Spotlight on... | 19/06/2023

"Spotlight on..." Visiting Doctoral Fellowship

GIGA Doctoral Researcher Askan Weidemann is currently doing a Visiting Doctoral Fellowship in Beijing, China. Learn more about his experience in this interview.


  • What made you decide to do a Visiting Doctoral Fellowship?

    My research design involves conducting fieldwork in China. Originally, this plan appeared to be difficult to realize due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. However, I then discovered that the China Studies Program was offering scholarships for a visiting Ph.D. Fellowship at a Chinese university. As securing official support from a host university would likely offer the best chance of achieving my fieldwork objectives, I applied immediately. I opted to apply to Tsinghua University, because it is one of China's top-rated institutions and because one of the professors who was listed as a potential supervisor is a distinguished scholar in my research field.

    What advice would you give someone who wants to do a Visiting Doctoral Fellowship?

    Consistent with advice I've received from fellow doctoral researchers, I would emphasize the importance of applying to a host university or institute as early as possible, as the application process may take very long. Ideally, seek out a supervisor or point of contact within the host university. Having a local supervisor was incredibly beneficial for me; they offered me advice and introduced me to relevant contacts in my field. On arrival, make an effort to participate in all available meetings and events at your host university or institute to connect with other researchers. Be patient and recognize that your local contacts and interview subjects may operate on different timelines, so what might feel like a substantial portion of your field research time might appear relatively brief to them.

    What do you take away from your stay and how did it impact your dissertation?

    Unfortunately, field access remains limited to me, despite being in China and having institutional backing from my host university and supervisor. While my original plan was to conduct interviews with local officials in different Chinese provinces, I have since adapted my plan to interviewing mostly academic experts. While even Chinese scholars only have limited access to current data on the Chinese petitioning system, I still gained a lot from my interviews so far, particularly in terms of conceptualization, as well as current priorities of petition work and digital government construction. I am only halfway through my fieldwork, so I am curious what the next months will bring.

    What does a typical day look like during your Visiting Stay?

    My typical day looks very similar to a day at the GIGA. I ride the subway from my apartment to the institute, where I share an open-plan office with other researchers. As far as I'm aware, I'm the only foreigner at the institute. During office hours, I make an effort to interact with the other researchers, gather available data, read relevant literature, jot down field notes, and prepare for interviews. In the evenings, I spend time with my wife, who is also currently working in Beijing. Our pastime is heavily food-focused, as we try to take in as much of Beijing’s rich food scene as possible.

    GIGA Doctoral Programme

    The GIGA has a long tradition of integrating young researchers into its research structure. This tradition culminated in the establishment of the GIGA Doctoral Programme. This programme seeks to provide a platform for young, international, and German academics, from which they can pursue their research and professional development, particularly in the field of comparative area studies (CAS).

    Doctoral Programme

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