Profiles of our members

The Elite Network of Bavaria is brought to life by its members. We’d like to introduce a few of them as they describe their experiences and future plans.

Portrait photo: Lea Luka Sikau

“The Max Weber Program has allowed me to meet lots of other scholarship holders from very different academic backgrounds, who are all very open. I've also learnt a great deal from them.”

Lea Luka Sikau

Max Weber Program

Lea Luka Sikau is a highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano. At the age of just 11, she began studies in Classical Singing at the Robert Schumann Hoch­schule in Düsseldorf. She is currently studying Culture Management at the Uni­ver­sity of Music and Per­for­ming Arts Munich (HMTM) and is committed to helping children to access the world of the arts.

Anyone who embarks on a new path at just 17 years old must have started early. Quite true: at 17, Lea Luka Sikau was already a graduate vocalist. Her musical talents had been clear from a young age; indeed, at the age of 11, she enrolled at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf as a young entrant to the Classical Singing course. Completing these studies alongside her regular school work, she won Germany’s national “Jugend musiziert” music competition on multiple occasions. And yet, despite this, Sikau still wondered about the direction she wanted her life to take – entirely normal con­si­de­ra­tions for her age. “While I enjoyed all of that, I realized that I wanted more creative freedom,” she says contemplatively. She therefore decided to put her career as a vocalist on hold and embarked on a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Düsseldorf.

Admission to the Max Weber Program

After completing her Bachelor’s degree, Lea Luka Sikau moved to Munich, where she is currently studying Cultural Management at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich (HMTM). This was also the point at which she applied for admission to the Max Weber-Program: “The Max Weber Program has allowed me to meet lots of other scholarship holders.” She values both the diversity and the openness that connects members of the Max Weber network. “Everyone is always interested in learning something new.”

This openness has also been reflected in the course of Sikau’s life to date. She places great importance on gaining new, international experiences. Having already studied in England and completed an internship at the German Embassy there, she is currently planning an internship in New York. She also values the support offered by the Max Weber Program in relation to learning languages.

Creating something new

Deciding to change the direction of her studies afforded Sikau considerable artistic freedom. Instead of having to follow the rigorous route to becoming a classical singer, her decision gave her the opportunity to “expand her horizons”, as she puts it, and experiment with innovative concert formats. In 2018, Lea Luka Sikau founded the five-person baroque ensemble “Messa di Voce”, which soon went on to win the audience award at the Festival of the Centre for Early Music (ZAMUS) in Cologne. Sikau is also interested in bringing art and music to others. “The rewarding thing about the arts is the moment of interaction between the visitor and the artwork; it prompts questions, encourages reflection and can even be provocative.” Sikau is a long-standing proponent of efforts to help others to access such moments. She served as spokesperson of the Youth Council of North Rhine-West­phalia (KiJuRat NRW) and was an active member of both the Youth Council and Cultural Affairs Committee in her native Düsseldorf, working to reduce the barriers to cultural offerings.

Supported by mentors

Music will undoubtedly continue to be an important part of Sikau’s life, but she’s certainly writing her own story – as her path to date shows. A Max Weber scholarship holder, she also has been granted a Deutsch­land­sti­pendium, a scholarship through the Richard Wagner Association and was admitted to the Bavarian Elite Academy in 2018. She can draw support from established mentors who stand ready to support her as she takes her next steps, including the Director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Tisa Ho, and the former Director of the Bavarian State Opera, Sir Peter Jonas.

To the Max Weber Program

Portrait photo: Johannes Gansmeier

“I find the Max Weber Program very rewarding. You get to know some special people, which I regard as a great benefit in both intellectual and personal terms. I don’t ever want to do without it.”

Johannes Gansmeier

Max Weber Program

Johannes Gansmeier studied Law at LMU Munich. In addition to his studies, he has founded an as­so­ci­a­tion to support gifted and talented secondary school pupils.

“I’m very interested in learning to understand the structures which regulate social coexistence,” says Johannes Gans­meier. With this in mind, it’s no great surprise that the Max Weber scholarship holder first opted to study Political Science before moving on to a Law degree. “Law pervades every­thing; I find the legal way of thinking particularly fascinating.” During his politics studies, Gansmeier also achieved a certificate in Philosophy and Leadership at the Munich School of Philosophy. Johannes Gansmeier has held a scholarship through the Max Weber Program since 2014, which he finds “very re­war­ding”. “You get to know some special people at the various events, which I see as a win in both in­tel­lec­tual and personal terms. I don’t ever want to do without it.”

