Globetrotter with a social vision: Sisi Sung teaches and conducts research at the University of Erfurt

A traffic-calmed city center, people sitting in the sun and reading, no rushing crowds. Erfurt is a contrast for Sisi Sung. The Chinese economist grew up in Hong Kong and lived for ten years in big cities like Beijing and Seattle. She came to the Thuringian capital for the first time on a business trip. And as soon as she stepped out of the train station, she knew, „This is where I want to stay for a while.“ Today, she lives and works in Erfurt: at the university’s Max Weber College, she is researching career obstacles for women in large companies as part of her dissertation. She also teaches at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy and supports the university’s internationalization through committee work. „WortMelder“ spoke with her about her research and life in Erfurt.

Ms. Sung, Erfurt is so very different from the cities you’ve lived in so far….

After traveling to and studying in more than 30 countries, I felt the charm of Erfurt being old in pace, modern in facilities. I was more astonished by the many bookstores in the city and people reading books in open spaces. I knew I wanted to live and work on my doctoral project here, so I did not make any second choice. When navigating my way to Erfurt, I was fascinated by the University of Erfurt’s history as the oldest university in Germany, and I wondered how study life would be in the university.

And then you must have quickly come across the Max Weber College?

As an economist, Max-Weber-Kolleg is a perfect accommodation for my doctoral project. Its international and interdisciplinary structure is very innovative. It is a unique platform to gain global experience and intellectual inspirations from interactions with a wide variety of renowned social scientists and outstanding young researchers. With my goal of promoting diversity and equality through cross-cultural and intersectional collaboration, Max-Weber-Kolleg is a perfect fit.

So you do research on diversity and equality. What exactly are you investigating?

I am always interested in fostering diversity and equality. Having men and women working together in parity can have many benefits, especially economically. For example, with both men and women working, the economy grows in size, and each individual’s income in society can improve. At a company level, more women on the board or in the executive team can generate a better profit. Ultimately, they help to achieve economic growth. So my research basically aims to locate the drivers for diversity and equality and navigate a path to economic development.

Working on the topic can be difficult. Although the economic benefits, it remains a fact that more efforts are required to achieve diversity and equality. Given the challenge to attain diversity and equality, studying them can be a demanding task. Besides, the issues can be so prevalent and complicated that it can be hard to thoroughly examine with the scope of my doctoral project.

How did you get involved in this topic?

I came from a typical Chinese family. I am thankful that they often emphasize the importance of social responsibility. They sent me to the oldest girls‘ school in Hong Kong. The school was created to offer girls equal education opportunities as boys because before that, girls had no access to education in Hong Kong. Reflecting back on the six years, it was a life-changing experience and perhaps the earliest motivation that has shaped my determination to strive for diversity and equality in the global community.

As an economist, I attended many international conferences, and for most of the time I found that the guest panels were mostly men. When I saw some discussions had no female speakers, the diversity issue was very trivial and striking. After visiting some of the world’s largest Chinese companies, such as Alibaba and Tencent, I observed that male senior managers often dominated the meetings. I became more curious about where the women were. When I sat in a guest lecture by Christine Lagarde, she mentioned that „if Lehman Brothers was Lehman Brothers and Sister, things would be different.“. It immediately brought me back to the exact date in 2008 when I was sitting in a classroom surrounded by male students. My undergraduate alma mater, Tsinghua University, has been one of the most prestigious science and engineering universities in China, so it seemed not surprising to be one of the fewer female students. Her words reminded me of the experiences, and I immediately knew that I wanted to explore more about diversity and equality.

What contribution do you want your study to make to society?

One primary motivation, which is also my ambition, is to connect academic research with practice. My interest in the topic stemmed from past experiences, so I hope that my academic work can be applied to solve real-life problems. Therefore, I am eager to share my experiences and contribute my expertise to the development of our community. After completing my doctoral project, I would like to provide the findings and help leaders overcome inequality and achieve diversity. I would like to push for collaboration among scholars, organizational leaders, and policymakers to cultivate a path towards diversity and equality in the global community. I believe that diversity and equality can make policy and decisions more effective, less biased, and making people live better.

Now, you had high expectations for your time studying in Erfurt and at MWK. Have they been fulfilled?

Living and studying in Erfurt has been amazing. After two years of intellectual discussions with colleagues, lecturing at Willy Brandt School, and representing all Ph.D. students at University of Erfurt and Max-Weber-Kolleg, I definitely gained experience I could not have attained anywhere else. Max-Weber-Kolleg has provided ample formal and informal exchange opportunities, with a nice balance of academic and social events. The best part has always been the personal connections and conversations with prominent scientists and my fellow researchers from different backgrounds.

