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JSPS Quarterly No. 2, Summer 2002 (308 KB)

Interview with Dr. Uwe Czarnetzki, Chair of JSPS Alumni Club in Cermany

Taking the opportunity provided by the tenth anniversary celebration of JSPS’s Bonn liaison office, an interview was held with Dr. Uwe Czarnetzki, co-founder and chair of the JSPS German Fellows, alumni association (nicknamed the JSPS Club). The Bonn office was established in 1991 and the JSPS Club in 199b. It is the first
and, currently, only JSPS alumni association to be launched in the world; and from its inception, has been led by Dr. Czarnetzki.

Dr. Czarnetzki is presently a full professor at Bochum University, where he specializes in experimental physics with particular emphasis on plasma and atomic physics. He came to Japan as a JSPS postdoctoral researcher in 1992-93 because, as he said, "Japan is one of the leading nations in the world in this field and is extremely strong in research on plasma physics, both fusion orientated and low temperature plasmas, and last but not least is very fast at developing industrial applications from scientific results." In Japan, he conducted research under the JSPS fellowship at Kyushu University, and up to today continues to maintain close and ”lively“, contacts with Japan’s scientific community.

As the JSPS alumni club that Dr. Czarnetzki and his colleagues established in Germany constitutes a trailblazing undertaking that former JSPS fellows in other countries may wish to emulate, we asked Dr. Czarnetzki the following series of questions about how the JSPS Club was conceived and organized and how it currentlv operates.

What motivated you to form the JSPS CLub?
There were actually a few reasons that motivated not only me but also the other founding members at the time. First of all, we all had good experiences in Japan, both personally and scientifically. So we regretted the idea of losing our contact with Japan when our fellowships ended. Secondly, we wanted to do something in order to support other young researchers and liked the idea behind the JSPS fellowship. It all started with an informal meeting of former fellows that was organized by the director of the Bonn liaison office in April 1995. There, the idea of creating an alumni organization was discussed for the first time. Shortly afterwards, I wrote a letter to former JSPS fellows in Germany to survey their interest in starting up an alumni club, which was mailed out by the Bonn office. The response was quite enthusiastic, so I knew that we were on the right track.
In laying the foundations for the Club, a lot of email discussion went back and forth among us. By the time the first meeting of the founding members was held in Bonn in the summer of 1995, we had already done lots of the preparation work in advance. Nevertheless, we had very intense discussions. All in all, this first meeting was in fact extremely efficient. Starting early in the morning, the entire job was completed by late afternoon. We had our bylaws written down, the Club’s first board was elected and approved, and we had an initial idea of how we should proceed and what activities we should start with. Everyone was quite exhausted by the end of the day, but we were all very happy with what we had just initiated. It was a very emotional moment.

I hear you registered the Club. Could you tell us about that?
After we set up the Club, I went to a lawyer and notary public to certify everything; so the Club was formally established. We had to send our bylaws to the financial office of Bonn’s city government to officially register the Club. Since the Club works for the public good and is not for making money, we obtained an exemption from paying taxes.

Talking about money, how do you finance the Club? Do you collect membership dues?
For many of our activities, we receive support from JSPS. As for our operating funds, yes, we collect fees from the Club members. Annual dues are only 50 Euro. As to expenditures, they vary from year ro year. When we have a culture program at the annual symposia, the Club often pays for it. There are additionai expenses such as for other events, fellowships or books. Normally, our income-expense ledger is balanced.

How many members does the Club have? How many join and leave each year?
The Club has quite a stable membership of more than 100 members. Every year, about five people leave and five others join. The reason why members leave is very individual, though I don’t recall anyone doing so out of dissatisfaction with the Club itself. To increase the membership, it would be extremely useful if we could get the names of returning German fellows from JSPS’s central office in Tokyo. That would allow us to contact them and invite them to our annual meetings.

I see. We are currently updating the Bonn office’s database. Who, by the way, is qualified to be a Club member?
We have two kinds of memberships: a ”full member“ who can vote and stand as a candidate for Club office, and a ”member“ who is not eligible to do so. Up till now, only former JSPS fellows have been accepted for full membership. From next year on, we will also accept former STA (Science and Technology Agency) fellows as full members.