Nurturing gifted pupils

In 2014, Johannes Gansmeier worked together with friends to found MPhasis, a charitable association awarded a grant by the StartSocial association. MPhasis teaches young people key skills for their professional lives and also helps them to access suitable training and education. “Today, we often hear people talking about the obsession with academisation. Whether such complaints are founded or not, such tendencies often lead to other qualifications and skilled occupations becoming devalued. This is something we hope to counteract. Talented people are all around us.” Three MPhasis cohorts have passed through the program, and the team is now working to tailor its work – which has been well received by schools and private companies – to serve its target group even better.

Since his graduation, Johannes Gansmeier – who also held scholarships from the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Bavarian Elite Academy – currently works as a research assistant  at the Chair of Private Law, Corporate Law, Commercial Law and Theory of Private Law led by Professor Hans Christoph Grigoleit. Gansmeier also benefits from Grigoleit’s advice as his mentee in the Max Weber Program and now as his PhD supervisor. In his subject area, Johannes Gansmeier is most interested in the fields of corporate law, securities law and insolvency law. Yet, despite this, the budding jurist values the fact that the events held by the Elite Network of Bavaria allow him to learn new things “beyond the confines of [his] own discipline”.

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Portrait photo: Pei-Hsuan Huang

“The people I have encountered through the Elite Network of Bavaria and the experiences it has afforded me have changed how I see the world.”

Pei-Hsuan Huang

Elite Graduate Program

After completing studies in mechanical engineering, Pei-Hsuan Huang de­ci­ded to enrol in an Elite Graduate Program, the Bavarian Graduate School of Computational Engineering. She has been a student at TU Munich since 2016.

For Huang, moving to Germany and applying for an Elite Graduate Program, the Bavarian Graduate School of Computational Engineering, was a major decision. It is one she looks back on with satis­fac­tion: she treasures the opportunities offered by the Graduate Program’s network, of which she is now a part. Huang also values the encounters enabled by the Elite Network of Bavaria, which she has been a member of since 2017. “I’ve learnt a great deal. Especially because I’m not from Germany, the Elite Network of Bavaria has helped me to find friends and get to know lots of fascinating people. It has changed how I see the world.”

Huang was born in Taiwan and was awarded a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering by the National Taiwan University in Taipei. She then decided to look further afield for her Master’s studies. “Germany enjoys a very good reputation in my field,” she says. Since 2017, Huang has been a student at the Institute for Computational Mechanics at the Technical University of Munich.

Interdisciplinary study

The interdisciplinary course of study offered by her Elite Graduate Program, the Bavarian Graduate School of Computational Engineering, allows students to take various international Master’s courses. These courses relate to computational mechanics, computational science and com­pu­ta­ti­o­nal engineering, and are offered by the Program’s participating universities, TU Munich and FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg. Pei-Hsuan Huang values the diversity and high quality of courses – and the fact she is free to choose the modules she wishes. She also hopes to take the chance to apply for the Honors program, which is targeted at aca­de­mi­cally outstanding students and offers them ad­di­tio­nal support in relation to specific projects and soft skills.

Shortly before graduating, Huang elected to take a short break from her studies to complete an internship. She is currently working with a start-up on a six-month contract. After returning to complete her Master’s degree, Huang is unsure whether she will pursue an academic career or move to work in the private sector. However, one thing is certain: she would like to stay here in Germany. “I get homesick sometimes, of course. But there are so many opportunities for me here, and I’d like to take advantage of that.”

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Porträtfoto: David Khunchchukashvili

“The variety of topics covered and events offered by the East European Studies program is unique. It ranges from history to law and political studies; I’ve benefited from this high-quality, interdisciplinary approach.”

David Khunchukashvili

Elite Graduate Program

David Khunchukashvili completed the Elite Graduate Program in East European Studies at LMU Munich. Since then, he has been awarded a doctorate in History, specialising in the Christian Tsardom of Russia in the 15th and 16th centuries.

David Khunchukashvili’s path to studying in Munich was not what you might call conventional. It began in Russia, where Khunchukashvili completed two degrees, firstly as a concert pianist and then as a music manager. However, his love of music drew him to drew him to the German-speaking world – and his interest in history lured him back to university.

