Successful First Experts' Day on Research Cooperation with Latin America at the DFG

The Latin America Experts' Day at the DFG in Bonn attracted a large number of attendees

(02.02.16) The first Experts' Day on research cooperation with Latin America, held on 17 December 2015 at DFG Head Office in Bonn, met with great interest from German research institutions. Nearly 70 participants from universities, institutes and other research organisations from all over Germany attended the event. In addition to researchers with direct associations with Latin America, research departments and international relations divisions were well represented.

As well as introductory talks on the status of cooperation with Latin American countries, there were presentations by individual researchers on their experiences in the establishment of bilateral institutional collaborations. For example, Prof. Bernd Hellingrath gave a presentation on the Brazil Centre at the University of Münster and its strategic partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP). The main aim of cooperation is to sustain existing bilateral contacts between researchers on an ongoing basis and transfer best practices to new bilateral partnerships in order to expand cooperation and ensure its long-term continuation.

Dr. Joachim Gerke reported on the Heidelberg Center for Latin America in Santiago de Chile: its establishment, legal form, infrastructure, finance, teaching and research programmes, and current activities and goals. In recent years, he said, the importance of the centre to early career researchers and its growing importance for research cooperation have become apparent, as has the positive message it sends out to other Latin American countries.

Prof. Thilo Pfeifer, coordinator of the BRAGECRIM programme (Brazilian-German Collaborative Research Initiative in Manufacturing Technology), shared some interesting background information on the history and current situation in this German-Brazilian research group. So far the initiative has produced around 250 publications, with 103 undergraduates, 66 postgraduates and 45 doctoral researchers from Brazil and Germany participating in the programme.

Prof. Stefan Rinke and Prof. Marianne Braig gave an in-depth presentation on the German-Mexican Research Training Group "Entre Espacios". This group brings together students and doctoral researchers from both countries in an effective way and offers colloquia, lecture series, field research, summer schools, research seminars and method workshops.

Finally, Prof. Jan Siemens spoke about his research in soil and environmental sciences to demonstrate how a DFG individual grant can be used to actively promote cooperation with Latin American researchers. Mexico offers suitable conditions for studying the accumulation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in soils – not only because of the available cooperation partners with international profiles, but also because of the country's unique research objects and few administrative hurdles. On the German side, cooperation through an individual grant offers maximum flexibility and minimal "friction losses" through coordination and administration.

The last topic block was devoted to the question of how researchers from different countries can be brought together. Because research marketing has grown steadily more important in recent years, the Research in Germany campaign was presented. The example of the University of Tübingen was used to illustrate how universities can establish international cooperations and promote themselves as centres of teaching and research. Dr. Bettina Trüb reported on the most recent experiences of the Tübingen Research World Tour, which visited a number of countries including Brazil.

However, the audience didn't just come to listen to the talks; there was also plenty of lively discussion and exchange of experiences. During the final discussion there was an extensive brainstorming session on the current conditions for cooperation, ways to improve them, and the needs and wishes of the scientific community. For example, it was suggested that the DFG could encourage its partner organisations to offer suitable funding opportunities not only for STEM subjects but in other research areas too. In terms of DFG funding programmes, the desire for flexible programmes was reiterated; proposal formats should be relaxed and adapted to the situation in specific countries. Multilateral programmes should be developed for topics with a similar relevance in different countries, in which cooperation naturally results. Participants also noted that it was especially important to integrate early career researchers in international programmes.