For Federica, the timing of her exchange period worked out "very nicely," almost coinciding with the end of her Max Weber Fellowship. "I benefitted from my whole EUI experience and now I’m bringing it to my host institution," she explains as she approaches the last few weeks of the CIVICA Postdoctoral Mobility Scheme. The programme, launched by CIVICA Research, aims to offer postdoctoral researchers from across the alliance the opportunity to visit other CIVICA member institutions.
A demographer with a PhD from Princeton University, and a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Economics and Social Sciences from Bocconi University, Federica was happy to return to Milan for the first time in almost nine years. "It’s like going back and not going back," she says, mentioning that while the city and the department feel familiar, the research experience is completely new. "Close to the end of my EUI fellowship," she continues, "I felt that the best way to get the most out of it was to go into a familiar environment so I could focus on the research."
More specifically, during her stay at Bocconi University from early May until late July, Federica joined the host of experts working at the Dondena Centre to research the role of the processes of family formation, particularly childbearing, in the creation and perpetuation of inequality and social stratification. At the Centre, Federica is collaborating with Bocconi Professor Arnstein Aassve on a project that links her work on fertility and fertility intentions with his expertise in resilience, a subject that in Federica’s words is "particularly interesting in these times of high uncertainty."
It is not completely a coincidence, in fact, that Federica has been back in Italy for the past couple of years. Whilst her experience abroad has indeed been rewarding, the topic of low fertility is particularly salient in Italy, which partly explains why many experts in the field are active across the country.
Some of those experts are located precisely at Bocconi University. "Here I can focus on a very concrete project. When I talk to people, they provide insight that is very specific on research details, because they have been doing this for a long time," mentions Federica, expressing appreciation for her host institution.
Compared to her time at the EUI, she thinks that "both experiences are very useful, but in a different way. The EUI provides a great environment, especially the Department of Political and Social Sciences, which is very multidisciplinary even within itself." Moreover, Federica is a Max Weber Fellow, a programme that was specifically designed to be interdisciplinary. This kind of academic pluralism and intellectual vivacity is why she can now translate her highly specialised knowledge to a wider audience. "The EUI really prepared me to talk with a diverse group of scholars, and I definitely brought that to Bocconi."
This skill is indeed useful at this point of her fellowship as she is spending more time talking about her research to different audiences. Notably, Federica is looking forward to presenting a version of her project at a conference in October, and has recently participated in one of the leading scientific gatherings in the field of population studies, the European Population Conference (EPC).
"The EPC was an excellent example of why this mobility scheme is great," she says. On the one hand, Federica was able to interact with colleagues from both the EUI and Bocconi University, on the other, she was able to make introductions and possibly facilitate future collaborations. "There is a sense of enlarging my community, but also enlarging both the EUI and the Bocconi ones, connecting them. Which is a bit what CIVICA does."
As she approaches the end of this experience, Federica has a few words of wisdom for early career scholars and researchers who are part of the CIVICA network and are considering taking part to the mobility programme. First, she stresses how important it is to be conscious of timing. Keep in mind that "three months [go by] so fast," she says, and that during the summer months campuses tend to get quieter.
"My other advice is that any mobility is worth it," she says. "Mobility is great for networking, but really the reason why we do research is because we love it. Being in a new environment truly rekindles that."
CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
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