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A call about: Scholars Programme Europaeum

On 28 October 2021 there is an online information session about the two-year Scholars Programme of Europaeum. This network brings young researchers and leaders together to discuss developments in Europe and to promote pan-European thinking. Does that sound interesting to you? Would you like to know more about the Programme? We asked Lukas Spielberger, PhD researcher at the Institute of Political Science, to tell us more about it. He followed the programme and experienced the Europaeum Scholars Programme as a fantastic opportunity for personal growth.

First of all, Lukas, who are you and what is your research about?

‘I’m currently nearing the end of the third year of my PhD, which means that I am moving towards writing up my thesis. My doctoral research concerns international cooperation among central banks, and I look in particular at the financial crisis in Europe in 2008/09. I am fascinated by what drives these technocratic policymakers to cooperate on international economic problems. Besides my professional interests in European politics and macroeconomics, I enjoy reading and exercise - last week I ran the 10 km in the Leiden Marathon.’

What did you do and learn during the Europaeum Scholars Programme?

‘The programme provided us with opportunities to acquire hands-on skills, such as writing a professional policy proposal, as well as the chance to learn more about ourselves and work on collaborative projects. The Scholars Programme consists of project work on the one hand, and week-long seminars/modules on the other. For the group work, we received very few instructions and had a lot of leeway. We were asked to come up with a policy proposal for something that ought to be done in Europe. Since everyone had their own ideas, our group spent more than half the project time reaching agreement on what we wanted to work on in the first place. But once that was settled, we divided into sub-groups that conducted different research tasks and, in the end, co-wrote a policy report and a briefing for decision makers. Our group was so keen to keep going that we even recorded podcasts to present our recommendations.

The modules involved panel discussions with great guest speakers and practical training sessions. Even though those modules had to be online, I took a lot from listening to the discussions and benefited from a very helpful training session on being interviewed, given by two former BBC journalists.

So, after the long discussion about the topic of the project – what was it about?

‘I worked in a group with seven other PhD students from across Europe and we set ourselves the question of how to harness digital technologies to strengthen young people’s democratic participation. Over the course of our project, we interviewed experts on digital democracy and local policymakers (including from the municipality of Leiden), and ran a survey among young people across three European cities.’

Lukas (second on the left) and his project team
Lukas (second on the left) and his project team

And you presented the project during the ‘Crisis as an opportunity for Europe’ conference in early October?

‘The conference in Toledo was the last module of the Europaeum Scholars Programme and at the same time it was the first opportunity for us Scholars to actually meet up in person after a year and a half of collaborating online. Each project group had time to present their policy proposals and gather feedback from experts. In the end, our group was lucky enough to win the best project prize for our set of policy recommendations, which allows us to proceed with our plans to publish and disseminate our findings: great recognition for our work!’

Congratulations! And besides wining this prize with the team, what is your most important take-away from the Scholars Programme?

‘For me, the insights into group work dynamics were most profound. Of course, no group project follows a straight line from setting a mission to conducting the research and writing up the result. But in our situation, where all the collaboration took place via zoom and we had never met in person, one might expect that putting together such a project would be especially difficult - and for sure, there were ups and downs in the process. But we maintained a collaborative and supportive group dynamic and learned to adapt to the technological constraints over time.

After we had taken about six months to decide what we wanted to do (going down several blind alleys), the actual execution of the research took little more than two months. Our final report of 5,000 words was almost entirely written and formatted in five days during the last online module - something that I would never have thought possible and an amazing example of online collaboration. When I look back on it, this collective learning process, which resulted in high levels of trust, a joint sense of purpose for the project, and prolific group dynamic, astonishes me. Our group even recorded a second podcast where we reflected just on this experience of being thrown into the deep end with people we had never met in person and still learning to complete a project - with great success, as it turned out.’

There may be candidates who are unsure whether they should sign up. Why do you think they should?

‘In my experience, the Europeaum Scholars Programme is a fantastic opportunity for personal growth. You have the training sessions and the exchanges with policymakers where you learn about what it takes to turn scientific insights into policy proposals. This gets you out of the theory-focused environment that PhD candidates are usually confined to during their research – you see that convincing real-life decision makers to implement a policy takes a different set of skills. Also, the energy and drive that all the scholars bring during the project work and the modules is stimulating in itself. You meet so many bright people with great ideas for changing Europe!

But in the end, it’s your choice what you take away from the learning opportunities that the Scholars Programme offers you. You learn how to make a full collaborative research project happen – from finding a problem to formulating recommendations. You learn how you fit into a group where everybody brings their own background and skills and how you can best contribute. And you reflect on many different issues that Europe is confronting at the moment as well as learning to formulate your own thoughts on these issues. You benefit from all these things, not just for the sake of the project, but also as a professional and as a person.’

Information session

Join the information session for Leiden University on 28 October or one of the other open sessions in November. The deadline to apply for the Scholars Programme is 3 December 2021.

Sign up

There is a lot happening within Leiden University. The websites are filled with news on a daily basis. In the section 'A call about' we ask one of our employees to tell us more about a relevant and topical subject within the university. The answers provide more insight into the facts, but above all give you more personal background information. What was fun or frustrating? What was remarkable? What was good and what was bad? You can read all about it in 'A call about'.

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