David Khunchukashvili enrolled at the University of Freiburg, where he embarked on a Bachelor’s degree in History and Catholic Theology. Sub­se­quent­ly, he opted for the Elite Graduate Program in East European Studies at LMU Munich. “It was no small decision,” he says con­temp­la­tively. Enrolling on the Program meant leaving behind a scholarship and a professional position in Freiburg – but Munich had a lot going for it. “The variety of topics covered and events offered by the East European Studies program is unique,” says Khunchukashvili. “East European Studies is more than history – it also comprises law, political science and theology.” Being so close to the Bavarian State Library was another factor in his decision. Khunchukashvili is primarily interested in the Russian Middle Ages – a subject area in which the Bavarian State University is “the best option in Germany”.

In addition to the Elite Graduate Program’s interdisciplinary nature, he was also impressed by the format of project modules, which enable each cohort to devote two semesters each year to one topic. In his case, the topic was ‘Munich and the Russian Revolution’. “The collaboration was excellent, which can also be put down to the students’ interest and dedication to the subject.”

David Khunchukashvili: “The move to Munich was worth it.”

Since then, David Khunchukashvili has been working on his doctoral thesis in East and South-East European Studies under Professor Julia Herzberg at LMU Munich. The focus of his research lies at the interface between theology and history. In his doctoral thesis, Khunchukashvili examines how the notion of 14 the Christian Tsardom developed in the 15th and 16th cen­tu­ries. Now a historian, he has not abandoned music and takes time to play every day. “I need music. I don’t feel complete if I don’t practice, even though my career didn’t end up in music.” He can well imagine staying in academia and research in the future if attractive prospects are open to him. “It would be a dream come true.” In any case, David Khunchukashvili can now look back and say: “The move to Munich was worth it.”

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Portrait photo: Kai Linde

“All of my classmates were unbelievably dedicated. I still benefit from this experience today, as the founder of a company: at QPLIX, I work alongside five former students of the Elite Graduate Program. We believe that the course identifies talented, academically gifted graduates that fit into our team brilliantly.”

Kai Linde

Elite Graduate Program

Kai Linde was part of the first cohort to graduate from the Elite Graduate Program in Software Engineering. He then spent several years working as an investment manager. Since then, he has applied his expertise in software and finance to found his own start-up: QPLIX GmbH.

Even though his time at the University of Augsburg is more than a decade behind him, Kai Linde instantly remembers the positive atmosphere and infectious motivation on the Elite Graduate Program in Software En­gi­nee­ring. “All of my classmate were interested in the subject and had an appetite for study. What’s more, some of them were exceptionally talented, which meant that working together with was always heaps of fun.” He opted to enrol on the Master’s program even though he had already completed an Informatics diploma. “I was just impressed with the overall package.” Just how right this assessment was became clear during the following semester. The inter-institutional collaboration between the University of Augsburg, LMU Munich and TU Munich afforded him “new specialist input”. He found collaborating with other students to be very profitable – in particular in the context of joint projects. During a Soft Skill Seminar, Linde and five of his classmates came up with the idea of de­ve­lop­ing a music table called ‘Xe­na­kis’, named after the Greek composer Yannis Xenakis. The software techni­cians drew inspiration from Xenakis’ compositions, which are based on mathematical principles: the table allows users to play music by moving stones on a glass plate. The group presented their project at several con­gres­ses and received positive acclaim for their work.

A start-up responding to a gap in the market

After completing the Elite Graduate Program, Kai Linde first worked in the field of robot development. However, he soon changed path to become an investment manager, overseeing investments in technology start-ups – “to close the gaps in the financial world”, as he said in an interview with the Handelsblatt newspaper. “I saw so many ideas for companies – it was so fascinating. As an investor, though, you’re always a secondary player. That was when I realized that I really wanted to start something myself from scratch. And that I’d be happy to take the responsibility for it, too.”

As a result, Linde decided to work together with partners to found their own company: QPLIX GmbH. Their software company offers an IT platform that makes it easier than before to manage large, private assets. Handelsblatt judged the company’s offerings as follows: “In this segment, [Linde and his colleagues] have little competition at present: comparable solutions tend to serve major banks. It was a gap in the market – and QPLIX is now growing rapidly as a result.”.

“Every stage in our growth entails a new challenge,” says Linde. “It’s en­or­mously enjoyable for me, even if it does involve a lot of work.” The fact that he founded QPLIX with his former classmate, Philipp Pötzl, is certainly an important factor. “Lots of people warned me not to found a company with a friend, but I like to work with people that I get along well with. Over time, we’ve recruited five former students from our program to join us, and the way we work together makes every day a pleasure.”

