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Center for Development Research's (ZEF) Doctorate Program

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"A key to the success of ZEF lies in its diversity. An increasingly connected world with its global problems such as climate change, poverty, hunger, food insecurity, health and environmental protection makes us ever more dependent on each other. Our students differ in origin and culture, identity, worldviews and beliefs. But as different as they are, so are their similarities. We all have the goal to help shape a sustainable future." (Dr. Günther Manske)

Dr. Günther Manske has been Academic Coordinator of the doctorate program at the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research (Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung – ZEF) since it was launched in 1999. He is himself a German agronomist. As coordinator, he works with early-career researchers from different cultures and disciplines: "I take care of their education and help them organize their lives in Bonn."

One of Bonn University’s research focuses is to make innovative and technological contributions toward the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “This is where research at ZEF comes into play. Doctoral research focuses on institutional innovations as well as on ecological, social and economic sustainability in the field of water and land use. Here, among others, issues such as food security, health, biodiversity, bioeconomy, sustainable use of resources and energy, and poverty alleviation are addressed.”

Dr. Manske, ZEF Doctorate Program Coordinator

Dr. Manske, ZEF Doctorate Program Coordinator, in a sea of flags representing the origin countries of ZEF students coming to Bonn since the program launched in 1999. Photo (also above): Volker Lannert

For the past several years, ZEF has been ranked as one of the world's leading Think Tanks. Many of its doctoral candidates go on to work for international organizations, government and research institutes around the world. "They are change agents for sustainable development".

ZEF has an annual intake of around 30 candidates, about 80% of whom come from outside of Europe. Male and female participants are about equally distributed.

ZEF’s international and interdisciplinary doctorate program is structured into three parts: the first year takes place in Bonn and consists of seminars and preparing for field research. In the second year, doctoral candidates conduct practical research in Africa, Asia or Latin America. In the final year, candidates are back in Bonn to complete their thesis.

“With this approach, ZEF's development research strives to transgress the boundaries of academic disciplines and bridge the gap between science and society. Being interdisciplinary means research teams from different disciplines work together on research questions and solutions. Being transdisciplinary goes even further and incorporates politics and practice into research.”

ZEF Seminar

First year ZEF doctoral candidates at a seminar led by Günther Manske and Maike Retat-Amin, Assistant Coordinator, on how to prepare for field research. Photo: Volker Lannert

Full Q&A with Dr. Günther Manske, Coordinator of ZEF Doctoral Program

What is your role at ZEF and how long have you been involved in the doctoral program BIGS-DR at ZEF?

I have coordinated the ZEF doctoral program from the very beginning. When the program was founded in 1999, much of Bonn was in transition. It was the year when the Federal Government moved from Bonn to Berlin. The rooms in the ZEF-ZEI building were still partly occupied by members of parliament. Due to lack of space, the first course in the doctoral program took place in the meeting room of the State Representation of North Rhine Westphalia - the same room in which, in the prior weeks, coalition negotiations took place the of the then red-green federal government.

What is unique about the doctoral program?

The program is internationally and interdisciplinary, has a time frame of about three years, including a practical field research year, which students undertake independently in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

BIGS-DR at ZEF is an international doctoral program with students from many backgrounds. Why is this important?

A key to the success of ZEF lies in its diversity. An increasingly connected world with its global problems such as climate change, poverty, hunger, food insecurity, health and environmental protection makes us ever more dependent on each other. Our students differ in origin and culture, identity, worldviews and beliefs. But as different as they are, so are their similarities. We all have the goal to help shape a sustainable future.

As coordinator of the doctoral program, how do you manage to recruit extraordinary talent from around the world?

At the beginning, we still advertised the program through newspapers, such as the Economist, Nature and Science, which was very costly. Nowadays, we only advertise via the internet and social media. In addition, the many alumni who now work in development roles all over the world recommend us to potential candidates. Many doctoral students who have been awarded a doctorate in the ZEF program have become professors. They now send their best students to complete a doctorate at ZEF.

What do you think draws students to ZEF at the University of Bonn?

The University of Bonn has an excellent international reputation. It ranks among the top 100 universities worldwide. It is a strong research University. For development research, proximity to UN institutions and international research centers in Bonn is a great advantage. By the way, most facilities, such as ZEF, have only been created in the last 20 years. ZEF is now renowned worldwide. For several years, the world's leading think tanks have mentioned ZEF in rankings.

Economics, ecology and social sciences are the cornerstones of research at ZEF. How are these areas important when researching innovation and technology for sustainable futures?

ZEF conducts research on social, economic and ecological changes in so-called developing countries. The challenges facing these countries can only be understood from different scientific, social and cultural perspectives. ZEF's development research strives to transgress the boundaries of academic disciplines and bridge the gap between science and society. Being interdisciplinary means research teams from different disciplines work together on research questions and solutions. Being transdisciplinary goes even further and incorporates politics and practice into research.

What do you think are the big technological and societal challenges that doctoral research at ZEF is and will continue to focuses on?

The big challenges of the future are described in the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 goals. A research focus of the University of Bonn deals with innovation and technology for a sustainable future. This is where research at ZEF comes into play. Doctoral research at ZEF focuses on institutional innovations as well as on ecological, social and economic sustainability in the field of water and land use. Here, among other issues such as food security, health, biodiversity, bioeconomy, sustainable use of resources and energy, and poverty alleviation.

What motivates you most about your role?

I work with many young, dedicated, interested and curious researchers from different cultures and disciplines. I take care of their education and help them organize their lives in Bonn. It greatly encourages me to see where many of our graduates go after returning to their home countries or working for international organizations, government and research institutions at home and abroad. They are change agents for sustainable development.

Dr. Günther Manske, March 2018. 

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