Connect. Inform. Empower.

The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF) and German Scholars Organization (GSO) teamed up to host their alumni at a two-day workshop here in Heidelberg.

Cultivating scientific exchange and communication is essential to progress, a truth that is very evident to the HLFF and the GSO and which prompted the coordination of an alumni workshop from November 18–19. A vibrant alumni network is a highly valuable tool, not only for the researchers, but also for the organizations themselves. The two-day workshop at the HLFF’s new facilities, Mathematics Informatics Station (MAINS), was the first physical step in the direction of establishing and nurturing such a network.

Participants of the ‘Connect. Inform. Empower.’ workshop

The HLFF and GSO set out to design a workshop from the ground up that was an effective combination of guidance and freedom. At its core, the purpose was to provide valuable mentorship while enabling the alumni the flexibility necessary to employ the information themselves.

Morning sessions belonged to the various mentors who offered their expertise and the afternoons were open to allow the alumni utilize the material. To maximize the efficiency of both days, the participants met for dinner the evening before, November 17, permitting the group to get to know each other or reestablish existing connections. With formalities removed, the workshop could flow much smoother and organically progress, already in the early stages of the first day.

Learning from Experience

Day 1 kicked off with a brief greeting from the organizers, Ruth Wetzlar and Julia Eberhardt of the HLFF and Anne Schreiter of the GSO. The workshop facilitator, Benedikt Ewald of 180 Degrees Consulting, got everything rolling in the right direction with a brainstorming session about the topics. Participants then divided up into predetermined subgroups: Career Development, Science Communication, Diversity in Science and Social Responsibility.

Map of the ‘Social Responsibility’ group’s ideas.

Though the general framework was laid out by the organizers, the alumni were responsible of using their personal experience to create compelling plans and arguments to transform the bare themes into sound structures. After the groups had spent some time working on potential solutions, they were counseled on how to avoid possible pitfalls. Bernd Böckenhoff of Academy Cube gGmbH, Nausilkaá El-Mecky of the Heidelberg School of Education and Barbara Janssens of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) all offered their advice in a round of speed consulting.

Each group had a chance to optimize their blueprints with the consultants’ feedback in order to be able to coherently present their work on Day 2. The first day closed out with a tour of the renowned Matheliebe (Love of Math) exhibition, now showing at MAINS until April 2018.

Theory to Practice

Back to drawing board to revamp ideas.

Day 2 got off to a good start with Julia Stamm of Science Leads and her “Input on Advocacy in Science” lecture. Each group had the chance to refine their presentations while Stamm was available for any final guidance. The workshop’s underlying purpose was evident as each group cohesively made their final revisions. After lunch, it was time to test the success of the methods and put them under peer scrutiny.

Presentations were limited to seven minutes with three minutes allotted for feedback from the audience.

The Career Development team concisely broke down what is needed to keep what HLFF and GSO initiated moving in the right direction: creating a platform to connect alumni, find funding and generating quality PR. Science Communication infused humor, taking the audience on an ‘elevator ride’ that stopped at ‘floors’ imperative to effective transmission of information: secure funding, solid infrastructure, outreach and organization. Diversity in Science laid out the how to overcome obstacles, designing a practical portal, collaborating with existing organizations and coordinating new events. The final presentation was the Social Responsibility team, who illustrated the duty of the HLF alumni: to incentivize communication, to be ambassadors of the HLF and GSO, to establish a grant program and to evaluate and build the community.

Finishing touches before the presentations.

From the perspective of the organizers and consultants, the obligation rests on providing the alumni with the raw materials to effectually move forward. This workshop was designed to provide those elements and from the outset of the first day, it was highly apparent the alumni were prepared and more importantly, motivated to put in the work.

Establishing a dynamic, vibrant network does not happen overnight. Even with all of right elements, preparation and coordination, it can still fall flat or stagnate over time. However, the energy present and quality of the output over the two days of the workshop underlined the fact that even though this was a germinal step in the right direction, the potential to create a flourishing network is very real and attainable.

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Wylder Bergman Green is a freelance writer, editor and translator. He received a degree in journalism, then moved to Germany from Texas in 2011 and worked for the HLFF communications team for over 7 years. He considers himself creative and enjoys telling stories with flowery language.