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Portrait photo: Houda Ichanti

“As students on the Elite Graduate Program, we benefited from the interdisciplinary collaboration between several institutions. We had wonderful opportunities to realize our research projects.”

Ichanti Houda

Elite Graduate Program

After completing an Engineering degree in Morocco, Houda Ichanti came to Germany with the aim of studying biomaterial science. Since then, her work as a doctoral student has contributed to research into artificial organs.

Houda Ichanti doesn’t do things by half-measures. In her native Morocco, she studied engineering before taking a position in the automotive industry. Her real interest, however, was in a different subject area altogether: “I’ve always been interested in biomaterials.” Unable to find a suitable course of study in Morocco, she decided to look overseas. “Significant progress has been made in the field around the world,” she says. To me, Germany see­med an ideal choice for many reasons: it has a long and successful history in engineering and material sciences; German universities are be­coming increasingly international, which makes it easier to find a Master’s degree taught in English, and also because it isn’t too far from Morocco.” At FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, she found exactly when she was searching for in the Elite Graduate Program in Advanced Materials and Processes.

She also appreciated its interdisciplinary approach. “For students, it’s good when several institutions work together. We had wonderful opportunities to undertake projects in the participating institutions, including through our membership of the Elite Network.” Ichanti elected to pursue her existing interests and chose biotechnology and nano­tech­no­lo­gy as the focuses of her research. “I’m fascinated by biomaterials and research into the de­ve­lop­ment of artificial tissues. Biomaterials have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.” On her very first project, she contributed to efforts to develop biomaterials which would support bone regeneration.

Fascinated by biomaterials and their potential

Houda Ichanti is now a doctoral researcher at the Leibniz Research La­bo­ra­to­ries for Biotechnology and Artificial Organs at the Hannover Medical School. She is a member of the Tissue Engineering working group, which works on methods to develop implants to regenerate or replace artificial organs. In her doctoral thesis, Ichanti is developing an artificial vascularised scaffold that can support and supply artificial tissue. Whether she will stay in academia after her doctorate remains to be seen – but the field she hopes to work in is clear: “There are a range of options open to me to pursue my interest in bio­ma­te­rials.” Although she misses Morocco, Ichanti’s immediate future almost certainly lies in Germany, where she can make her con­tri­bution to further developments in this highly innovative field of re­search.

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Portrait: Prof. Dr. Silke Härteis

“The support I received through the International Doctorate Program in Lead Structures of Cell Function and the Doctoral Scholarship was a great help to my academic career. I’m now hoping to give something back through my teaching and research; I want to promote and encourage gifted junior researchers.”

Silke Härteis

International Doctorate Program with Doctoral Scholarship

Silke Härteis was the recipient of a Doctoral Scholarship at the International Doctorate Program in Lead Structures of Cell Function at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg. In 2018, she was made a W2-level Professor at the University of Regensburg.

“Becoming a member of the Elite Network of Bavaria opened up new worlds of opportunities,” says Silke Härteis. After completing her degree in Mole­cu­lar Medicine at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, she was awarded a Doctoral Scho­lar­ship by the International Doctorate Program in Lead Struc­tures of Cell Function. Looking back, the first aspect she names are the opportunities she had to meet other researchers. “The academic and inter­disciplinary ex­change on the Doctorate Program was very lively, both among the doc­toral students and with the academics who supervised us. That’s very helpful during the doctoral phase.”

Using international networks

The program’s international focus was also va­lu­ab­le. “The contact I had with foreign researchers and doctoral students provided me with various starting points for my work, which certainly benefited me.” Silke Härteis conducts research into the molecular mechanisms of renal function. By enrolling in the Doctorate Program, she became integrated in the inter­national research community at a young age. “As an early-career researcher, I took various research stays abroad,” she says – and begins to list them. Her research took her to the University of Zürich, Yale, the University of Cambridge and Japan. “As a junior researcher, it was impressive to see how many academics around the world are researching into the same topic. In essence, the pro­gram’s international focus took me right around the world.” This travel was, however, a crucial aspect: “It enabled me to develop collaborations that remain fruitful to this day.”

Silke Härteis’ academic journey

During her doctoral studies, Silke Härteis decided that she wanted to stay in academia. Her supervisor, Professor Christoph Korbmacher, played an important role in this decision. Korbmacher, Director of the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, became a mentor to Härteis. “This sustained support is very im­por­tant in helping students to develop the courage to pursue an academic career.”

