American Studies across Borders: International Opportunities for PhDs and Postdocs

International experience has become a prerequisite for success in academia – but depending on how you look at it, this can be exciting and terrifying in equal measure. In the second interview of this series, I talk to Dr. David Bosold of the  John-F.-Kennedy-Institute Berlin about transatlantic relationships, career development, and dreams of meeting US footballers.

The John F. Kennedy Institute is proud of its status as – to quote your website – “the main interdisciplinary center of American Studies in Europe.” How do you think this transatlantic relationship between the US/Canada and Europe, has changed since Kennedy’s time, and how does that affect our research? 

I think it is tempting to focus on changes – especially after the election of Donald Trump. Admittedly, there have been changes in the transatlantic relationship since the 1960s. Yet, despite the end of the Cold War, the suggested “pivot to Asia” under Obama, the rise of the BRICS in the past decade we also see a lot of continuity. Just consider the degree of economic interdependence and the number of academic exchanges between Europe and North American. I guess the most important continuity for American Studies scholars is that strange puzzle: although we have seen so much ground-breaking research on the U.S. and Canada in the past forty years, we still seem to have problems in understanding North America. Just think about the elections of Justin Trudeau in Canada and Donald Trump in the U.S.

Can you give us your take on the do’s and don’ts for career development in the current academic world, especially where researchers in American Studies are concerned?

It may sound self-explanatory but I think the most important factors for a successful career is being part of the national and European American Studies community and understanding the academic hiring process. Attending conferences, organizing lectures and workshops will allow you to forge contacts with other scholars in the field. If you happen to do some fundraising (be it from the private sector or academic support institutions) on the way, all the better. Knowing which institutions hire American Studies scholars, how the respective recruiting process  works in each country and which professorships will be advertised in the coming five years are important components for your personal career strategy.

Talking about careers – could you give us a glimpse of your own journey leading up to your appointment as Managing Director at the John F. Kennedy Institute?

Since my current position is largely an administrative one – overseeing budgets, hosting visiting scholars, organizing application processes and all sorts of events – my academic credentials weren’t that important. I did my PhD on Canadian Foreign Policy and was the secretary of the German Canadian Studies Association when I wrote my dissertation. In the seven years before joining the Kennedy Institute I worked for non-profit organizations such as the German Council on Foreign Relations and the European Educational Research Association.

Which fellowships and grants would you recommend for researchers at a PhD and post-doc stage?

Besides trying to obtain a prestigious scholarship from Fulbright or the Alexander von Humboldt foundation, I’d recommend to look for more specialized fellowships offered by smaller foundations or universities. Going abroad during your PhD or post-doc stage is important, so it’s better to focus on getting the funds for a research stay than the “right” kind of scholarship.

Do you think the Brexit process is going to damage UK students’ opportunities to internationalize their research and take up fellowships in Europe?

All I can say at this stage, is that I don’t hope that this will be the case. If even ministers in charge such as Boris Johnson and thousands of British public servants don’t know how a post-Brexit UK will look like, it would be presumptuous to suggest that I know better. What is crucial will be the lobbying of UK students’ bodies and academics in higher education to ensure that a future Brexit will do the least harm to the UK’s students, researchers and universities.

And finally…which American VIP, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?

I’d be thrilled to meet former US football (soccer) player and musician Alexi Lalas. Since I love rock music and football (soccer) I would kill two birds with one stone.

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About Katharina Donn

Katharina Donn’s first book, A Poetics of Trauma after 9/11: Representing Vulnerability in a Digitized Present, is under contract with Routledge Research to be published this year. She works internationally, between Germany and London, and is employed as associate lecturer and post-doctoral research fellow at the American Studies Department at the University of Augsburg. She currently also holds a visiting research fellowship with the Institute of Advanced Studies at UCL.
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