First-Person Report: Jonas Grethlein
After spending some time in Great Britian and in the United States of America Jonas Grethlein returned to Germany. Jonas Grethlein, born 1978, is a professor for Greek Literature at the University of Heidelberg. In our interview he talks about what motivates him and his experiences abroad.
Mr Grethlein, most recently you worked at the University of California - did you plan to return to Germany all along?
No, I definitely did not expect that I would come back that soon. To be honest, I had planned to get to know California a bit and then to decide whether to stay or to move to the East Coast. However, the offer of the chair at Heidelberg, which came as a surprise to me, was hard to turn down.
What made you decide to work at the University Heidelberg?
Not only does Heidelberg have a fascinating tradition in the humanities, but it also has a lot of great scholars in Classics and Oriental studies. Heidelberg is also a stimulating university town with a rich intellectual life and one of the most international universities in Germany. As much as I have enjoyed being part of an American department, I now enjoy the independence of a German professor. After living in Sothern California, I also indulge in the multi - facetted cultural life which state funding makes possible in Germany. And living in an Art nouveau apartment definitely makes a difference!
Aspects that I find hard to cope with are the high teaching load and the ridiculous administrative duties, but the grass is always greener on the other side...
You have worked at a number of universities - what is most important to you when it comes to scientific labor?
Reputation matters as do the facilities, particularly libraries. Intellectual stimulation is also of greatest importanty. While academic considerations come first, I also take into account the life style which a place makes possible.
How would you rate the system of higher education in Germany?
Speaking for the humanities, I think that the academic education is a whole lot better than what people tend to think. That being said, I am afraid that the present academic reforms will have a negative impact particularly on the freedom which students have enjoyed so far. And yet, given the long time that young people spend studying in Germany, it must still be a lot of fun...
What do you think are advantages foreign (junior) scientists have when teaching and/ or researching in Germany?
I think that any experience in a foreign system broadens one's horizon. I have learnt a lot from my stints in the UK and US. In the humanities, some Germans traditions, notably hermeneutics, may be particularly interesting to foreigners. The great number of interdisciplinary projects also distinguishes German humanities from other countries. As far as teaching is concerned, there are some specifically German forms such as the "seminar".
What is the focus of your research?
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My general interests are the historical interpretation of literary sources and the application of modern theories to ancient texts. I am particularly interested in narratology and the philosophy of history and how these two disciplines intersect with one another. I mostly work on archaic and classical Greek literature, especially epic poetry, tragedyand historiography.
Is there anything specific that characterizes your time at the University of California? What new insights will you bring back to Heidelberg?
I enjoyed the sun and, despite broken ribs and a whole in the head, I caught the surfing bug. My colleagues were terrific and I loved the openness of the students. Living in California has made me think about time and space along new lines, and I think, the Californian sun has made me more relaxed.
How does it help junior scientists to work for a certain amount of time in a foreign country?
As I have already said, living in a foreign country broadens the horizon and allows young scholars to get to know other academic traditions. I believe that the combination of different national traditions is one of the few ways to original and path-breaking scholarship. And living abroad is always fun, I already miss it!
At what point in time did you decide you wanted to work in science?
Since my father is a professor, I have been aware of the advantages of an academic career for a long time. As a student I was very enthusiastic about it, but after my Ph.D. I was a bit burnt out and tried something different. However, working for a consultant firm made me see the advantages of a life as scholar with new eyes, particularly the opportunity to tackle interesting questions in an exhaustive manner.
You are quite young and have already achieved a notable scientific career: in 2006 you were awarded the Hans-Maier-Leibnitz-Preis by the DFG, you were a DFG fellow at Harvard and conducted the Emmy-Nother-Nachwuchsgruppe in Freiburg. What is the secret of your success?
Besides a decent portion of good luck which is necessary for any academic career, I am indebted to my parents who have supported my intellectual interests from an early stage on without ever being pushy. I have also had great academic teachers. One thing that I can recommend is to pursue one's own interests without thinking too much about career options. If nowhere else, in scholarship this non-strategy pays off! And living abroad has been an immense stimulation!
academics.com :: August 2008