Since then, Silke Härteis has been appointed Professor of Molecular and Cellular Anatomy at the University of Regens­burg. Härteis believes that she also has the Elite Network of Bavaria to thank for helping her to qualify so quickly as a professor and gain an independent pro­fes­sor­ship. Her research interests lie in the regulation of renal ion channels. Gaining knowledge of the mechanisms involved and conducting further research into them plays a vital role in understanding renal conditions and, potentially, de­ve­lo­ping diagnostic or therapeutic concepts as a result. Härteis is now in the position to take on a mentoring role herself. “I’m now hoping engage in teaching and research so that I can give something back; I want to promote and en­cou­rage gifted junior researchers.”

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Portrait photo: Yuki Asano

“During my time as a Max Weber scholarship holder, the Program allowed me to meet lots of interesting people who I always got on well with. We still meet up as the years go by – also here at the University of Oxford, where I’m studying for my doctorate.”

Yuki Asano

Max Weber Program

Yuki Asano began his academic career with a degree in Physics. Since then, the former Max Weber scholarship holder has embarked on his doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, focused on the field of artificial in­tel­ligence.

In describing his path to date, Asano speaks about “a lot of back and forth”. Geographically speaking, that’s certainly true – as a child, Yuki Asano moved from Germany to Tokyo, only to move back to ten years later and take Ger­man school leaving examinations, the Abitur. Years later, his studies took him back to Japan, though he has since moved to England. There is, how­ever, one constant that has accompanied him throughout his journey: “I always want to try to achieve things by working together with others,” says the Max Weber Program alumnus. Asano’s first degree was in Physics at LMU Munich. Even in his first semester, he began to attend political economy classes in parallel to his own studies. This led to him undertaking a second degree in Economics through the Fernuniversität Hagen, a German distance-learning in­sti­tu­tion. “From the very outset, my intention has always been to apply my knowledge,” he says in explaining this decision.

Advising companies, supporting social projects

This notion was also what drove Asano to work with the student corporate consultancy service Academy Consult, where he assumed a board position one year later and oversaw a team of almost 20 students as they worked on numerous projects. During a subsequent semester abroad in Tokyo, Asano came across the concept of a corporate consultancy agency that originated in Australia – ‘180 Degrees’. This university-based consultancy advises non-profit organisations. Asano was so impressed by the concept that, on his return to Munich, he founded the student consultancy ‘180 Degrees Con­sul­ting Munich’ together with his peers at LMU Munich and TU Munich. He continued to work with the con­sul­tan­cy for a year after he completed his Physics degree. “Working with friendly people who inspire me and who want to achieve things that benefit others is a source of motivation for me.”

Learning how machines learn

After founding 180CD Munich, Asano once again devoted himself to academia and embarked on a Master’s in Mathematical Modelling and Scientific Computing at the University of Oxford where his main focuses included the field of machine learning and complex networks. He then wrote his thesis for his scientific studies – which he had put on hold – at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Since then, Asano has enrolled as a doctoral student at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems at the University of Oxford. His research is focused on identifying the conditions under which algorithms structured as neural networks are best able to function and develop. “The field of artificial intelligence has made unbelievable progress in the last ten years,” he says. By electing to research in this field, he has deliberately chosen a discipline though which he can achieve big things.

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Portrait photo: Clara Eisebraun

“Taking part in a Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau was a highlight. It had a huge impact on me, both academically and as a person.”

Clara Aletsee

Max Weber Program

Clara Aletsee is an alumna of the Max Weber Program. Now she is doing her doctoral studies at the Technical University of Munich in the field of physical chemistry.

As a Max Weber Program scholarship holder, Clara Aletsee had the op­por­tu­nity to attend a meeting of Nobel Prize laureates in Lindau – an experience that had a profound impact on her. “Nobel Prize laureates are very inspiring people. Once you’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak to your role models, you return to your work with a new sense of impetus.” Clara Aletsee is fascinated by the world of chemistry and science, so meeting Professor Stefan Hell – who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014 – was a parti­cu­larly powerful experience for her. After leaving school, Clara Aletsee opted for a voluntary social year working with the Bavarian Red Cross, before embarking on a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the Tech­ni­cal University of Munich. This was followed by a Master’s degree at TUM focusing on inorganic chemistry and catalysis. During this course of study, she travelled to Japan for a six-month research stay abroad at Osaka Uni­ver­si­ty, where she contributed to a project to improve lithium-ion batteries.

