DAAD Research Ambassadors are scholars at Canadian universities who have conducted advanced long-term research projects in Germany and are interested in promoting research in Germany at their home institutions and among their peers and students.

Dr. Julia Lalande, DAAD Research Ambassador, York University (Toronto, Canada)

In recent months, DAAD Canada has been interviewing these scholars in an effort to raise their profiles, both as scholars and on our behalf. The next in this series focuses on Dr. Julia Lalande, a DAAD Research Ambassador since 2019 and Manager, High Hazards Uni, Ministry of Labour, Training & Skills Development, Toronto.

If you are a faculty member at a Canadian university interested in contacting Julia Lalande with your questions about researching in Germany, he can be reached by email at: jlalande@yorku.ca.

DAAD Canada: Can you please tell us about your current position at York University?

Julia Lalande: I am with an organization called “Making the Shift”, a social innovation lab  with a mandate to contribute to the transformation of how we respond to youth homelessness through research and knowledge mobilization specific to youth homelessness prevention and housing stabilization. We want to support governments, communities, and service providers to make the shift from managing the crisis of youth homelessness, to a focus on preventing and enabling sustainable exits from homelessness.

The project has been around for about a year now and it has two Principal Investigators, Dr. Stephen Gaetz, the Scientific Director, and Ms. Melanie Redman, the Partnership and Implementation Director. I am the Managing Director and my role is to operationalize their vision.

“Making The Shift” is a really interesting project because while it’s based primarily here at the university and funded by the Tri-Councils, so NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR, it is also incorporated as a not-for-profit. So we’re straddling two worlds by being a not-for-profit and being a more traditional university-based institution.

DAAD Canada: Your path to this position has been an interesting one. Can you give us an overview of what led you to where you are now?

JL: I have a PhD in History and my dissertation was a comparative study of Ukrainian migration to Canada and Germany between 1945 and 1973. I did that degree at the University of Hamburg, but it involved extensive archival research here in Canada. And I actually did my Master’s degree here at York University, again focusing on Ukrainian migration to Canada. So I have a Canadian MA and a German PhD and have done research in both countries.

After my PhD, I worked for a time at the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies at York University before I found full-time employment as a Research Officer with the Faculty of Education, also at York. I was there for approximately four years and that role made use of the research skills I’d developed in my doctoral studies to help promote a culture of research funding at the Faculty and support the scholars there in their funding applications.

Then about ten years ago, I switched from the university into the Ontario public service where I worked in different capacities, at different Ministries including Education, Aboriginal Affairs and the Ministry of Labour where I worked on its Poverty Reduction Strategy. My work in all these Ministries was focused on knowledge-based decision-making, knowledge mobilization, so bridging the divides between policy, research and practice. And in a way, those experiences have led me back full circle to York University and my current position.

DAAD Canada: Given your experiences in the academy in both Canada and Germany, I wonder whether you have any observations on difference in the academic cultures in the two countries?

JL:  I think that there are a lot of similarities between the two countries, particularly in the way Higher Education is structured.

In terms of differences, my experience has been that research in Canada tends to be more collaborative, there is a lot of co-production, but I have to admit that I haven’t been in a German research setting for a number of years now. But that collaborative approach is something that I became much more aware of here in Canada.

DAAD Canada: What opportunities and challenges does researching in Germany present for international scholars?

JL: I think that challenge that most people think of right off the bat is that of language. The impression is certainly widespread that one needs to have German language to work there. People just aren’t aware of the full extent to which one can research and work in English in Germany. English is a very widely used language in German academia and that’s not particularly well known here.

I would encourage anyone interested in working or researching in Germany to learn the language. Obviously it is widely used and even if your German isn’t strong enough to allow you to do primary research in the language, you’ll find there are many applications for even a limited knowledge.

It’s hard to over-emphasize the standing research activities have in Germany. It’s a highly-valued activity and very well funded as a result. What many might not know is that Germans are strongly encouraged to travel and study abroad and that interest in “the international” extends to an interest in visiting scholars from abroad, so faculty, researchers or students are typically welcomed with open arms. Germans are often very interested in making those connections, so scholars who travel to the country are really warmly welcomed, that has certainly been something I have seen there over and over again.

DAAD Canada: When you were in your Research Officer role, did you have any advice for faculty looking to build connections with German partners?

JL: Yes, certainly. The first thing I emphasize is making those personal connections with someone in your field at a German university. That can often involve reaching out cold, and while this can be intimidating at times, it really pays off. In my experience, the German scholars are typically helpful and forthcoming.

My advice is also to understand the research landscape you’re trying to get into, that is, try to identify the gaps there and where you might fit in. It’s important to try and identify specific areas of possible collaboration that you can take to those German partners, so that your ask is a concrete one and not just a very general inquiry.

One of the tools that can be helpful in this process is the GERiT website, a database of nearly 30,000 German research institutions which can be searched by field, keyword and location. Using this tool, a scholar can often identify specific sites where their research questions are being addressed so that can be very helpful.

So building that network, making those connections involves doing a bit of digging, but my experience is that this effort really pays off in the end.

DAAD Canada: Why did you want to become a Research Ambassador?

JL: I first came to Canada from Germany just over twenty years ago on a DAAD scholarship, and the opportunity to come and live and study here really changed my life. Those experiences left a profound impression on my academic career and my personal life and I would like to help people understand how taking advantage of the many opportunities that exist to study or research abroad can really help shape their lives in very positive ways. I benefited tremendously from the support that I received through the DAAD and I would like to give back on the one hand and if I can help promote research in Germany and the programs that exist to support this, then I am really happy to do so.