Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio
Dr. Lars Klein has been part of the Euroculture staff since 2008. He is currently the Euroculture course-coordinator in Göttingen and his academic interests lie in (European) identity, belonging and participation, and foreign policy, amongst others. By participating in his teaching modules “Introduction to Euroculture”, “Cultural Construction of Europe” and “Europe in a Global Context”, Euroculture students in Göttingen have the opportunity to learn more about the aforementioned research fields. You can contact Lars via the following email: email@example.com.
Euroculturer Magazine ‘EM): What were your expectations when you started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?
Lars Klein (LK): I started with Euroculture in April 2008. Some of my Ph.D. colleagues in the Graduate Programme (“DFG-Graduiertenkolleg”) I had pursued prior to that had done Euroculture while it was still a 60 ECTS programme, some of the academic staff were also contributing to Euroculture then. So I had an idea of what to expect, but Euroculture in Göttingen was in a transition at that time. Our Director, Martin Tamcke, had just taken over a few months earlier and started a completely new team with me and Marc Arwed Rutke, our coordinator. Having said that, I never would have expected to enter a job that would take on such a big part of my life and which I would still be working in 13 years later. And I certainly would not have imagined that the daily work with students and colleagues in the Consortium would be such a lively, fruitful and diverse endeavour.
EM: What is your academic background and can you tell us about your previous job experience before starting to work for Euroculture?
LK: I have always been interested in how we perceive ourselves and others, how we communicate with each other and how, if the communication fails, we resolve conflicts. That meant for me to deal with topics that appear to be diverse at first sight, such as (European) identity, belonging and participation; generations; foreign policy and war as well as war media reporting.
While it is rather easy to identify some keywords here, it is more difficult to give an answer to the question of what my academic background is in terms of disciplines. I hold a Magister Artium in North American Studies and Philosophy, and a Ph.D. in Contemporary History. North American Studies is an interdisciplinary regional programme for which one had to choose two majors next to the basic courses then. Mine were History and Literature.
For a long time, I would have answered the question for my disciplinary background saying I was from North American Studies. I also taught my first seminar at the Kennedy-Institute at FU Berlin in 2003. That, like my thesis, was looking at conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s and early 2000s from a transatlantic perspective. For a project at the TU Braunschweig, co-financed by the German Foundation for Peace Research, I then also looked into wars in the Middle East and deepened that research with my PhD-thesis on war reporting from the Vietnam War to Iraq. For some time then, I saw myself in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies.
With the Cultural History-informed approach that was underlying the project in Braunschweig and the interdisciplinary work in my Ph.D. programme “Generation History” in Göttingen, I have retained a rather strong theoretical bias and I went further in that direction with my Post-Doc research, which was at the crossroads of Sociology and Political Theory.
EM: Can you tell us about the job-searching path you went through before choosing and being selected for this job position?
LK: I had considered different options back then, also thought of trying to get a job with a think tank. In any case, I had wanted to stay in the academic field in the largest sense. When my scholarship was about to end, things luckily went rather quickly. I had a job talk at a university in Bavaria in American Studies one day and in Göttingen with Euroculture literally the other. It was during the final conference at my Ph.D. Programme that it was decided that I would end up with Euroculture. So I was lucky that it all went smoothly for me.
EM: Could you tell us how a normal workday looks like for you? How did the Covid-19 pandemic change that?
LK: My job description says that half of my work is devoted to teaching, another part to the supervision of IP and MA topics and yet another to the academic coordination of the programme. So this is what I do, I have my classes to teach and everything that comes with it. I supervise quite a few theses and coordinate the academic cooperation with the Departments that contribute to Euroculture in Göttingen as well as with the partner universities in the Consortium.
The pandemic changed my life in many ways. For one, I would usually commute to Göttingen at least three days a week, which has not been possible very often during this last year. Doing all the work remotely feels strange for me, for I always liked the direct exchange with colleagues and the meetings that come with the job. The same goes for teaching, obviously. I miss teaching on-site a lot.
EM: What are the main lessons you have learned and some challenges you have encountered since you started to work for Euroculture?
LK: One important thing I realized is that I enjoy the international setup of the programme immensely. I would not have expected that travelling, experiencing the other universities, meeting the colleagues and students and interacting with them would be something that I enjoyed so much. And that it would be that enriching. You can say that the programme’s approach works on me (I believe in a transcription one would add “laughs” here).
Having said that, if you are not managing a programme like ours it is very hard to get an idea of how difficult it can be to organize it. If it works well, cooperation comes naturally to the students at least and they do not have to deal with the nitty-gritty parts of a Consortium of twelve universities much. But the European multi-level system that Euroculture works in is complicated.
EM: Do you feel part of the Euroculture bubble or do you feel more like a general employee at the University where you are working at?
LK: I identify very much with both Euroculture and the University of Göttingen. This question, however, is a bit like the question of whether you feel more like a citizen of your home country or of Europe. In reality, as I hinted at with the previous question, these realms are interconnected, are defined by interaction and the attempts to somehow align them as good as possible. Euroculture is a system with its own self-understandings, rules and procedures, but it does not exist in a bubble. Its different actors and institutions provide the input and the framework.
What is true and what can be an issue, of course, is that Euroculture with its structure and approach is most appealing to people with an international outlook and a genuine interest in other people and other parts of the world. Finding a corrective here seems an important, but difficult task.
EM: Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?
LK: I luckily have no reason not to see myself still working in Euroculture in five years.
EM: Do you have any tips related to job-hunting for Euroculture students that will graduate soon?
LK: I believe as a Graduate of an interdisciplinary and international programme you have many possibilities for finding a good job. Can be in a lot of fields and functions. That has its good and bad sides, obviously. What seems important to me – and we emphasize that a lot in our classes – is to get a good idea of your profile: what are the competencies you acquired, the expertise you developed? What did you like and not like in terms of the different academic and professional tasks you worked on during your studies? So find out what you really want to concentrate on and find out where it can lead you to in terms of the next step in your career. And use the network you developed during your studies!
EM: Thank you very much for answering these questions! We value your contribution and believe it will be useful for prospective and current Euroculture students!
Picture Credits: Personal file