I had this post sit for a while — more than one month. It was written on my last train ride from Nijmegen back to Austria and was intended to wrap up things from a larger perspective. I wasn’t sure, wether it turned out to be too emotional and thus decided to let it rest and take a look at it from some distance. After about a month now, I’m still fully in line with the text … so here’s the unaltered version.
So that’s basically it. After ten months, my fellowship has finally come to an end. Looking back, it has been quite a ride. In contrast to the former monthly entries, I here would like to take the grand perspective and elaborate on the most important outcomes of my stay in Nijmegen (personally, that is — the project itself has reached all its aims and even went beyond my expectations).
Over the last few years, I’ve been very reluctant to even think about the necessity to spend some time abroad. Sure, I knew it would be necessary in order to achieve my formal qualification aims (eventually leading to a permanent position) — still, I’d always been pushing even it away. Even when I finally wrote the proposals to apply for a fellowship, that whole thing remained sort of abstract. Only when the Schrödinger project got granted and I finally actually had to sign the form applying for unpaid leave for those ten months (basically closing the way back), I realized that my stay in the Netherlands with all its consequences was about to happen.
I remember taking the last look back on Science Park 3 at JKU, where my office was (and is) located. One week later, I was sitting on the train to Nijmegen. Fast forward ten months, I’m now sitting on the night train back home. These ten months surely have been the most influential ones in my way of becoming what I consider a design science researcher. Let me elaborate on this.
First, with the complete freedom in how to organize my work and what to focus on, I finally managed to develop a deeper understanding of how design-oriented research processes might work (or at least work for me). Having the time to deeply immerse oneself in a topic, spend vast amounts of time reading literature, and carefully crafting one’s arguments is a privilege that I haven’t had for years. Back then when I had the time, I retrospectively did not have the mindset to (a) value that freedom, and (b) set up a research project in a way that is methodologically sound and does not require argumentative ex-post stunts to establish a valid foundation for the research setup. I at least believe that my abilities have evolved over the years and that I have been able to apply and hone these skills in the last year.
Second, I rediscovered me being a computer scientist and the fun in actually building interactive systems. My project proposal had foreseen the development of a software component that would aid the process of reflecting on and modeling work processes. In quite a surge of inspiration (that, by accident, matched the project plan), I sat down in November and coded the first version of this system in a nearly two-week-long marathon. Being away from actual coding for nearly 7 years, I had completely forgotten the joy and sense of accomplishment one can get from getting some idea to actually work. Ever since November, there has not been a week where I did not devote at least one day to coding.
Third, in interacting with the teachers at Radboud and HAN, I had the opportunity to reflect on my own teaching and develop new perspectives and approaches — both, methodologically and content-wise. I have always had the feeling that interactive teaching formats are possible even for large groups of students (say, 70+), but actually never had the motivation and methodological background to actually try it out. That is, until I have been confronted with flipped classroom concept in Arnhem. This immediately resonated with me, and so I decided to implement it in the lecture I held back in Linz. Due to me limited availability, I was desperately looking for an appropriate format to hold a lecture in four full-day blocks for more than 90 students anyway. The flipped classroom seemed like a match — and it definitely was. It has be successful to an amount that I would never had expected (in terms of both, student feedback and results), which has lead to me to adopt it also for our introduction level lecture (with 100+ students).
Fourth, I’ve had the privilege to work (and chat) with great people from very diverse backgrounds, complementing my view on my work and the world in general in ways that I never would have anticipated. Without elaborating on this in detail, simply being confronted with fresh perspectives inevitably broadens one’s own mind and provides the opportunity to see the own routines and established mental models in a different light. In combination with the chance for intellectually stimulating discussions on topics that are my core interest, working with the people in Nijmegen and Arnhem probably has been the best possible way my Schrödinger fellowship could have gone.
Finally, I’ve developed some sort of self-confidence I did not know I could have before. Seeing that I’m finally able to put my thoughts on paper by demand, producing articles from available results without it being a month-long procedure, and — most of all — seeing that I’m still capable of developing non-trivial software (a chapter that I had already regretfully closed for myself) has shown me that — after all — there might be a reason why I’ve persisted so long. The combination with having experienced that I’m able to put to practice the skills and knowledge that I have acquired over the last years leaves me confident that I’m up to the challenges that are (hopefully) to come as a faculty member.
The FWF states in its funding guidelines that the aim of the Schrödinger Fellowship is „enable young scientists […] to work abroad at leading research institutions and on leading research programmes with the purpose of gaining research experience abroad during the postdoc phase; [and] as a result of such projects to open up new areas of knowledge, new scientific approaches, methods and techniques […]“. I can safely state that this has completely worked for me.