Does the Club has any distinguished members?
Many of our club members are highly respected scientists known very well within their respective worldwide communities. Moreover, I would say that about half of the members are professors at German universities.

Tell us about the unique nature of the Club.
The Club is a kind of family. Many of our members attend the Bonn office’s symposia. One of the Club’s most important aspects is that it is an association of people who know each other well. Our members come from various fields of science, and so collectively we have a broad base of knowledge among us. This makes for a very unique, stimulating, and dynamic atmosphere. Furthermore, people going to Japan enter and experience a quite different culture. If you stay there for long, it touches you somewhere deep inside. This makes our fellows distinct from others, e.g. those going to the US. Together, I believe these are the reasons why the Club was founded and why people stay interested.

What kind of activities does the Club plan and carry out?
There is quite a list. In brief and without a particular order: Together with the Bonn office and with the support of JSPS and collaboration of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, we organize annual scientific Japanese-German symposia. Regularly, we publish books with articles by leading scientists on the content of these symposia. We have also created a kind of network for supporting fellow tutors in Germany. On another level, we have established a task force to work on ideas to promote and expand German participation in JSPS’s fellowship programs. One result of this effort has been the establishment of a dedicated homepage about research in Japan. We also offer small travel grants to Japanese researchers who come to Germany for the purpose of inviting them to our members’ institutions to give talks or to discuss research collaborations. Furthermore, we offer advice to new fellows before they go to Japan and also to fellows returning to Germany. The list goes on, but I think this gives you the flavor of our activities.

How do you plan your activities and communicate among yourselves?
The board members meet regularly, about four times a year. We basically keep in contact all the time by email and phone. We hold an annual meeting of the Club members. The Bonn office is extremely supportive, which is very appreciated as the Club itself does not have any permanent staff. The office publishes a newsletter in which we regularly have our own page to disseminate information on what is going on in the Club. We also write letters to all the members, because some of the older
members and members living in the countryside do not have access to the Internet for receiving email. Through our letters, we inform the members of new activities or ask for their help in certain activities such as our task force.

How do you carry out your PR activities?
Our own PR activities are not very strong. What little we do is concentrated on people who have relations with Japan. We consider it more important to do some PR for JSPS. For example, we have a poster of JSPS’s symbolic rooster that is displayed at conferences together with some flyers in order to advertise JSPS programs. The CIub invites new fellows to join by talking to researchers with Japan experience at conferences, symposia (including our own) or meetings. As mentioned before, we do not have our own newsletter but use a page of the Bonn office’s to get the word out and attract new members. It has a wide distribution, not only to Club members but also to JSPS fellows in general as well as to organizations associated with JSPS in Germany. Moreover, we distribute a membership list ever year.

Does the Club haue its own database?
No, we are allowed to use the fellow database compiled by the Bonn office. It is very useful to us in sending out letters.

Have you experienced any problems in carrying out the Club activities?
No problems per se, but I think the Club should do much more in the future. When former STA fellows join the Club from next year on, and they are not a small number, our membership will increase substantially. We also need to do more to encourage German researchers to take advantage of JSPS’s programs to conduct
research in Japan. The number of researchers going to Japan is rather small due to several reasons. One is that in Germany, there is at present a rather small number of students majoring in the natural sciences at the universities. This is a big problem, not only for research at the universities, but also for the JSPS fellowship program which is used predominately by Ph.Ds in these fields. To increase the number of German scientists will be a very big challenge for the future, one in which the Club must be engaged.

Do you have any advice to researchers who may be thinking of establishing a JSPS alumni Club in other countries?
Yes, if they want to have an effective scientific exchange between their country and Japan, they must create societies that have strong connections with Japan. An alumni club is such a society, one through which advice is given to researchers who will go to Japan, news and information on circumstances in Japan are distributed, and other related activities can be carried out. Our example in Germany has demonstrated that initially it is necessary for a small number of determined people to form a condensation center, and that such a ”grain“ is sufficient to generate a rapid growth process. If you stimulate it and give it an opportunity to take root, other fellows will soon join in. We’d be happy to give interested colleagues in other countries our advice on how to get started and avoid some of the pitfalls.