… Just like your students at the Brandt School. You just mentioned the lectures you give there. How does teaching enrich your research work?

I realize I haven’t stopped teaching since 2010. I have taught at Tsinghua University in China, the University of Washington in the U.S., and now at Willy Brandt School. Each has been an invaluable experience. I am lucky to have met so many intelligent students and benefited from the interactions. At Willy Brandt School, I teach two courses that involve cross-cultural collaboration and strategic management of public leadership. I am always inspired by the unique perspectives of my students. Discussions with them not only enrich the understanding of my own research work but also provide useful suggestions to improve my research.

For a year now, the pandemic has already overshadowed us. How are you coping with it far from home?

University and Max-Weber-Kolleg always offer the most they can in supporting my study and living in Erfurt. Especially during the pandemic, the directors and staff at Max-Weber-Kolleg have expressed their availability for assistance. My fellow colleagues and I also regularly organize a walk in the city to tackle the challenging lockdown. These supports are very helpful during the pandemic because you know there is always someone you can reach out to, even when you are 9,000 km away from home. During the pandemic, I will spend an hour or two on workout every day, which helps me stay to my work routine. I would say Erfurt is such a nice place for outdoor workout.

New issue of „Religion and urbanity online“

A new issue of the open access journal „Religion and urbanity online“ of the DFG-funded collaborative research group „Religion und Urbanity“ at the University of Erfurt has just been published. This time, the thematic focus is on the role of religion and the transformation of religion in processes of urbanisation.

Christopher Smith reflects about the development of a religious field in processes of binding elite groups to a densified settlement. Matthew Naglak interprets the rise of central Italian Gabii in terms of house societies. Claudia Moser explores the co-development of production and ritual spaces in early Italian sanctuaries. Onno van Nijf and Christina Williamson analyse the production of interurban networks through festivals in the Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean.

Groundbreaking work on the urban dimension of religious practices and reflections in precarious settlements is published as a second focus. Martin Fuchs follows Dalits in Dharavi (Mumbai) and Qudsiya Contractor presents empirical research on Muslims opting for an intensification of religion in Hindu-majority Mumbai.

More about the new issue

New publication: The limits of universal rule

The field of „comparative imperiology“, i.e. the comparative study of empires, is both relatively old and very new. It was inaugurated by S.N. Eisenstadt in a pioneering study published almost 60 years ago (1963). In the 21. century, however, it has become one of the fastest growing fields of historical research worldwide. In a collaborative effort, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Free University of Berlin and the University of Erfurt, now joined by the University of Munich, are pursuing a project funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that provides a systematic look at empires.

It elaborates on problems that imperial political structures have faced around the world: How did empires in different parts of the world and in different periods address these problems?

The project is based on a series of thematic workshops bringing together scholars working on different empires. They cover the five major centres of civilisation in the Old World (East Asia, Europe, Inner Asia, the Middle East and South Asia) where imperial formations developed through interaction and cross-fertilisation. For each of these macro-regions, a distinction is made between the first wave of empire formation (mostly in the second half of the first millennium BC), the second wave (in the middle of the first millennium AD) and the third wave triggered by the formation of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century.

A first volume with research results has now been published by Cambridge University Press: The Limits of Universal Rule: Eurasian Empires Compared, edited by Yuri Pines, Michal Biran (Hebrew University) and Jörg Rüpke (Max Weber-Kolleg, University of Erfurt). Based on a conference held in Erfurt and Eisenach in 2015, it examines the factors that facilitated the expansion and contraction of Eurasian empires: from ideology to ecology, from economic and military considerations to the changing composition of imperial elites.

More information about the publication

Call for application: PhD Position (m/f/d)

Max-Weber-Kolleg – at the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) Transregio 294 “The Structural Transformation of Property”

Pay category E 13 TV-L (65 %)

At the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) Transregio 294 “The Structural Transformation of Property”, which is hosted at the Universities of Jena and Erfurt, the following academic research position is advertised at the University of Erfurt, part of the project JRT02 “Clash or Convergence of Capitalism: Property Conflicts over Chinese Direct Investment in Germany and the EU“ (Project leader: PD Dr. Stefan Schmalz). The part-time position (26 hours per week) is available as soon as possible.

