BRiDGE Step II registration table
Photo: Joacim Schmidt

Building Bridges for Refugee Researchers


BRiDGE II, or Bridge for Researchers in Danger Going to Europe step II, is a project designed to support researchers who have been forced to flee from their home countries and are now in, or on their way to, Europe. On June 14, Welcome Services at the University of Gothenburg hosted a training day for refugee researchers aiming to pursue a career outside academia.

The project, which is a Horizon2020 project, is coordinated by Bielefeld University in Germany, and apart from the University of Gothenburg, universities and organizations in Switzerland, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece participate. This event was the project’s second training session, and 19 refugee researchers participated during the day.

Karin Hellqvist, head of Welcome Services at the University of Gothenburg, greeted the participants and expressed joyfulness over hosting an event for researchers from all over the world.
“Our ambition is to be a global university.”

Most people with a PhD in Europe work outside of academia

Today there are hundreds of thousands of refugees and first-time asylum seekers in Europe.
“This is not a problem of one or two countries, but of many,” said Eleni Andrianopulu, coordinator of BRiDGE II, during her introductory speech.

She further explained that the point of this training day was not to present a complete solution but rather to introduce the participants to job opportunities they may not be aware of, as Europe has far more post-docs than there are job openings at European universities.
“Most people with a PhD in Europe work outside of academia.”

After the introduction, everybody got to know each another by splitting in to different groups depending on where they came from, then where they currently live, then their research areas and finally, their degrees. After that exercise, everyone had been introduced to one another and the real activities of the day could commence.

Svetlana Dimitrova, who is a project manager at Sofia University as well as the national coordinator of the EURAXESS-network in Bulgaria, talked to the participants about how they can apply for jobs and funding through EURAXESS’ online portals. Some of these offers are specifically designed for refugee researchers.

Miroslav Trajanovic during BRiDGE Step II workshop
Photo: Joacim Schmidt

Miroslav Trajanovic, who is a professor at the faculty of mechanical engineering at the University of Nish in Serbia, presented the EURAXESS No Limit-tool, a career orientation tool that helps its users to identify what is important for them in their careers, analyse their skills, identify their career options and finally, plan their career development strategies.
“It’s a great tool to help you reach the next level in your career.”

You moved from one continent to another, you’re freaking flexible!

Writing a CV and preparing for a job interview can prove to be quite the challenge, as well as something that can require different types of preparation depending on what country you are in, or if you are applying for a job in the public or the private sector. Mary K. Kobia, who is a mobility consultant at Copenhagen University and a career coach, talked about the psychological aspects of job searching and discussed how one best prepares for applying for a job within the private sector.

She pointed out the importance of identifying transferable skills, and of being adaptable and flexible; something she believed that the participants had already proven to be.
“You moved from one continent to another, you’re freaking flexible!”

After a break for lunch, Pernilla Johansson from Move to Gothenburg talked about what is important in the organizational culture in the private sector and agreed with Mary K. Kobia’s thoughts about adaptability.
“Being able to transform and adapt in the best way is an essential capability.”

Eleni Andrianopulu explained about how the participants can benefit from taking part in BRiDGE II’s mentoring program, where they can be paired up with a mentor within the European academia. Ravaka Ramanamisata, administrative officer at Welcome Services at the University of Gothenburg, talked about a BRiDGE II internship program in which researchers with refugee backgrounds can receive an internship grant.

Participants during BRiDGE Step II workshop
Photo: Joacim Schmidt

The day’s final speaker was Raheb Mirzanamadi, who shared personal experiences of coming to Sweden from Iran, obtaining his PhD at the Chalmers University of Technology and then working in the private sector.

Apart from listening to presentations, the participants got the chance to sit in small groups with mentors and trainers for personal consultations. Here they could share stories about personal experience, ask questions and get personalized tips.

I had to leave directly after I defended my thesis

Sulaiman Saleh
Photo: Joacim Schmidt

The day concluded with dinner for all the participants, organizers and speakers. One of the participants, Sulaiman Saleh, thought the day had been tiring but rewarding.
“The internship is a good opportunity.”

Sulaiman Saleh fled from Palestine to Malaysia in 2009 where he continued his studies and eventually earned his PhD in intercultural communication. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave Malaysia as well, after living in the country for nine years.
“I had to leave directly after I defended my thesis.”

After getting a Schengen visa he came to Sweden were he stayed with friends close to Örebro until he could officially seek asylum. Today he lives in a refugee camp in Jönköping, which has been challenging. However, Sulaiman Saleh has stayed busy and networked and in the fall he will be giving a series of lectures at Jönköping University. He enjoyed coming to Gothenburg for the BRiDGE II training day and meeting his peers.
“A lot of good ideas that could be starting points to build on were presented today.”

Originally published 26 June 2019

Learn more about BRiDGE and EURAXESS

BRiDGE and BRiDGE Step II are two complementary projects funded under the Horizon2020 call Science4Refugees aiming to support refugee scientists towards a long-term integration into the highly competitive European labour market. Read more at the BRiDGE website.

EURAXESS - Researchers in Motion is a unique pan-European initiative delivering information and support services to professional researchers. Backed by the European Union, member states and associated countries, it supports researcher mobility and career development, while enhancing scientific collaboration between Europe and the world. Welcome Services at the University of Gothenburg is a EURAXESS service centre. Read more at the EURAXESS website.