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A simple guide on how to search for collaborators and institutions of higher learning in Germany

By Prof. Dr. Hamadi Boga Principal, Taita Taveta Campus of JKUAT Chairman, Kenya DAAD Scholars Association Former DAAD Scholar at the University of Konstanz, Germany (1996 - 2000) Georg-Forster Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany (2005-2006)

© Prof. Dr Hamadi Iddi Boga (For free distribution)


Introduction I have noticed that most researchers or potential graduate students from Africa looking for research or study opportunities in Germany are still facing serious obstacles in finding professors. A large part of the problem stems from the inability of many to navigate the World Wide Web. There are over 332 universities in Germany and therefore thousands of professors who are potential collaborators. This can be an asset as well as a liability. In order to help others find collaborators in Germany, I have found it necessary to write this short guide. I hope it will be useful to all. I have on several occasions had to help colleagues locate professors, and that means I have had a lot of practice. How to find your collaborators 1. You need access to Internet, which is available even in remote places in Kenya nowadays, and an e-mail address (you can create one at the many free e-mail services on the net, but an institutional one is more respectable). 2. Use the search engines. The most recent and important one for research purposes is I have found Google quite useful myself. Just go 3. Once in Google, use phrases like “Universities in Germany” to search the web. The information that will come your way will be overwhelming. Some of the websites will list all the universities in Germany, with their website links. Most of the links are up to date. Some of the sites which will appear include: (This link gives universities in most countries in the west and the Oceania) (This will link you to schools and universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) (This is a very comprehensive list giving you even links to research Institutes….Try it),2.1,12.2 (This gives you a complete list of the 332 Universities in Germany, YES 332 Universities!!!) How can you ever miss a collaborator if you try hard enough? This is the official site of Association of Universities and other Higher Education Institutions. Please note that you can go directly to these links without passing through Google. 4. Where they are not up to date, the name of the university or town is enough to enable you to go to the net and locate its website. Most universities in Germany are named after the towns in which they are located. For example, to get a university in Bonn, one simply


has to type and in Konstanz and in Karlsruhe etc. 5. Once you have located any university and you are on its website, what appears on the first page is most likely to be in German. However somewhere on that page would be a link to the English version of the webpage, which you should be able to follow. This can be simply the word “English version” or the Union Jack (British flag) or both. 6. There is also usually on each university webpage (at least the user friendly ones) a “search” function. Go to the search function and search the field like Botany, Physics or Kiswahili, or even more specifically like plant physiology or biotechnology. If the department is available in that university, then all the sections in that field will be listed and the research groups, their heads, assistants and students, and their contacts. The e-mail address is also usually given. Also given would be their research areas and publications. There is usually enough information on the webpage to enable you to decide whether to write to that professor or not. 7. On a good day…with a fast Internet service, one could get 100 professors in his area of interest or a closely related field. Funding organizations in Germany Apart from DAAD which is widely known, there are other funding organizations in Germany, which also support research and training programs. Visit their websites for more information. (i) land=64& overview=1&daad=-1 (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) For an overview: ……and many others. Try your luck. Tips on communication with the Professor Professors in Germany, as is the case anywhere in the world, are very busy people. They receive many e-mails every day from all over the world, from people who are looking for the same thing you desire. So make sure that your e-mail will make an impact. This is my idea of a bad letter (via e-mail): Dear Prof...., Receive my greetings. I hope you had a good day. This is BB from Kenya. I hold a Master of Science degree in Botany


and would like to further my training in the same area. I am writing to request you to be my PhD supervisor and also for a laboratory space for my PhD Research. I am willing to forward to you any other information that you may require about me as you consider my request. With Regards, BB Jomo Kenyatta University The fact that we communicate via e-mail does not remove from us the obligation to communicate formally and professionally. Put some soul into the letter and do not write casually or hurriedly as if you are writing to a friend. It should be formal as you would write if you were applying for employment. In a way you are. Here are some tips: (i) Subject: make sure that the subject describes exactly what your intention is – which is: Seeking for research collaboration or seek for a postdoctoral research position or seeking for a short research visits whichever the case maybe. (ii) Do not forget to mention the foundation from which funds are being sought to facilitate your stay in Germany, and if you are a DAAD or Humboldt scholar, say it! (iii) If you are seeking support from DAAD and you need a Professor to host you, make sure that it comes out clearly. It helps sometimes to copy the letter to the contact person at DAAD or any other foundation whose support you are seeking. (iv) Make sure to attach your updated CV. Let it be your main selling document as it is supposed to be. (v) Be open about the research topic, because most research groups have their research interests and they hate diverting resources to projects that are of no interest to them. Flexibility is an asset. (vi) Please remember to add a rider in your letter saying that if the desired person is unable to host you he should kindly suggest names of Professors in the same or related area who you may contact. (vii) Don’t attach an entire research proposal! The first mail is supposed to generate interest. Attach at most a 1-page abstract, but offer to send and discuss the available proposal anytime! Once the other side shows interest in you and your research, the discussion about the collaboration can begin.


(viii) Before you send your mail, check for spelling mistakes. Nothing is more embarrassing and decreases your chances of a reply when you present yourself as not thorough enough and without care and eye for the detail.

An example of a successful letter (via e-mail): From: To: Cc: Subject: Establishment of Kenyan Biological Resource Centre “Prof. Dr. ES, My Name is Dr IM. I am a former DAAD scholar having done my PhD in Microbial Ecology at the University of Konstanz under Prof. BS between 1996-2000. I am now in Kenya and have been appointed to a Task force charged with the responsibility of looking into the modalities of establishing a biological resource centre for microorganisms. I am aware that DSMZ is a model biological resource centre which can help shape the direction our own initiative will take. We are holding a stakeholders workshop in January 2005 to brainstorm on the issue. I am therefore requesting DSMZ to help by sending a resource person to this workshop who can make us understand the intricacies of starting and sustaining such a facility. I have requested the Director of DAAD in the Africa Region to help support such a participant from DSMZ but he has not committed himself yet. I hope this request will be met with a positive response from your side. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Dr. IM JKUAT P.O. Box 62000 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: 002546752711” In response to this letter, the Professor offered to pay for a participant from his institution himself, and the workshop was a success. NB: Try to see (from publications or website) if the Professor you are contacting has an interest in some unique African or tropical research problem or if the potential is there. It makes little sense to approach someone whose interests lie in other regions of the world (Asia or Russia).


Conclusion Let me appeal to all scholars to learn how to use the net. It has become the primary source of knowledge and information. Without it we are the poorer. And I hope you found the tips here useful. On a different note, you may do everything like I propose here and still not get a response, in which case, send a reminder to the professor or contact person after one week or 10 days latest. You have nothing to lose. On average if you write to ten professors, 3 might reply and 1 will be positive. © Prof Dr. Hamadi Boga Questions are welcome. Any suggestions on how this document can be improved can be forwarded to or