1 PhD Position (m/f/d)
(Pay category E 13 TV-L; 65 %)

Area of Responsibility

The project aims to analyze the expansion of Chinese corporations in the EU and Germany, in particular the conflicts arising from Chinese direct investment and the political responses to takeovers and increasing competition. The successful applicant will:

  • Participate in the research tasks as well as the preparation and realization of events of the interdisciplinary Collaborative Research Centre „The Structural Change of Property“
  • work on a PhD project on the internationalization of Chinese companies and Chinese direct investment in the EU and Germany
  • create a data set with Chinese company data on the internationalization of Chinese firms, thereby analyzing corporate networks using tools for social network analysis, from findings the researcher will prepare high quality publications along with the team
  • participate in an international research collaboration (primarily with Naná de Graaf, VU Amsterdam)

Please, find the complete call here.

Call for application: Scientific employee

Max-Weber-Kolleg – in the scope of the DFG-Kollegforschungsgruppe „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations“

Pay category 13 TV-L (100 %)

Am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt ist – im Rahmen der DFG-Kollegforschungsgruppe „Religion und Urbanität: wechselseitige Formierungen“ – zum nächstmöglichen Zeitpunkt folgende Stelle im Umfang von 40 Wochenstunden zu besetzen: Wissenschaftliche*r Mitarbeiter*in

Zur Ausschreibung geht’s hier.

University of Erfurt awards internationalisation prize again

The internationalisation of teaching, research and administration is a task that all universities must face today. However, this is not a process that runs on its own, but requires committed actors. The University of Erfurt has therefore announced a prize for international commitment for the second time in 2020/21. A total of six projects applied. The winners were announced today.

The first prize, endowed with 3000 euros, goes to the Master’s programme „Global Communication: Politics and Society“. The programme, which was established in 2018, makes a significant contribution to the internationalisation of the University of Erfurt through its content-related focus on media systems and communication cultures in international comparison, but also in particular through English as the language of instruction. Now in its third year since re-accreditation, the programme has 40 German and 50 international students practising global learning and understanding in formal university and informal settings. The demand is enormous; in each of the last two years there were almost 300 applicants, from whom the most suitable candidates are selected in an elaborate selection process. The students of the degree programme at the University of Erfurt are correspondingly motivated and committed. They participate in university groups and the student council, push processes, network and are visible everywhere. For example, the DAAD prize winner 2020, Dilara Ekinci from Turkey, also came from the Global Communication programme. Students of the programme wrote a paper on communication and racism prevention in Thuringia, which attracted a lot of attention from the state government. To promote the international mobility of students, the programme also maintains numerous exchange partnerships with foreign universities, works with institutions in Germany and abroad to arrange internships and offers guest lectures by international academics. And: the first international students have meanwhile embarked on the fast-track programme for doctoral studies. All this was reason enough for the jury to award the first prize to the Master’s programme.

Second prize this time goes to the „Summer Program in Communications Erfurt“ (SPICE) of the Department of Communication Studies under the direction of Prof. Dr. Patrick Rössler. The second prize is endowed with 2000 euros. In the summer programme, which has been running since 2006, around 200 students from the USA have so far spent three months studying at the University of Erfurt and 200 Erfurt students have completed seminars on communication science topics according to international standards and in English. An accompanying cultural programme with excursions provides the American students with knowledge of the country. The fact that the programme takes place in the summer months meets the trend of American students towards short-term mobility. Partners are the University of West Virginia, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma, which regularly send lecturers to Erfurt. In addition, the Erfurt participants gain their first experience of the Anglo-American study system, and quite a few later decide to spend a semester abroad in the USA. There are numerous synergy effects between the universities, the participating students and other activities, so that the programme intensifies the cooperation of the University of Erfurt with universities in the USA in an outstanding way, according to the jury’s statement.

The collegiate research group „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations“ (KFG) at the Max Weber College of the University of Erfurt with its spokesperson Prof. Dr. Susanne Rau receives the 3rd prize and thus 1000 euros. Since 2018, the KFG has been bringing together international and Erfurt researchers and young academics from different disciplinary contexts who are working on a common topic related to the mutual shaping of cities and religions. By 2020, 17 fellows from abroad had already conducted research at the University of Erfurt and were also active in teaching. Secondly, numerous digital cooperation and internationalisation formats such as blogs, newsletters and digital workshops had already been developed before the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic, so that the pandemic did not lead to any interruption of the collaborations. The jury also emphasised that KFG cooperates with numerous universities and research institutions abroad, which are of great importance as partners for conferences and publications or as hosts for young scientists.