Sven is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor in the US) at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He has an extremely international career between Europe, Australia and the US. During his sabbatical in 2014 Sven was offered a Visiting Professor position at Griffith University in Brisbane, which has led to his BIG decision to relocate to Australia.
What advice can you give to scholars considering moving country to do research?
Moving countries, or even continents, is a massive step. You have to be willing to take risks and be culturally flexible, adaptive, and open-minded. I would recommend that you get to know your destination before you make your decision. In my situation, I did not know anything about New Orleans but this was only visiting position. On the other hand, I got to know Brisbane for three months which made my decision much easier.
What attracted you the most to Australia before you made the move in 2015?
I had visited Australia a few times for conferences. This really influenced my decision to spend part of my sabbatical “Down Under” from the PLU in Washington State to experience the Australian way of life. But I never thought about moving. After I was offered a position at QUT in Brisbane, I considered the potential research opportunities to switch from a small private university to a very large institution. Also, even though this sounds strange, the move across the ocean seemed ‘easier’ for the fact that I already knew the city, I had established a circle of friends, and I knew the faculty.
What would you recommend to someone applying for a tenure position in Australia?
First, this depends very much on where you are moving from because you may or may not experience a cultural shock with regards to the type of bureaucracy. Compared to the US, Australian universities feel more like corporate entities with multiple layers of hierarchies. Be prepared to give up your autonomy. Even slightest changes to your syllabus have to get approval within the department or faculty level. Second, the research funding process is more complex. You have to learn to maneuver the application process for national research grants. And third, understand your workload model. I used to joke at PLU about the weight of teaching, research and service as 40, 40, 40. It is an exaggeration, but it is a simple way to illustrate your work. In Australia, the workload model seems to be some sort of strange science. I still shake my head when I go through our spreadsheets to fill out my annual workload.
How does it work to get access to research funding?
Research funding is very complex. There are limited opportunities for internal funding. But in general, the expectation is that you obtain external research grants and commercial funding. We have multiple categories of research funding schemes. And you quickly learn the terms ARC (Australian Research Council), CRC (Cooperative Research Centers), and EOI (referring to internal expression of interest). It is a very competitive process.
How is your teaching load?
Teaching is very different from what I was used to in the US. At PLU I taught very small classes where students had the expectation that you know their first names after few weeks into the semester. In Australia I only teach the lecture and I have to hire tutors who teach the seminars. Since there is poor attendance in the lectures you barely get to know your students. But on the plus side, your tutors have to do all the grading of your assignments 😀
What is the Australian academic community like?
The academic community is very welcoming and supportive. I have been a regular attendant at the ANZMAC conference. Compared to the US, Australia has only a small number of universities, so it is easier to connect with other academics.
What would you say is the three main differences between the North-American, European (Swiss/German), and Australian academic systems?
HA, great question. Yes, I have noticed some big differences…. What comes to your mind when you think of attendance? Do you take attendance? Is attendance mandatory at your school? What policies do you have in your syllabus for students missing classes? I think student attendance has been my biggest cultural epiphany over the years. As a student in Germany I was accustomed to ‘no’ attendance policies. And I had a culture shock as a student in the US where attendance was suddenly required. Teaching for a decade in the US, I grew more and more accustomed to this practice, which I felt as ‘over-the-top-handholding’ of adults. So, now imagine my surprise, and a different cultural shock, when you realize there is ‘no’ attendance requirements in Australia (I can’t speak for every school). You are lucky if you start your semester with 50-75% attendance; and at the end of the semester you are down to anything from 10-40%. Yes, shocking, isn’t it?! My biggest lesson learned: do not take this personal. This is just a systemic paradox (laugh).
What do the people you’ve met abroad want to know the most about you?
One question is how I get funding to attend multiple conferences per year. I wish this would be the case. I am very passionate about traveling and networking so I am willing to self-fund most of my conferences.
What is the best part of being an international scholar?
The best part … you earn a lot of frequent flier miles – just joking. Personally, I feel grateful to have lived at so many different places and to make friends around the world.
…and the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is to establish a new circle of friends. And this becomes harder the older you get. And be prepared for the unexpected … I got caught up with Hurricane Katrina and had to evacuate New Orleans for several months and develop online classes from scratch in order to keep my job.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? Will you stay in Australia forever?
I have not thought that far ahead yet. Given the recent pandemic, you re-focus on the now and the people close to you. I look forward to the teme when we can travel freely again.
You are a SERVSIG/QUIS/Frontiers conference aficionado for almost 20 years, which one was the best for you?
OMG, that long already?! This is a tough question. I think three conferences stand out: (1) the 2019 Frontiers conference in Singapore – a HUGE shoutout to Professor Jochen Wirtz; (2) the 2010 SERVSIG conference in Porto; and (3) the 2002 Frontiers conference in Maastricht.
Senior Lecturer, School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations of QUT School of Business, Brisbane, Australia.