From Guest Scientist to PhD Candidate: Report by Jaewon Son

Jaewon Son is a PhD Student in Geography at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). She received the Green Talents Award in 2019 and conducted her three-month research stay at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at KIT under the supervision of Dr Somdidh Saha so successfully that she was awarded a full scholarship for doctoral studies at KIT.

I have met my current supervisor, Dr Somidh Saha, for the first time during the Green Talents Networking Conference 2019 when receiving the Green Talents Award as Dr Saha was representing the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) at the Market Place. After explaining my research background and the possibility of conducting a research stay at a German research institute or university of my own choice, he has let me know that there are some researchers working on similar research topics at his institute. He gave me a brochure and his contact information.

While Dr Saha is a forestry expert, I have had a chance to draft a policy paper titled  “Impacts of Sustainable Forestry Management (SFM) on Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from Policy Perspective” while working at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Seoul Policy Centre. I reached out to him explaining my recent experience in forestry and asking for the possibility of a research stay. He offered to be my host by suggesting that we write a PhD proposal and jointly apply for scholarships. We have kept discussing research topics and research plans via online meetings and emails.

I had originally planned to do a research stay in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this plan kept getting postponed. After a few months of waiting, I joined the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) as a research scientist working on a governmental project to transform the Gwangju Metropolitan city into a carbon-independent city by 2045 under the Green New Deal vision in response to climate change. After six months of working there, I received an email that I was allowed to conduct a research stay in person. Although the case numbers were rising, my supervisor and I felt that it would be beneficial for me to conduct the research stay in person at the institute so that I could write a good research proposal and grant application with direct communication. So I came to Germany within a few weeks without hesitation and started my research stay at ITAS (KIT) from mid of July 2021.  

My research stay was really fruitful. Soon after starting my research stay, I have been admitted to pursue a doctoral degree in Geography in the Department of Civil Engineering, Geo and Environmental Sciences (BGU) at KIT, and enrolled as a PhD student in October 2021. With the continuous discussion with supervisors, I have kept improving my PhD proposal with the schedule of planned research work and applied to a few scholarships to secure funding for my PhD period.

Initially, I have been accepted for the DAAD-STIBET Research Assistantship, which partially supported me to carry out my doctoral project for 5 months. Afterwards, I have been selected for the full doctoral scholarship of Graduate Funding from the German States (LGF) scholarship funded by the Ministry of Science, Research, and the Arts of Baden-Wuerttemberg (MWK). I've been able to know about this scholarship thanks to George Parku (GT 2018) at KIT. Having another Green Talents awardee at the same university was really helpful and encouraging. We have met Emma Mamisoa Nomena (GT 2020) while she was conducting her research stay in Mainz. I was also been able to meet Muhammad Dzikri Ahira Soefihara (GT 2021) when he was visiting Frankfurt for a conference.

While there was a sneeze guard on the desk, we were not allowed to have three people in the same room. Since I had two other colleagues in my office room, we had coordinated our schedule to be in the office. Though I was not able to see many people in the building, I was been able to join some official and unofficial events of the institution and my research group such as book publication celebration, retreat, birthday celebration, monthly research group meetings, and weekly research seminars to share some research-related activities. One of the memorable ones was when I have participated in the documentary of my research group with Deutsche Welle (DW) about our research on the urban forest on my birthday.

I have started to join "DocCoffee" where PhD candidates in the institute share experiences, tips, and advice with each other, note problems, or philosophize about diverse topics. From 2022, I will be a PhD spokesperson at the institute with another PhD candidate where we’ll be acting as a contact person for the PhD students, mediating between the institute’s Steering Committee and students, and being in charge of the DocCoffee, DocRetreat, and the institute’s PhD wiki page. In addition, I have been able to immerse and familiarize myself with the science community outside my institute by joining the Korean Scientists and Engineers Association in Germany (VeKNI) as a member and attending its Fall Conference where I have presented my doctoral research titled “Co-designing future urban and peri-urban forests to maximize ecosystem services and socio-ecological resilience” and met several Korean researchers conducting diverse research projects in Germany with senior roles. Thanks to their experience and expertise, I was able to get a better picture of the German research landscape and of myself after my doctorate. I also appreciate to have been invited to be a vice-councilor of the Karlsruhe and Freiburg region by the councillor of 2022.
I would like to thank Green Talents for all the support and coordination for the research stay, which enabled me to start my PhD and be receive a full scholarship for the doctoral study in Germany!

Read more about Jaewon Son.