Since 2019, Clara is doing her doctoral studies at the TU München in the field of heterogeneous photo­cata­ly­sis. Her research is focusing on the sustai­nable production of energy carriers like hydrogen to present an alternative to fossil fuels. In this process, abundant and environmentally friendly resources such a light, water or alcohols are utilized for the hydrogen generation. “I love to go to university every morning” , Clara Aletsee states. “It is like solving a riddle every day.”

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Portrait photo: Mallissa Watts

“Neuro-Cognitive Psychology is an Elite Graduate Program with exceptional, international connections. It was wonderful to be part of a wider network.”

Mallissa Watts

Elite Graduate Program

Mallissa Watts is a graduate of the Elite Graduate Program in Neuro-Cognitive Psychology at LMU Munich. She now works at Stanford University.

While Mallissa Watts’ studies in Munich are now well in the past, she vividly remembers the graduation celebration held by the Elite Network of Bavaria at Munich’s glamorous Residenz. Watts embarked on an Elite Graduate Program in “Neuro-Cognitive Psychology” at LMU Munich, which enabled her to study at the interface of psychology and neuro­science. “The program enjoys exceptional, inter­national connections,” says Mallissa Watts. “It was wonderful to be part of a wider network.”

From the USA to Europe and back again

Like the course, Mallissa Watts’ CV also features a strong international focus. She started her academic career studying Psychology and English Literature at the University of Washington; after completing her Bachelor’s degree, she moved to Madrid, where she worked on an education initiative for the Spanish government. In 2014, Watts moved to Munich to take a Master’s in Neuro-Cognitive Psychology.

Her research projects included a study from a neuro­phy­sio­lo­gi­cal per­spec­tive examining placebo inter­ven­tions for nausea and an in­ves­ti­gation into how stress and fear impact on molecular processes in neural networks in the brain and so-called place cells. As part of this re­search project, she spent several months at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology, Neurobiology and Behavior. For her Master’s thesis, which she completed at Munich’s Klinikum Rechts der Isar, Watts conducted research into the con­nections between memory loss and attentional networks in the ageing brain.

At present, Watts works in the USA at the University of Stanford’s School of Medicine. She could, however, well imagine returning to Europe to take a doctorate. Germany, she says, is at the very top of her list.

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Portrait photo: Sanja Tolj

“I saw the Elite Graduate Program in East European Studies as an opportunity. The summer school in Kyrgyzstan was the icing on the cake. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Sanja Tolj

Elite Graduate Program

Sanja Tolj is a graduate of the Elite Graduate Program in East European Studies. During her time on the program, she raised awareness of the fate forced sex workers in the brothel of the Dachau concentration camp as part of a project on the topic of ‘Gaps in Memory’.

“I was desperate to be admitted to the Master’s course in East European Studies because it related to much of the work I had done previously,” says Sanja Tolj. In her Bachelor’s in History and Slavonic Studies at the University of Tübingen, her regional focus was on South-East Europe. “That was partly down to my heritage from one side of my family. I was interested to see how narratives prevalent in familial memories are treated in aca­de­mia.” She was also intrigued by the Elite Graduate Program’s inter­disci­pli­nary approach. “I knew that I didn’t want to study purely his­to­ry.” Tolj therefore saw the course in East European Studies at the University of Regensburg “as an opportunity”, and also took courses in law and political science.

Looking back, the course – which she completed in 2016 – was a “very in­ten­si­ve period”. However, there was also a strong sense of togetherness on her course. “I got on very well with my classmates,” she says. “We were a tight-knit group because we did so much together.” The “icing on the cake” was the summer school in Kyrgyzstan on ‘(Post)-Imperial Turns’, which examined the country’s imperial past and its influence to this day. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Researching gaps in memory

In a project course on the topic of ‘Gaps in Memory’, the research carried out by Sanja Tolj and her class­mate Mirela Delić met with an enormous response. “We looked to find a regional context and studied the Dachau concentration camp’s archive. Dachau was a men’s camp but, in the course of our research, we stumbled across the fate of forced sex workers that was yet to be explored.” The two students’ research brought awareness to the camp brothel in Dachau and revealed the story of women forced into prostitution there. Tolj eventually presented her research in October 2017 as part of a service to remember the first women sent to Dachau in 1942.

