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Projects like DIAMOND need specific profiles and openness for new interdisciplinary research avenues

The Earth’s climate is changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, unequivocally as a result of human activities. At the University of Basel, researchers are actively engaged in collecting evidence to better understand human decision making in this context and to provide a scientific basis for urgent, fair and sustainable actions. This is the case for Prof. Ulf Hahnel who investigates human judgment and decision making and the underlying psychological mechanisms in the context of global climate change and the energy transition.

Could you tell us more on how you joined this consortium?

For this specific consortium, I was contacted by a former colleague, Georgios Xexakis, whom I knew from my time at the University of Geneva. Although we were working in different faculties, I was very curious about his work on climate modelling and how it would relate to my research on human judgment and decision making. We had the chance to collaborate in teaching which was very helpful. It was an opportunity for us to have extended and fruitful discussions across our disciplines and it further nourished my research interests to work on how we could improve energy and climate models.

Your research is truly interdisciplinary, how do you manage this in your team? Do you recruit researchers from various scientific background?

Yes, my team consists of PhDs from psychology, but also postdocs from marketing and soon civil engineering and I am very happy to have the opportunity to work with such an interdisciplinary group of talented researchers. Building up such a promising interdisciplinary team is of course a challenge. You need to actively recruit, it is a new field. Especially for projects like DIAMOND you need quite specific profiles and high openness for new interdisciplinary research avenues. But following interdisciplinary research approaches is not always easy and could be better incentivized, in my opinion. As a young researcher you need to publish in your very own discipline as well and working too interdisciplinary might be risky. In the future, I would very much appreciate to see more interdisciplinary centres with secured structured positions. My impression is that we are making progress here as interdisciplinarity is receiving more recognition, for instance from top-tier journals, as illustrated by the editorial entitled Come together and published in Nature Energy, for which the journal's editor in chief asked us to share our experiences in interdisciplinary research.

Would you recommend to young researchers to participate is such collaborative projects as project partners and what advice would you give them?

I would advise them not to be shy, to actively engage and contact potential collaborators directly. There is no need to wait for the next conference dinner. It’s important to be open and spread the word that you are interested in collaborations. I would also advise them to use their networks, already within the university, by checking who is involved in funded EU or SNSF collaborative research projects and whose research would be complementary to theirs and contact these potential collaborators.

Quite often I have to refuse an offer to join a consortium because it is not fully in line with my research or I lack the resources. But I can then recommend other researchers from the university. For that, I have to know who would be interested, also from other disciplines. That’s why motivated young researchers should not hesitate to spread the word and get on the screen of others. The University of Basel network Sustainable Future is a great facilitator of such exchange. 

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend to accept any offer, just for the sake of being part of a collaborative consortium. The match with one’s own line of research and having the necessary resources are crucial aspects to consider. One needs to be aware that such calls are extremely competitive and thus chances for funding are usually small. The quality of the consortium matters, in particular the experience of the coordinator, both for funding and project success. Postdocs need 3 to 4 years’ perspective, some projects are shorter of course but this might be a way to get first funding, to become independent.

In my case, I received funding for a SNSF project as postdoc which allowed me to move into interdisciplinary research with Dr. David Parra from the environment sciences in Geneva and this was really a significant step forward to become independent. I got my own funding, own postdocs, independent publications. For this type of project funding the SNSF evaluates carefully how independent the applicant is. As far as I know, you needed at least 4 years of postdoctoral experience and at least one last author paper without the supervisor to apply for SNSF project funding. EU funded projects usually have less strict criteria for individual independence and thus are in this respect easier to join. So do not hesitate to go for it if you see a clear match with your research interest.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us! We wish you all the best for your current and future project participations. Let’s hope that the DIAMOND project, by joining forces, bringing the best modellers and an interdisciplinary team together will be able to increase awareness, and contribute to better communicated and cleverly designed climate actions.

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