Interview

"A major part of my decision to attend the GESS was my positive impression of the student-faculty relations and my expectations have been exceeded." Emily Meachon (CDSS)

GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

Interview with first-year PhD students Chiayi and Emily

Chiayi Yen from Taiwan and Emily Meachon from the USA are PhD students at the GESS since September 2017. They got to know each other upon arrival and share an apartment in a student house in Mannheim’s inner city. Chiayi studies Finance at the Center for Doctoral Studies in Business (CDSB) and Emily studies Psychology at the Center for Doctoral Studies in Social and Behavioral Sciences (CDSS).

 

GESS: How did you hear about the GESS and why did you choose to study here?

Emily: I heard about the GESS at a PhD fair in England during my Masters program. I chose to study here because I had a great impression of the faculty-student relations and that they value of strong mentorship in the GESS.

Chiayi: The first time that I heard about the GESS was at the European Education Fair in Taipei in 2015, two years before I started my PhD studies here in Mannheim. The representative of the University of Mannheim introduced the GESS program very well, which did not surprise me because all the institutions were there in order to market themselves. However, the representatives of other German universities finally convinced me of the great reputation of the GESS, when they also complimented it as the best Economics/Business School in Germany, which impressed me very much! And this nice impression made it first come to mind when I thought about continuing a postgraduate education in Germany. And in the end, the determinant factor that made me choose the GESS to start my academic career was the strong and persistent academic performance of their professors, which becomes valuable assets for PhD students to learn from or even co-work with.

 

GESS: There is a strong focus on quantitative methods. How exactly is this reflected in your program and how do the courses support you in your research skills?

Emily: The CDSS offers a number of methods courses that range in content from preparing research questions to navigating the publishing process, and everything in between. The variety of courses on data analysis are especially impressive and adaptive to the evolving techniques and software used in the social sciences. These courses support our development as researchers and their breadth gives us a competitive edge for future careers.   

Chiayi: I would say the quantitative training offered by the program is quite solid and useful. Take the Finance program as example: we have one-month intensive math camp before we take an advanced Microeconomics or Econometrics course later in the first semester. The math camp covers a wide range of mathematical concepts, from mathematical analysis to optimization, which is essential and prerequisite knowledge for understanding those abstract concepts in advanced courses like Microeconomics. In addition to course-taking, the quantitative training is also very helpful for research. For example, I found that I can better understand the mathematical proofs in theoretical Corporate Finance papers after the quantitative training.

 

GESS: How do you rate the interaction with the professors?

Emily: A major part of my decision to attend the GESS was my positive impression of the student-faculty relations and my expectations have been exceeded. The interactions with professors, from my field and beyond, are excellent. As an aspiring professor myself, I am grateful to have so many role models here, who go above and beyond to support and empower their students.

Chiayi: I am pretty satisfied with the interaction with professors in the GESS program. Professors are more than willing to answer our questions and very enthusiastic to discuss research ideas with students in class. In some courses, we are asked to do term papers, and therefore there will be more opportunities to interact with professors. I learned a lot from these instructive suggestions from professors when doing term papers. In addition, the way that most of my field courses are conducted is more or less like seminar classes, which means everyone, including professors and students, is able to share ideas when discussing papers. Furthermore, all the professors in my program are happy to share their ongoing research projects with us, and they also frequently ask about our progress in PhD studies and research.

 

GESS: What about your fellow PhD students, was it easy to make friends or get together as working groups?

Emily: My fellow PhD students within my field and outside of it have all been very welcoming, friendly and supportive. The students here have admirable scientific curiosity and a great passion for work, so it is easy to find friends and collaborators in the GESS.

Chiayi: I love my colleagues very much! They are talented, friendly, and open-minded. The backgrounds of our colleagues are quite diverse, from 8 countries around the world. Though there are cultural differences, it does not prevent us from being friends; we work and even hang out together very often. We scheduled a study group for advanced quantitative courses, figured out the questions that deserve discussion, and clarified them through collective intelligence. Given the fact that we work hard, we also play hard! My colleagues organize a lot of group events, such as going to parties together, seeing an opera/ice hockey game/ basketball game together, go hiking/sailing, and many other interesting events.