During her Master’s studies, Tolj pursued the topics of South-East Europe and gender research. In doing so, she worked with the Südost Europa Kultur association, providing socio-pedagogical assistance to families and psycho-social support to refugees. Following her Master’s, Tolj completed an intern­ship at the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) in the field of women’s rights and gender equality. Since then, she has been work­ing on academic communication at the Robert Bosch Stiftung, de­ve­lop­ing me­thods to facilitate dialogue between academia and wider society. “I see it as a sort of journey to finding my future career as a social scientist,” says Sanja Tolj. She wouldn’t change a single thing about where her journey began: indeed, looking back, she’s certain she would study East European Studies all over again.

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Portrait photo: Stanislava Mlinar

“The international focus of the Elite Graduate Program in Advanced Materials and Processes was excellent. I found my classmates’ variety of cultural backgrounds to be deeply enriching.”

Stanislava Mlinar

Elite Graduate Program

Stanislava Mlinar moved to Germany from Serbia to take the Elite Graduate Program in Advanced Materials and Processes. At present, she is researching for her doctorate at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bayreuth’s Chair for Process Bio­tech­nology.

After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Bio­che­mi­cal En­gi­nee­ring at the Uni­versity of Novi Sad in Serbia, Stanislava Mlinar wanted to “try something different”, as she puts it, and take her Master’s degree abroad. She opted for Germany on the basis of the Elite Graduate Program in Advanced Materials and Processes, offered at FAU Erlangen-Nuremburg, which places emphasis on the practical application of engineering knowledge in material de­ve­lop­ment and process technology.

Plus points: academic variety, enriching interculturality and good connections

Stanislava, who arrived in Germany with a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), certainly made the right choice. “The Master’s program is a mixture of chemical process technology, material sciences and bio­tech­no­lo­gy. That was really interesting for me because it allowed me to learn so many new things.” While she found the work­load challenging, this was simply down to the number of different courses. She did enjoy the program’s international focus, which was reflected in the make-up of her cohort. “I found my classmates’ variety of cultural back­grounds to be deeply enriching.”

In Mlinar’s view, the connections with other institutions are another im­por­tant plus point. These links gave her the op­por­tu­ni­ty to carry out her Master’s project at the Fraun­hofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Bio­tech­no­lo­gy in Stuttgart, where she had already completed an internship as part of her studies.

Stanislava’s research is concentrated in the field of bioprocess engineering and the production of biogas. After completing her Master’s degree, Mlinar moved on to the University of Bayreuth to research at the Chair for Process Biotechnology. In her doctoral research, she is contributing to work on scaling the process of anaerobic fermentation (biogas production). Her work investigates the influence of fermenter volumes on process stability and efficacy. Stanislava Mlinar hopes that the results will provide the parameters required to characterize an industrial process at laboratory scale.

To the Elite Graduate Programs

Portrait photo: Daniel Sommerhoff

“The relationship between students and supervisors in the Doctorate Program was wonderful. The support of the Elite Network of Bavaria afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had. For example, I was able to go on a research stay abroad with a highly renowned researcher at Berkeley in the USA.”

Daniel Sommerhoff

International Doctorate Program

Daniel Sommerhoff graduated from the REASON Doctorate Program. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at LMU Munich’s Department of Mathe­ma­tics.

In his doctoral thesis, completed during his time on the REASON Inter­na­ti­o­nal Doctorate Program, Sommerhoff worked on an issue that has greater practical relevance than it may to have at first glance: mathematical ar­gu­men­tation. “In mathe­ma­tics, statements are proven on a logical level; the social sciences, on the other hand, argue cases on the basis of empirical data. Mathematical argumentation and proof represents a large proportion of mathe­ma­ti­cal study,” says Sommer­hoff. And yet, many students fail their first semester. “Mathematical argumentation is seen as a key cause of this.”

So what separates successful students from the ones that fall at the first hurdle? Sommerhoff’s doctoral thesis looked into this very issue. “At the back of my mind, I wanted to develop instruments that could help students who struggle.”

Before embarking on his doctorate, Sommerhoff had previously studied to become a mathematics and physics teacher, completing a diploma in mathematics at the same time. “The Doctorate Program was ideal for me because it connected the topic of argumentation, which particularly interests me, with interdisciplinary work and the aspect of teaching and learning.” REASON – Scientific Reasoning and Argumentation is a Doctorate Program that examines the topic from a range of specialist per­spec­tives. Sommerhoff’s research topic lies at the interface between mathematics, didactics and psychology.

