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. Thian Yew Gan, DAAD Research Ambassador, University of Alberta.

DAAD Canada is interviewing these scholars in an effort to raise their profiles, both as scholars and on our behalf. Today we turn our attention to Dr. Thian Yew Gan, a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alberta.

If you are a faculty member at a Canadian university interested in contacting Thian Yew Gan with your questions about researching in Germany, he can be reached by email at: tgan@ualberta.ca

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

Thian Yew Gan: Yes, I’m a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I’ve been here since 1993.

DAAD Canada: What are your research interests?

TYG: My research interests include hydrology, hydro-climatology, climatology, cryosphere, remote sensing of the environment and water resource management and planning.

DAAD Canada: What connections have you had with Germany as a scholar?

TYG: I have visited Germany a number of times, but the longest stay in 2006-07 when I spent my sabbatical as a Visiting Professor at The Technical University of Munich.

DAAD Canada: How did this connection come about?

TYG: In 2005, I was preparing for my sabbatical and I wanted to spend this abroad, so I wrote to a number of institutions to inquire about the possibility of coming as a Visiting Professor. One of these was the TU Munich and they were interested, so they applied to DAAD Germany’s Visiting Professorship program for assistance funding my position. This application was successful, so thanks to DAAD, and a contribution from the TU Munich, I was able to spend a year teaching and doing research there.

DAAD Canada: What it was like teaching at TUM? How did it differ from what you’ve experienced at U of A?

TYG: There were a couple of things. First, the class sizes were relatively small, certainly smaller than what I was used to here in Edmonton. Also, the students were very nice, they didn’t ask a lot of questions and would just do what was asked of them. Here in Canada, it’s more of a negotiation in terms of assignments and that sort of thing (laughs).

DAAD Canada: You taught in English, correct?

TYG: That’s right, my German is far from sufficient to teach with!

Dr. Gan and his family at Berlin's Brandenburg gate in 2006.

DAAD Canada: Did you go alone or did your family join you?

TYG: Our whole family went as our kids were quite young at the time.

DAAD Canada: What was the experience adjusting to the new language and culture like for them?

TYG: They really enjoyed it because we had a chance to travel in Germany and throughout Europe. That was a really good family time for us. We have many fond memories of experiencing the different cultures and architecture, seeing so many world famous landmarks. It was wonderful. But I think the most lasting memory for all us was driving on the German autobahn with our BMW.  We’ll never forget the speed!

DAAD Canada: Did your hosts at the TUM help you to settle in when you arrived?

TYG: They were really helpful in the search for accommodation, something that can be very tricky in the Munich area. They also helped us buying a good used car, appropriately enough a BMW! (laughs) Other than that, we were on our own, but that was no real problem.

DAAD Canada: How long have you been a DAAD Research Ambassador?

TYG: DAAD approached me to ask whether I would be interested in taking on this role in 2011 and I’ve been doing it ever since.

DAAD Canada: What do you in your role as a Research Ambassador at the U of A?

TYG: My main activity is a seminar I give for our students each year. Usually I get between 60 and 80 students attending that, so there is a good level of interest in learning about what Germany has to offer. Most of students don’t come with much of an impression about Germany, only a few have any real international experience, but they are often interested in both what opportunities Germany has to offer them academically and in what life is like over in Europe. Over the years, I know that my seminar has helped inspire a few students to go to Germany, but not as many as I would like! (laughs)

DAAD Canada: Why do you think going to Germany can be valuable for a student?

TYG: I think it can be very useful for them, an eye-opening experience really. To see how things are done in another culture helps people grow as individuals, and I’m not just talking about the differences in the academic setting, but also in everyday life. Those life experiences can really be transformative in a positive way, especially for young people.

Bavaria's iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, a favourite spot of Dr. Gan and his family.

DAAD Canada: Have you been able to maintain your connections with Germany?

TYG: Oh yes, I’ve been back a number of times since 2007, visiting a number of different institutions. In 2017, I taught a Summer School at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich, I’ve visited several of the Berlin-based universities and was a Visiting Scholar at the TU Dresden for several months as well, so my connections to the country remain strong. I’m already planning my next research stay, possibly at RWTH, Aachen.