Remembering Volkmar Pipek – on being curious, being you

Volkmar Pipek was a highly influential researcher from Uni of Siegen who sadly passed away in Jan 2024 after a long illness. This short episode draws from a written interview he gave to Mateusz Dolata on the occasion of his 2023 EUSSET-ISSI Lifetime Achievement Award. I read an extract where he shares his advice about becoming and being a researcher: Be curious. Be who you are. Be curious who you are. Wise advice for all of us.

Read the full interview with Volkmar Pipek

Interview conducted by Mateusz Dolata, University of Zurich

Text accompanying the EUSSET-ISSI Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 to Volkmar Pipek

EUSSET: European Society for Socially Embedded Technologies

ISSI: Institute for Social Informatics

Volkmar Pipek, University of Siegen and Volkmar’s publications


Welcome to Changing Academic Life. I'm Geraldine Fitzpatrick and this is a podcast series where academics and others share their stories, provide ideas and provoke discussions about what we can do individually and collectively to change academic life for the better. Sometimes in the midst of all our busy-ness and deadlines our pressures to perform and advance our careers. We can forget that life is actually really short. And really precious. And we can lose perspective about our work and what's really important. The passing of a very dear colleague Volkmar Pipek on the 6th of January, 2024. Was a stark reminder of this for me. Volkmar died after a long illness at the age of 56. Before he died. He was asked for advice to younger colleagues and to researchers in general. And he summed these up as be curious. Be who you are. And be curious who you are. Wise advice from Volkmar that he offered as part of an interview that was conducted on the occasion of his being awarded the EUSSET and ISSI lifetime achievement award in 2023. EUSSET is the European society for socially embedded technologies and ISSI is the Institute for socio informatics. To mark this award Mateusz Dolata from the university of Zurich and with his hat as website and social media person for EUSSET. Conducted an interview with On his perspectives of CSCW, which is computer supported cooperative work and research in general, including his advice for younger researchers. To quote from the EUSSET web page. Posted by Mateusz. The interview was published post hum. Following the sad passing of Volkmar in January, 2024. Before that he'd provided us with the initial draft of the interview. After much deliberation, we decided to share Volkmar's, insightful thoughts with the broader community in this form. End of quote. In this short episode, I'd like to share an extract from Volkmar's interview. That specifically focuses on his advice. I share this with the permission of Mateusz and of the head of the awards committee. As full disclosure. I was also a member of this awards committee. First a little background on Volkmar. He was a faculty member in computer supported cooperative work and social media, at the university of Siegen in Germany. And his award was for his pioneering work in the field of socio informatics. This work was uniquely driven and shaped by his strongly held values around societal emancipation and democratization. And you can read more about this and his many specific intellectual and empirical contributions in the statement about his award and in the full interview. And I'll put links to both of these on the episode, webpage. I've also known Volkmar for some decades as a fellow colleague and researcher in the CSCW community. And always loved meeting up and chatting with him, not just about his research. But just about the many ways that his values played out in his life and the choices that he made. For example, in the interview, you'll be able to read about his experience in starting a commune now to the extract from the full interview. And it starts with the question posed by Mateusz on behalf of EUSSET and then follows with Volkmar's answers. Begin quote. EUSSET remains a very young organization. One-third of active use set members of PhD students. And there are equally many young members working as postdocs or assistant professors. Many of the members are looking up to you as an eminent authority, seeking an advice concerning research, focus, career paths, or simply becoming a researcher. What would be your message to them? And Volkmar's response. Be curious. Be who you are. Be curious who you are. First be curious. For being a good researcher, you need to take a deep interest into the world as it is. How it became like that. And where it's heading. With deep. I mean, that, it's important to also acknowledge those aspects that are not in line with your own convictions and experiences. As a young PhD researcher who took pride in his participatory design attitude. I had to present the project. I was working into the worker representative counsel of one of the largest German, private health insurance companies in order to get their approval and ideally their support. I rarely spoke to a less interested crowd in my life and got a very board approval. I left the meeting with the impression those worker representatives were just not doing their job. But I picked that experience up and tried to find out how that could be given that they volunteered for the job and had been elected. That spark of interest helped me finding out how difficult it actually is for practitioners. To imagine how their work would change. Given there are new software tools or information infrastructures available. And given that impact is so hard to imagine. Why should they not instead turn their attention to much more obvious topics. Second. Be who you are. With a bachelor's thesis and maybe also with a master's thesis. You may be able to regard those as tasks that have to get executed in order to earn your certificate. And their exact topics and results may never matter to you or to anybody in your future career. If you pursue a PhD with that attitude. It will be even more painful and exhausting as it is anyway. If you stick with the topic for three to five years, it will become a huge part of your life. And research suddenly becomes a very personal, even intimate endeavor. It does not make sense to