Interdisciplinary and international experiences

As well as the “wonderful relationship between students and supervisors”, the program offered him various other benefits. “The Doctorate Program afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had. For example, I was able to undertake a research stay abroad with a highly renowned re­searcher at Berkeley in the USA.” For several months, he carried out re­search with Berkeley Professor Alan Schoen­feldt, a pioneer in the field of mathematical problem-solving and argumentation. Sommerhoff re­mem­bers one congress as being particular successful; it was organized together with the Evidence-Based Economics Doctorate Program at LMU Munich, which is also part of the Elite Network of Bavaria. “It was deeply enriching to move beyond the confines of my own program.”

Since 2017, Sommerhoff has worked as head of the Student Office of the Department of Mathematics at LMU Munich. The mathematician has stayed true to his field of research. “In my work, it has become clear that mathe­ma­ti­cal argumentation can be very useful in certain areas. In the short-term, how­ever, that hasn’t helped all students to the same degree. That’s why I’m now hoping to study the effects more closely and over a longer period.”The question of how mathematics can be conveyed is important to him. “Mathe­ma­tical argu­men­ta­tion really begins at school,” says Sommerhoff, who pre­viously taught at a Gymnasium. “If we could apply solutions at that stage, it would ease the transition to university.”

To the International Doctorate Programs

Portrait photo: Jonathan Bauer

“Bavaria promotes science and research at the highest level. Bavaria is not only characterized by its openness and internationality but also by an awareness of its own strengths and traditions. I’m pleased that the program has allowed me to contribute to that.”

Jonathan Bauer

Junior Research Group

Jonathan Bauer is Head of a Junior Research Group at the University of Regensburg’s Institute of Inorganic Chemistry. He first joined the Elite Network of Bavaria at the beginning of his main studies, when he was awarded a Max Weber scholarship.

Jonathan Bauer has long been part of the Elite Network. After taking the Abitur and leaving school, he started a Chemistry degree at the University of Würzburg and was accepted onto the Max Weber Program. Looking back on this period, the most formative event, he says, was a Noble Lau­re­ate Meet­ing in Lindau, which Elite Network members could apply to attend. “For any junior researcher, being able to meet scientists at the very pinnacle of their discipline – and talk to them freely – is a powerful experience. The chance to exchange views with colleagues was also highly valuable. I was still a doctoral researcher back then, standing at a crossroads and won­de­ring whether to stay in the university system or move into the private sector. The Nobel Laureate Meeting gave me the push I needed to stay in academia. I told myself: that’s what I’m going to do.”

After the Nobel Laureate Meeting, Jonathan Bauer was so motivated that, at a conference in Israel shortly after the meeting, he paved the way for his next academic position after his doctorate. In November 2014, Jonathan Bauer received a Feodor Lynen scholarship from the Alexander von Hum­boldt Foundation and started postdoctoral research under Professor David Milstein at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. While there, he conducted research into the development of new catalytic processes for resource-conserving chemical reactions.

Discovering the secrets of chemistry while pursuing other interests

During this time, Jonathan Bauer put on hold the second degree he had started in 2011 – a distance-learning Master’s in European Modernity through the Fernuniversität Hagen. “When you’re studying in the natural sciences, the act of studying is very fulfilling in itself. However, the social sciences – literature, history, music – have always interested me,” says Jonathan Bauer, who studied at a musical Gymnasium. “Maybe that’s also why I decided to study Chemistry. To me, it always seemed to harbour some kind of secret that I wanted to uncover.”

Jonathan Bauer has been Head of a Junior Research Group at the Uni­versity of Regensburg’s Institute of Inorganic Chemistry since February 2018. The Elite Network of Bavaria uses the Junior Research Group format to promote early career researchers after their doctoral studies. “It is one of the best support programs in Germany for this stage in an academic career,” says Bauer.

Ensuring safe and sustainable chemical processes

Bauer’s research focus is on developing new, fundamental concepts that would enable raw materials to be used in a more resource-efficient manner. “My aim is to find an alternative to noble metals, which are in very limited supply on earth. It would be based on a ubiquitous element with cha­rac­te­ristics we can exploit: silicone.” The second most common element in the earth’s crust, silicone appears in rock form. “With the help of a mole­cular system based on silicone, I hope to develop a process that allows important chemical reactions to take place in an environmentally friendly manner – for example, where the only by-product is hydrogen, which can then be used for other purposes.”

It’s fair to say, then, that Jonathan Bauer’s decision to stay in science and academia has paid off. “Everything has gone very well so far. Of course, you sometimes wonder what the future might hold in store. Ultimately, though, I’m optimistic.”

To the Junior Research Groups