Growing Up in Academia with Julia Fischer
What is it to be a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Growing Up in Academia is a conversation series with academics at different levels of their career focusing on the sometimes short, sometimes long and winding roads behind the “official CV”.
Each event features an open conversation (interview) with a different faculty member, representing the broad spectrum of academic life. We will cover topics such as dealing with expectations (your own and others’), the role of luck/coincidence in scientific discovery, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and conflicts with advisors. Join us for a conversation about the human factors that universally inform the profession, but that too often remain unspoken. These events will be hosted and presented by Lucia Melloni (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics).
On Monday, June 13, 6 p.m. CET, Growing Up in Academia features Julia Fischer, Professor for Primate Cognition, Georg-August-University of Göttingen and Head of the Cognitive Ethology Lab at the German Primate Center in Göttingen.
You can register for the event by using this link.
The Official CV
Julia Fischer is a biologist who studies nonhuman primates’ cognition, communication, and social behaviour. She obtained her PhD from the Free University Berlin in 1996. After postdoctoral positions at the University of Pennsylvania with Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney, and at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig with Mike Tomasello, she was offered a joint appointment as professor for Primate Cognition at the University of Göttingen and as head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory the German Primate Center in 2004. She established the field site Simenti in Senegal with her team, where she studies Guinea baboons in the wild to better understand the social evolution in nonhuman primates. She currently leads the Leibniz ScienceCampus Primate Cognition and the German Research Foundation (DFG) research training group “Understanding Social Relationships” and has attracted >10 M € in research funds. She has served on several panels and committees, including the Senate of the German Research Foundation, and was a member and chair of a European Research Council (ERC) selection panel (2007-2014). Fischer is vice president of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science, a member of the Göttingen Academy of Science, and serves on the Biotopia (Bavaria’s Natural History Museum) Brain Trust. In 2013, she received the Grüter-Prize for Science Communication.
The Unofficial CV
When I was a kid, one of my favourite books featured the works of Galileo Galilei, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Luigi Galvani, and others. I found the idea of probing the natural world experimentally fascinating. But then other things got in the way – a relatively bookish school, my love for literature, the movies, travel. So, after meandering around for a bit, I enrolled in the study of biology at the Free University in Berlin. In the very first week, I bumped into fellow student Roger Mundry. He invited me to go birding (at that time, I could not tell a blackbird from a starling), and we began talking statistics, a conversation that has never really stopped. His uncle had a sailing boat, and we sailed to Iceland and Norway. Initially, I saw myself as a lab person, but on these outings, I realized that I loved the wilderness. So, I settled on behavioural biology, focusing on primate communication and cognition. This topic covered so many of the issues I found interesting, from brains to language and evolution – and it allowed me to hang around wild animals.
During my PhD, still at the Free University of Berlin, I had no clue how to push for a career in science. There were no “soft-skill” or methods courses, and there was no mentoring or career advice. I could not believe my luck when I received an offer from Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney, the two researchers in my field that I admired the most. Soon after, I found myself in a tent in the Okavango delta for 18 months, studying a troop of chacma baboons.
Then, after a subsequent year in Philadelphia, I moved to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. The MPI was like a bee-hive, buzzing with people studying chimps and genes and languages. At that time, and despite my enthusiasm for research, I began to entertain the idea that my scientific trajectory might end here. But the tide turned, and I was elected into Die Junge Akademie (Young Academy), we published a paper in Science that attracted huge attention, and I received an offer from Göttingen for a bridge professorship between the German Primate Center and the University of Göttingen.
I have always felt extremely fortunate to have landed this position. It allowed me to establish a field site in Senegal, where we study a different species of baboon, the Guinea baboon. We hit a goldmine with this species. The Guinea baboons differ in many ways from other baboon species, raising fundamental questions about primate social evolution. In addition to research and teaching, I try to be a good scientific citizen. Among other things, I put a lot of energy into bringing people from different disciplines at the Göttingen Campus together to create our very own interdisciplinary research network. For my group, I always wanted it to be a “friendly lab”, where people speak their minds and enjoy working together. I, for one, am grateful and proud to work with such marvellous students and colleagues.
The event will be held on Zoom. Pleaso note the Data Protection Information Regarding Zoom Webinars.