need discipline, good time management and you need to be efficient”, notes Professor Doevenspeck. He only gets impatient when it comes to small things that end up on the table of the SC or EC due to a lack of research in some applications. He says: “I would like to call on the BIGSAS family: find out about the processes, submit your applications timely and ask if anything is unclear. The team will always give you competent advice”. After all, it is primarily the BIGSAS administration team that can answer the questions of everyday concerns. The Deans jump back and forth between committees and meetings, which can lead to conflicts in schedules and interpersonal relationships. Professor Drescher says: 

“We have all been particularly stressed since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, which has had a profound impact on our everyday life and our working environment, for example through the fact that video conferences have replaced real encounters. In addition, the current situation has also had and continues to have serious financial, social and psychological consequences for many JFs, for example, because they have been unable to leave the country after completing their doctorate, or have been unable to begin their field research, have to forgo conference trips or have to modify the topic of their dissertation.” 

As part of the BIGSAS family, you are never alone, and the entire team is committed to find solutions for any arising problems. The exchange among each other is extremely important, says Professor Doevenspeck. Unfortunately, he himself often finds very little time to interact with Junior Fellows. His priority is to maintain active contact with his own doctoral candidates, whom he regularly meets in the Geo building. But he is always delighted when he ‘runs into’ one or the other Junior Fellow in the city or at (digital) events. Professor Drescher would like to see the Junior Fellows become more involved within BIGSAS. After all, it is not only the contact between the administration and the doctoral candidates that needs to be maintained, but above all the contact between one another. Junior Fellows should see events such as the Welcome Seminar outlined above as an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. It is understandable that everyone has little time, but the joint activities among the Junior Fellows strengthen the team spirit and show that there is mutual support – an incredibly important message especially in challenging times like these. 

As a father of three children, Professor Doevenspeck also knows that it is important to structure his day diligently in order to keep an overview, especially because breaks and rest periods are also important. He himself likes to go hiking or jogging – activities that are luckily compatible with the current situation. 

In the end, the Deans encourage the doctoral candidates not to lose focus: 

“Stay healthy and optimistic, take care of others, consider immobility a privilege, adjust the research design if necessary in close exchange with the supervisor, think about what the pandemic means for your topic and read and write a lot”. 

…and if you need help, the whole BIGSAS team is available for you!


Professor Dr Martina Drescher is holder of the Chair of Romance and General Linguistics at the University of Bayreuth. Her research interests include Health communication and language variation with a particular focus on French in Africa. She is Vice Dean of Early Career & Equal Opportunity as well as Member of the Research Section “Moralities”.

Professor Dr Martin Doevenspeck Professor of Political Geography at the Department of Geography. His research interests lie at the interface of Political Geography and Social Geography in developing countries. His work covers three main areas: migration, society-environmental relations and risk and conflict. He is also a Member of the Board of the Institute of African Studies Bayreuth.

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