President’s Report, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
Hobart, 20-22 November 2015
Over the last three years it has been an honour to serve the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows (AAvHF) as its President. With the other members of national executive, I value this opportunity to make a contribution to the Humboldtian family and, in so doing, to acknowledge with gratitude the generosity of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
This report will highlight significant Association matters since its previous biennial meeting in Sydney in 2013:
- Leichhardt Symposium
- Death of Dr George Bornemissza OAM
- Joint AAvHF – Royal Society of Victoria Symposium
- Update on the RAMP Project
- Gratitude to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
- Significant Achievements of Fellows
- Awards Committee
- 2015 Conference in Hobart
- Service of AAvHF Executive
In the week following the last AAvHF biennial meeting in Sydney, which occasion was also the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s only international colloquium in 2013, the University of Queensland hosted the Leichhardt Symposium in celebration of the 200th birthday of the German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. Focusing on Biodiversity and Conservation, the symposium on 23-24 October 2013 brought together researchers, students, decision-makers and the general public in these fields, with Australia and Germany at centre stage. In particular, scientific delegations from a number of German universities attended, including from the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich and the Humboldt-University in Berlin. With support from the Foundation and the Australian Embassy in Berlin, the symposium was designed to initiate a series of conferences on these central themes to be alternated between Australia and Germany. Humboldt Fellows Dr Judith Reinhard and Professor Peter Schenk from the University of Queensland played leading roles in planning and conducting the successful Leichhardt Symposium.
Death of Dr George Bornemissza OAM
Following a long illness Dr George Bornemissza OAM died on 10 April 2014 in Hobart. George was a long-standing member of the Australian Association and was awarded inaugural Distinguished Fellow status in 2011. He was an internationally-recognised entomologist and ecologist – his most famous work was on the Australian Dung Beetle Project at CSIRO’s Division of Entomology. On behalf of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, I offered condolences to Dr Bornemissza’s wife, Jo, and his family.
Joint AAvHF – Royal Society of Victoria Symposium
The major AAvHF event in 2014 was the joint symposium with the Royal Society of Victoria, entitled Celebration of German Contributions to Australian Science and Victorian Scientific Institutions – Past and Present. The symposium was first proposed during the 2012 visit to Melbourne of Professor Helmut Schwarz, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. A joint planning committee, which I chaired, was subsequently established and met regularly for over a year. On behalf of the committee Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson applied for and gained a Humboldt Kolleg grant to support the symposium.
The symposium’s success was due in no small part to the generous contributions of the planning committee and, in particular, months of dedicated work on the part of the Association’s Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson. On behalf of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, I express our sincere gratitude to Trevor and all the planning committee.
Update on the RAMP Project
In 2013 Scientific Ambassador for the Humboldt Foundation in Australia Associate Professor Kay Double was awarded a Humboldt Alumni Prize for Innovative Initiatives. The prize, valued at 25,000 Euros, supports a national mentoring scheme for early Australian career researchers. Entitled the Research Ambassador and Mentoring Program or RAMP, the program is an initiative of Kay and the past Director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Sydney, Dr Andreas Jäger. Alumni of Humboldt- and DAAD-funded schemes can enrol in RAMP either as:
- research ambassadors who disseminate information re opportunities for studying in Germany, current examples of co-operation, and the scholarship programs of the Humboldt Foundation and DAAD at public forums and in their institutions, or
- mentors who, bridging geographically dispersed Australian research institutions, seek to support young Australian scientists in defining their professional goals, by offering them non-partisan advice, potentially assistance in the preparation of resumes and applications, and appropriate contacts.
Annual gatherings of mentors and mentees have been arranged with the Humboldt Alumni Prize meeting travel and other expenses for these occasions – RAMP is holding its 2015 national meeting in Hobart immediately prior to the Association’s biennial colloquium. Award funding has also enabled the development of a website – ramp-australia.info – through which research ambassadors, mentors and mentees can register their interest in RAMP and be appropriately linked. Further, in 2015 prize money has employed a part-time RAMP coordinator Kerrie Thornton who, pleasingly, has been instrumental in increasing registered participants and mentoring pairs this year. The Association expresses its appreciation and congratulations to Kay on this valuable collaborative initiative with the DAAD and wishes it continued success.
Gratitude to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
It is particularly pleasing that Dr Katrin Amian from the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, who oversees the Australian and New Zealand “portfolio”, is joining us in Hobart for the colloquium. We ask her to convey our gratitude to the Foundation for its ongoing support of the Australian Humboldtians.
Over 500 Australians have received Humboldt Fellowships and Awards; Australian research has also benefitted from over 100 Feodor Lynen Fellowships to German researchers joining Australian research groups and a quarter of the latter have remained in Australia. We are truly indebted to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for promoting German-Australian research collaborations, including occasions like this biennial meeting which foster ongoing fellowship and cooperation. The AAvHF expresses its sincere thanks to the Foundation for the Humboldt Kolleg grant which has generously supported the Australian and New Zealand Associations’ meeting in Hobart.