undertake this endeavor. Just because there is funding and a supervisor who finds you somewhat interesting. The topic, the methodology, the scientific community report to. They all should fit your interests, beliefs, experiences, and personality. In the final years of my master's studies, I developed the idea that I could be a researcher in computer science. I had specialized on artificial intelligence and even visited some national conferences. Due to a private contact. I stumbled across the book, informatic and Gesellschaft, which is computer science and society. Co-authored by Thomas Herman, also a member of the CSCW community. Which gave me for the first time, the impression that there could be the option to pursue my general interest into improving society. Also as a researcher in CS. I started out working for the DFK I that German national research center for artificial intelligence. But then decided to change to the university of Bonn. Although I'd been offered a contract for only 10 months there. Although I had literally no clue about the competences requested, which was CSCW and usability and showed that in my job interview. Although all exclamation mark of my future colleagues, therefore voted for another candidate. And although their boss hired me, nevertheless, just based on my knowledge in AI. Not because I would particularly fit the advertisement position. I did so. Just because former colleagues of that group had shown an interest in electronic democracy. And I really wanted to learn to work with users because that did fit my interest profile better. That was more who I was. Third. Be curious who you are. A PhD is usually located at a time in your life when you've placed the first cornerstones of your life. You decided to finish an education that would hopefully feed you for the rest of your life. You may have, or have had a first long-term relationship. You may have moved and settled in a new town for the first time. But things are still in motion. Life in general. And a PhD process for sure will provide you with many new experiences and challenges that have the potential to change you. That's okay. So don't stick too strongly to your concerns and beliefs. Go with the flow and trust, rather your skills of improvisers station, then your fear of change. That particularly applies to your research topics and career. Before I submitted my PhD on supporting appropriation work. I've been offered, interested in PhD topics, including privacy in group work group, where there was unpublished research available that I could have built upon. Also in metadata structures for environmental informatics. And project money available for that. And inductive logic programming. And approach that would have allowed me to continue with AI, with applications in CSCW my own idea, but really far out. The final topic appropriation. Only emerged in my third year as a PhD. And it took me three more years to complete it. Not only to technically write it. But also in terms of re-interpreting my research experiences so that they would form a whole in the dissertation. Well, I did not expect to be able to combine my social political and technological interests. When I started my research career. I grew more and more confident of myself to be able to do that. End of quoted extract. Thank you Volkmar there's so much wisdom and insight here. From the perspective of. Distance. Be curious. Be who you are. Be curious who you are. And I, I loved that statement as part of the third, be curious who you are about. Go with the flow and trust, rather your skills of improvisation than your fear of change. I encourage you to go and read the whole interview that Volkmar shared. I'm sure you'll love it. And it just provides such great food for thought about, again, an example of a career path that hasn't been straightforward and the work that's involved and the reward that's attached with shaping career decisions, research decisions, life decisions in line with what you really care about and with your values. And the difference we can make in doing that. So again, thank you. Volkmar. And thank you. Mateusz for the interview and for allowing us to share it here. And we'll finish with Volkmar's final thought, from the interview, which locates our research endeavors as part of a scholarly community. That's caring and inclusive. To start quoting from Volkmar directly and I'll leave out some of the specific names he mentioned just to keep it more general. But you can read this in the interview itself. So Volkmar says. And as a final thought, I cannot express enough gratitude for the general kindness and the respect I experienced in this scientific community. As a young researcher, I joined the community based on a certain political enthusiasm. Not based on a sound education and much knowledge. Yet my colleagues accepted their bosses decision to hire me. And took on the effort to introduce me to the field. In the first years of my career, I've been introduced to important scholars. Not based on my own scientific merits, but based on a general culture of inclusiveness and respect of this community. Aside from providing a nice feeling and interesting discussion opportunities. It also shows in the formal scientific process. The way, how respectfully reviews are being written and how easy it is to access, reviewing committees. That's an asset. We can be proud of. And what we should cultivate. End of quote. And in honour of Volkmar. May we all play our own part in showing kindness and respect to one another. And being part of creating that inclusive scientific community And remembering that life is short. And precious. You can find the summary notes, a transcript and related links for this podcast on www. changingacademiclife. com. You can also subscribe to Changing Academic Life on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts. And you can follow ChangeAcadLife on Twitter. And I'm really hoping that we can widen the conversation about how we can do academia differently. And you can contribute to this by rating the podcast and also giving feedback. And if something connected with you, please consider sharing this podcast with your colleagues. Together, we can make change happen.

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