Virtual work, research and networking
Guest article by Dr. Maria Bostenaru Dan
I began working virtually quite early, both professionally and in my private life. Mostly because I took a career-oriented training course on working with multimedia in Karlsruhe, Germany, but also because I have always had close contact with lots of people who live far away – both family and friends.
So I created my first homepage way back in 1999, after teaching myself HTML. It was available in Romanian, Hungarian and German so that all of my acquaintances could read it. Since then I have switched to Facebook and write all posts in English because my circle of friends and my network have become even more international.
I would now like to discuss a number of areas that are well suited to virtual academic collaboration.
1. Association work
More than 20 years ago, I left my home country of Romania and went to Germany on an EU mobility scholarship (TEMPUS). From 1996 to 2006 I lived at the student dormitory HaDiKo (Hans Dickmann Kolleg) in Karlsruhe. In 1998, just before my graduation, I began to get involved in the dormitory’s self-administration. After graduation, I wanted to intensify that involvement and applied for a position on the dormitory board. I was the house representative for a year and active on various committees.
Since all members of the administration lived in a very limited geographical area, namely the five dormitory buildings, our regular meetings were of course held physically. We prepared dormitory parties, delegated tasks and coordinated other committees. I didn’t switch to digital formats until I went to Italy on my Marie Curie scholarship and my involvement widened from the local scale to the global. After my first Marie Curie stay in Pavia in 2003, I joined the Marie Curie Fellows Association. Shortly thereafter, an advisory board was established and I became a member.
The members of the committees were located in different countries. Travel and joint events were not an option for us for financial reasons, so we had to communicate and collaborate through our website. We did so mainly using forums and mailing lists. Later, when I was part of the administrative board between 2010 and 2017, technology had already advanced somewhat. We scheduled board meetings using Doodle and conducted them first on Skype, later on Google Hangouts.
We created and shared white papers, brochures and other publications with Google Docs. On some occasions, we planned very elaborate conferences and events virtually, like the annual conference and our participation in the EuroScience Open Forum. We also used Surveymonkey to communicate with our members.
2. Archival research
During the first year of my position on the Administrative Board for the Marie Curie Fellows Association in 2011, I met a member from Germany. Coincidentally, I took part in a conference held by the European Science Foundation (ESF) in Spain in December 2011. At that time, I had already done my DFG research fellowship and two Marie Curie Individual Fellowships, and now had to apply for each Travel Award individually.
However, the COST actions of the EU offered me another option for travelling and networking. My ESF contact pointed me towards the Network for Digital Methods in Arts and Humanities (NeDiMAH), which happened to be coordinated by my acquaintance from the administrative board I mentioned earlier. The project was intended to bring together academics who use digital methods in the arts and humanities. I applied and became a member of the Steering Committee. Because of my experience working with multimedia, I focussed on digital humanities.
Digital humanities includes, among other things, virtual work with archives. Even though Italy was not a NeDiMAH member, I had the chance to research many digital humanities data bases during my postdoc stay in Rome, mostly of foreign institutions with branches in the capital. Even now, I can still listen to conferences, search for images and look at online exhibits.
But digital humanities centres are located not only in Italy. I was able to prepare my secondment at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal by virtually researching their collection. The ideal situation is when you don’t have to decide on either virtual or on-site, but can do both. I prepared for my secondment in Canada virtually, but then went to Montreal to research the documentation.
3. Digital teaching
Because I attended lectures on computer science informatics in Karlsruhe, I am enrolled on a remote master’s degree in practical informatics at the FernUniversität located in Hagen, Germany. I have already successfully completed a number of MOOCs using arcGIS and edX. In addition, I worked for New York City College as an online reviewer from 2012 to 2015. You can read about my experiences in two articles:
I have physically attended a great many conferences, for example the Le Notre Forum and the European Geosciences Union General Assembly (EGU GA). This year, I attended both events virtually and compared my experiences in a review I just finished writing.
5. Tips for the current crisis situation
I have now spent nearly three months in my apartment, only venturing out into the fresh air occasionally. We should always remember that even our own residence is surrounded by spectacular nature. But those who do miss travelling can do what I did for the last online conference: I drew inspiration from where the conference was originally to be held and cooked some of that country’s national dishes. It’s a bit like travelling without leaving home.
Dr. Maria Bostenaru Dan
Dr Maria Bostenaru Dan studied architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). After her studies, she stayed in Karlsruhe and joined the Natural Disasters research training group to research disaster management.
She currently works as a researcher at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Romania.