“Winter school” synergizes junior researchers and experts in Switzerland

CPHHS doctoral student joins group from around the globe for an unforgettable experience

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When thinking of a location for collaborative life course research, most PhD students wouldn’t envision the Swiss Alps. But for Human Development and Family Studies doctoral student Claudia Recksiedler, the opportunity was a nexus between her nationality and studies.

Claudia, along with 14 other graduate students and faculty members from universities around the world, traveled to the winter school Feb. 27–March 5 in Les Diablerets, Switzerland.

The Swiss National Centre of Competence hosts the annual LIVES Course Winter School, which is in its third year. The venture is organized by leaders of research centers in Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the United States, including the college’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families.

Claudia learned about winter school through her work with CPPHS Associate Professor Robert Stawski on family transitions in older age and later stages of the life course. She thought it was a nice fit for the work she does at OSU and was excited about the opportunity to expand her horizons with others in the same line of research. She says that she and Robert submitted research for an upcoming conference in Bern.

This year’s group was spilt into two smaller research cohorts. One focused on the topic of loss of a partner in a life course perspective, and the other looked at preserving cognitive health into old age. Claudia was part of the first group and worked with two other students from Germany and Switzerland to take a closer look at the topic.

Under the direction of their three supervisors ­– Professor Pasqualina Perrig Chiello from the University of Berne in Switzerland, Professor Betina Hollstein from the University of Bremen in Germany, and Professor Laura Bernardi from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland ­– the trio began their research paper. During the week in Les Diablerets, they came up with an outline, literature, research questions and data sets.

“Getting the real life experience and the opportunity to work in life course research, in that environment and on a collaborative paper was great,” Claudia says. “It wasn’t just general talks on the topic, it was hands on, I mean really hands on.” The junior researchers came up with questions and were able to receive feedback and input instantaneously from leading experts in their fields, creating a truly collaborative and interactive experience for all participants.

Although the group put in long, 10-hour days, there was some time set aside in the schedule for socialization and fun. They participated in a curling game, went snow shoeing, chatted in the evenings and had a formal dinner on the last night.

“It was such a pleasant experience, everyone was so open-minded and friendly and it was really a positive atmosphere among the students and faculty,” Claudia says.

“I felt that for me in particular, being European myself from Germany, it was really helpful to network with peers and with faculty who work within different European institutions.”

Reflecting on her recent experience, Claudia highly recommends the experience to anyone looking to collaborate with like-minded peers and leading experts in an informal setting. She says the week she spent at winter school increased her professional network, allowed her to get to know people in the field on a personal level and showed her how the pursuit of a doctorate differs in the United States and Europe.

“I feel that graduate school in the U.S. is such a unique experience. In Europe, it’s a little different, you’re more like an employee and not as much of a student. It was neat to hear their experiences, including the relationship with their mentors.”

Claudia is currently working on completing the work with her group. They’ve also been invited to Germany in September to work on another project. The group will be using a Swiss data set for the upcoming project and is excited to continue its international collaboration.

The Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families’ endowed director, Rick Settersten, serves on the steering committee for winter school and taught during the inaugural course in 2014. School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences co-head Karen Hooker was an instructor during last year’s winter school.

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