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Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences - Doctoral Education in Partnerships

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BIGSSS-departs (Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences - Doctoral Education in Partnerships)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

"BIGSSS is an international interdisciplinary graduate school of doctoral training in the social sciences. It was founded as an inter-university institution between the public University of Bremen and the private Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH in 2007. For the EU COFUND action, the University of Bremen serves as the mono-beneficiary for the BIGSSS-departs PhD Program with Jacobs University as a prime partner within the program.
The graduate school currently hosts 90 PhD fellows, four postdoctoral fellows, 70 (incl. eight inhouse) faculty and ten staff members. Its alumni network consists of 160 PhD and 20 Postdoc alumni in academic and non-academic positions.

Research at BIGSSS focusses on contemporary challenges of democracy, social integration, and individual lives. Its academic program is structured in three thematic fields:
A. Global Governance and European integration: The field addresses the relationships between political, social, legal, historical, and economic developments in the “post-national constellation”. It investigates societal problems of a regional and/or global nature that cannot effectively be addressed by individual societies and states, but need hybrid forms of transnational governance that mix public, private, ""hard"" and ""soft"" governance.
B. Welfare State, Inequality, and Quality of Life: Research in this field investigates the connection between social policies, patterns of inequality, and collective and individual well-being. It looks at the challenges that modern welfare state regimes have faced since the 1990s when mass unemployment, aging populations, intensified international competition, and increasing public deficits have started to overwhelm welfare state resources and structures and to threaten social cohesion.
C. Changing Lives in Changing Socio-Cultural Contexts: Research in this field focuses on identity constructs, changing individual values and conflict (resolution) against the background of the social, cultural, and religious diversification of our societies. It analyzes the complex interplay of social structures, culture, and individuals’ attitudes and behaviors across time.
At BIGSSS, these issues are analyzed from various theoretical and methodological perspectives and different national and cultural angles. Interdisciplinarity and empirical research projects are at the core of BIGSSS. Doctoral candidates profit from the graduate school’s ties to a number of outstanding social science research institutes at the University of Bremen and Jacobs University that provide the scientific experts to supervise the PhD projects.

The EU COFUND Action 713639 BIGSSS-departs offers excellent doctoral studies in a PhD program that combines close supervision of dissertation work with a demand-tailored 42-month structured curriculum.
The graduate school supports its doctoral candidates in achieving early scientific independence. BIGSSS-departs fellows pursue a freely chosen dissertation project in one of BIGSSS’ three thematic fields and are encouraged to share their research and (preliminary) findings with the scientific community at international conferences and workshops.
Furthermore, BIGSSS fosters the development of intellectual responsibility and critical reflexivity vis-à-vis the role that social sciences play in society and for policy decisions in particular. BIGSSS thus supports the “active student” who is clearly aware of his/her capacities in developing, applying and communicating knowledge in situations outside the ivory tower to a broader public.
The doctoral program prepares PhD candidates for careers inside and outside academia. The cooperation with inter-sectoral partners is an innovative strength of the program. Career Days and a strong and diverse alumni network offer further career counseling opportunities to the ESRs.
Another asset of the BIGSSS-departs PhD Program is its focus on international mobility and the international partnership in the training of promising ESRs. Therefore, PhD fellows commit themselves to a three-to-six-month stay abroad at one of the networks’ renowned academic or inter-sectoral partner institutions which include Duke University (USA), University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK), National Research University Higher School of Economics (Russia), Manipal Academy of Higher Education (India), Sciences Po Paris (France), Edna Pasher Ph.D. & Associates (Israel), and ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius (Germany).

For more information on BIGSSS and the EU COFUND action BIGSSS-departs, please visit"
During the first reporting period, BIGSSS published two calls for its BIGSSS-departs PhD Program. The fellowships were successfully advertised internationally and are attractive to doctoral candidates worldwide: BIGSSS recruited nine ESRs in the first call and ten in the second call. The 19 ESRs come from 15 different countries and five different continents. In terms of the cultural, national and language background of the ESRs, the two BIGSSS-departs cohorts are the most diverse group of PhD fellows that BIGSSS has hired since its start in 2007.
All ESRs received a full-time work contract for 42 months and started the PhD program in 2017. By now, they have completed the first program parts successfully, progressed in their individual dissertation research projects, and started to share their preliminary insights with the scientific community at international conferences and workshops.
Furthermore, in order to secure high ethical research standards in the BIGSSS-departs PhD Program, BIGSSS implemented an ethics committee that provides expertise and guidance to the ESRs.
The “departs” in the BIGSSS-departs PhD Program stands for doctoral education in partnerships—an explicit goal of this EU COFUND action. Since project start, BIGSSS has succeeded in extending its initial BIGSSS-departs international academic and inter-sectoral partner network from ten partners in 2015 to 13 in 2018, with a prospect of further extension. The networking event “BIGSSS-departs Partner Days” in February 2018 aimed at bringing the ESRs in contact with representatives from the partner institutions and, on the management level, discussing ideas for future joint projects to further deepen the cooperation within the network.
Finally, the graduate school is always interested in improving the quality of its academic and administrative work. Thus BIGSSS has implemented a number of evaluation tools and—in line with its bottom-up principle—integrated BIGSSS-departs ESRs in the conceptualization of the different program components and events. Besides the internal feedback on its work provided by the BIGSSS-departs ESRs, BIGSSS is keen to foster opportunities for mutual learning within its partner network and beyond.
In the months to come, the BIGSSS-departs ESRs will finish their course work, continue their dissertation research, and discuss their findings at the “Research Day”.
Another upcoming highlight will be the three-to-six-month research stays that all ESRs conduct during their second or third program year at one of the academic or inter-sectoral institutions from the international BIGSSS-departs partner network.
Furthermore, ESRs will profit from the career counseling offers and activities of the program, such as soft-skill training courses that focus on skills required in inter-sectoral positions, the BIGSSS “Alumni Partnership Program”, and a “Career Day”.