Supporting scholars seeking a new intellectual home: what can we do?

By Dr Eva Alisic, Dr S. Karly Kehoe, Debora Kayembe, Dr Shawki Al-Dubaee, and Jonathan O’Donnell

Academic solidarity is a core value shared by researchers all over the world. There is a recognition of the need to support, challenge and – when required – protect each other, our disciplinary integrity, and our fundamental investigative principles.

War and conflict disrupt (and sometimes destroy) societies. As part of that process, academics can be specifically targeted. In Free to Think 2017, the organization Scholars at Risk analyzed 257 reported attacks on higher education communities in 35 countries over a period of 12 months. Along with fellow citizens, academics often need to flee conflict zones.

As researchers already working in a certain location, we can offer significant support to fellow academics who are refugees. The ways of getting involved vary from minor and short-term initiatives to substantial and more long-term programs.

The list that follows is by no means complete, but it serves as an idea generator to help build a diverse range of activity. A challenge at the start of any initiative is finding out who the at-risk or refugee academics in your community are, and to make it easier for them to find colleagues in universities or local scholarly associations.

Possible short-term initiatives

  • Provide university library access;
  • Assist in obtaining affiliation as a research associate or fellow;
  • Assist in obtaining a university email address;
  • Support in writing a country-appropriate curriculum vitae (CV) or a grant application;
  • Advocate for the establishment of support systems by writing letters to decision-makers at universities or professional societies.

Possible long-term initiatives

  • Offer standing invitations to departmental seminars or invitations to give papers in their research fields;
  • Start a mentorship program;
  • Start a collaborative project which helps to create a research network;
  • Negotiate with your university the establishment of visiting fellowships that include workspace;
  • Include as members of supervisory teams for PhD students;
  • Provide jobs (temporary or full-time);
  • Allocate membership spaces in your national Academy;
  • Waive or cover membership fees for professional societies;
  • Provide a space for a club or association that allows at-risk or refugee academics to meet people with similar research interests or academic prospects.

In countries where at-risk or refugee academics are permitted to undertake paid employment, having their qualifications recognized is important. It is difficult when people who have already achieved postgraduate qualifications in their home countries are forced to attend undergraduate courses in their disciplines in a host country. Since research councils do not tend to offer support to those not working at a university, it would be helpful if national academies or universities offered some kind of research funding support for at-risk or refugee academics to enable them to continue their work and have a better chance at getting research-related work.

It will take sustained commitment and energy – and it will take understanding and a degree of cultural awareness.

If you are in contact with at-risk or refugee academics, seek their input and involve them in the design process of an activity. Given that being at-risk or possessing the status of refugee is their lived experience right now, perhaps for many years to come, these academics have invaluable insight. The short film ‘Science in Exile’ also gives several scholars at-risk a voice (currently available for events; eventually it will be available online).

Don’t forget that, in your country, you possess specific and hard-to-access knowledge about how the academic environment works, what the performance expectations are for the various levels, from the PhD through to the professoriate, and how career portfolios are constructed. Managing expectations about what is and isn’t within your power to deliver is essential though – the last thing you want to do is disappoint a vulnerable colleague.

Information on some current initiatives and resources

Some of these organizations and programs may also be able to advise on additional ways you can help refugee scholars in your community.

Could you, or your institution, support scholars in finding new intellectual homes? ♦


About the Author

Eva Alisic is Associate Professor, Child Trauma and Recovery at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where she leads the Trauma Recovery Lab within the Child Health and Wellbeing Program. Her background includes both psychology and human resource studies, and she is currently a visiting scholar at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Switzerland. Dr Alisic’s team studies how children, young people, and families cope with traumatic experiences, and how professionals can support them. The consequences of fatal domestic violence, serious injury, war, and disaster are focal points in this research.

This article is a collaborative effort by members of the Global Young Academy, the Young Academy of Scotland and Research Whisperer. This post originally appeared on The Research Whisperer. Reprinted with permission.

Image Credit: Academics for Refugees - Sanctuary rally #LetThemStay Melbourne taken by Takver