In recognition of the significant support for Australian research by the German Government, the Association executive remains committed to seeking Australian Government sponsorship of Australian-German research partnerships. It commends the cross-Tasman initiative of the annual Julius von Haast Fellowship which allows for an internationally recognised German researcher to spend time working collaboratively with New Zealand colleagues to establish or enhance collaborative research of benefit to both countries.
Following the change of Government and in the absence of an Australian Science Minister for much of the last two years, the AAvHF executive did not continue its efforts to seek the re-establishment of the von Mueller Fellowship previously offered under the former Australian Research Council’s International Linkage Scheme. However, with the appointment of a Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science and enhanced Government commitment to investing in science and promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education, the AAvHF executive intends to take up the case again with the Federal Government, if the Hobart meeting endorses the proposed action (see meeting agenda).
Significant Achievements of Fellows
On behalf of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, I congratulate Humboldtian Dr Judith Reinhard on her appointment as Science Counsellor for the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Canberra. Another Australian Fellow Professor Aidan Byrne continues in his significant role as Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council. We are delighted that both Judith and Aiden are present at and contributing to this biennial meeting.
Humboldtian Professor Bryan Turner who is currently both Director of the Mellon Committee for the Study of Religion at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Director of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society at Australian Catholic University was recently presented with a 2015 Humboldt Foundation Max Planck Research Award. As AAvHF President I wrote and congratulated him on his prestigious award and then on 11 August 2015, with Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson, met with him for dinner in Melbourne.
The Association has two biennial award categories – the Peter Schwerdtfeger Award and up to two Distinguished Fellow Awards, which respectively recognise the academic or professional achievement of early career AAvHF members and of long-standing members who have excelled in their professional field and/or provided sustained service to the Association. I acknowledge with gratitude the work of the AAvHF awards committee with membership of Professor Jeff Malpas (University of Tasmania, chair), Associate Professor Kathy Andrews (Griffith University) and Associate Professor Roger Read (University of New South Wales). The committee considered the nominations for 2015 awards and recommended a recipient for the Peter Schwerdtfeger Award and two Distinguished Fellow awardees. On behalf of the Association I was pleased to accept the recommendations and have prepared the citations to be read at the colloquium pre-dinner reception when the 2015 awards will be announced.
2015 Conference in Hobart
The AAvHF has held regular biennial meetings since 1983 – this is the first one in Tasmania. The Association is most grateful to the University of Tasmania-based organising committee for its preparations for the Global Perspectives, Local Knowledge colloquium which has brought the Australian and New Zealand Associations of von Humboldt Fellows together in Hobart. Committee chair Dr Peter Jarvis and his fellow committee members – Professor Simon Ellingsen, Associate Professor Michael Gardiner, Dr Nathan Kilah and Professor Jeff Malpas – have worked diligently over many months to arrange the conference. They also prepared a successful application for a Humboldt Kolleg grant to support the colloquium and we congratulate them on this achievement. All their generous and professional efforts have been rewarded with a well-attended colloquium and a stimulating program. We thank them and their local collaborators most sincerely. In particular, I acknowledge the University of Tasmania’s support for the biennial meeting, especially through the provision of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies as the conference venue.
We also express our appreciation to Australian Ambassador for the Federal Republic of German Dr Christoph Mueller who has generously sponsored the reception preceding the conference dinner on Saturday, 21 November.
Service of AAvHF Executive
Our Association is very fortunate to have a willing and generous team providing leadership across the country through the State/Territory representatives. A valued role of these representatives continues to be their organisation of annual local functions to mark Alexander von Humboldt’s birthday. I was pleased to join the Melbourne function which this year was held at Il Vicolo in Carlton on 14 October.
The Association and, in particular, the President has been provided with outstanding support through the professional and dedicated work of Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson, Treasurer Professor Gary Byrant, Vice-President Professor Jeff Malpas and Webmaster Associate Professor Patrick Kluth. I thank them most sincerely for their commitment to the AAvHF.
Let me conclude by expressing my appreciation of all the AAvHF members who have supported me in my role as President over the period 2012-2015. It has been a privilege to serve you and promote the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in the Australian context. I enjoy hearing of Fellows’ activities across the States and Territories, especially the traditional and much-appreciated celebrations of Alexander von Humboldt’s birthday.
I wish the Australian and New Zealand Associations well for their future development and trust that they will continue to remain true to the ideals of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I hope that many members of the Australian Association with gather in two years time in New Zealand for our next joint colloquium.
Gabrielle McMullen AM
President, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
7 November 2015