 

GESS: Do you also have the chance to exchange with doctoral candidates from advanced semesters or alumni of the GESS?

Emily: There are great opportunities to build a network among the members of the GESS at various ranks.

Chiayi: There are opportunities to interact with alumni. For example, the GESS Anniversary Symposium held last Autumn. In this event, many alumni were invited to share their experiences in both academics and industries.

 

GESS: The courses are taught in English, but apart from that in your daily life –  do you get along well with English only or did you manage to learn some German as well?

Emily: When I first arrived, I did not know any German so I had to use English all of the time. I have found it really impressive that this was possible – anywhere I went there was always someone who spoke English. Personally, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn German while in Germany for several years, so I began taking languages courses shortly after I arrived. Nowadays, I try to use German as much as possible around the city, and people are very helpful if asked about a word or phrase. 

Chiayi: It is true that you can still live very well if you only speak English, given the fact that Mannheim is a city full of international students. But if you know some German, it would be convenient for your daily life, for example, when you need to communicate with your landlord. And actually the University of Mannheim provides us with much language support, such as German classes offered by the Welcome Center and the language-learning reimbursement offered by the GESS. With these nice benefits, I started to learn A1-level German in my first winter vacation and continued to learn A2-level in the second semester. It is still hard for me, but it is very nice when I found I understand more and more words walking along the street, which makes me feel like part of the city.

 

GESS: What is your impression of Mannheim and its University so far? And what are you doing in your free time (sports, bars, culture etc.)?

Emily: I enjoy living here, there is always something to do and you can find anything you need in the city. I have enjoyed going out with friends, fitness classes with the university and Mannheim is very well connected to other parts of Europe, so I do some travelling in my free time as well.

Chiayi: Mannheim is a friendly city, especially for foreign students. Most people might not agree that Mannheim is a beautiful European city, but from my personal view, the prosperous student community is the best scenery in Mannheim. You can find almost every week that students organize a wide variety of events, and the student gyms offer free coaching and training for hundreds of sports. Besides, one of three National Theaters is located in Mannheim, which is also a nice place to go. Not to mention the bar culture, every year there is “Nachtwandel” festival held in Jungbusch, Mannheim which is a great event to participate if you are a beer-lover. Finally, Mannheim is close to Frankfurt airport and also an important node in the German railway network, which is very convenient to travel to everywhere.

 

GESS: Compared to your home country, what is different in Germany and what do you like most?

Emily: In the US, I was accustomed to needing a car to go anywhere, so I have enjoyed the accessibility by foot or public transportation here. One of my favorite things so far has been the ambiance in the winter in Germany, as the decorations for the holidays and the Christmas markets are far beyond what you see in the average US town. It definitely brightens the cold winter days.   

Chiayi: Though there are some cultural differences, I basically like both Taiwan and Germany. While the life in Taiwan is convenient due to 24-hour-run businesses, the fast pace and living pressure could exhaust people. And therefore I really like the way that Germans live with work-life balance. Here in Germany, people do work very hard but also care a lot about their leisure. This balance is something I learn and appreciate the most. Besides, compared to the high-context culture in Taiwan or many other east Asian countries, the way Germans communicate is more straightforward. This is actually quite efficient for communication, without the worries to decode other’s messages correctly.

 

GESS: Any funny or memorable story or observation you would like to share?

Chiayi: There is one time that I went to a bar, and a German sitting next to me told me: “Hey, you know that I learned Mandarin before, but now I can only remember three sentences that I learned first.” I then asked him what they were, and one of the responses surprised me a lot but actually shouldn’t because it was very “German.” He said: “one beer (一個啤酒),” which is never in my top-3 sentences when learning a new language. And then I realized how beer culture goes deeply into the blood of Germans!

 

Many thanks to Emily and Chiayi.

June 2018