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29 Nov 17 | News

Bridging Research between Luxembourg and the United States

Three LISER researchers reflect on their recent sabbaticals to the US

LISER recognises the importance of international research exchange and collaboration with researchers in the various fields of socio-economic research. In doing so, the institute encourages researchers to take part in the international mobility scheme for established researchers (INTER Mobility). The programme aims to foster innovative, internationally competitive research – and support the exchange of key knowledge and technological know-how.

We interviewed three LISER researchers to learn of their exchanges and share their experiences below:

Hichem Omrani
Department: Urban development & mobility
Research interests: Simulation/modelling, machine learning, big data, smart and sustainable city, ICT

Dates: Nov. 2016 - Apr. 2017
Sabbatical institution: Purdue University (USA)

What was the aim of your visit?
At Purdue I served as Senior Visiting Researcher, working jointly with Dr. Bryan Pijanowski, an internationally recognised specialist in the field of land use science. The research visit has extended Pijanowski’s Land Transformation Model-LTM that allows cells in cellular automata model to hold membership in more than one land use class.

What were the results of your sabbatical?
In this research framework, in 2017 I published six articles in peer-reviewed journals with high impact factors such as Transactions in GIS, GIScience & Remote Sensing, Journal of Environmental Informatics , Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Ecological Informatics and two articles in refereed international conferences.

What are your next challenges?
Looking forward, my research agenda will aim to develop research ideas targeting a joint a research proposal between the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

Now back in Luxembourg, what do you miss most about the USA?

I appreciated a lot the research environment at Purdue University as it was inspiring and gave me fresh ideas for future challenges. I miss my US colleagues who I now count among my friends (Bryan, Kristen, Jack, Maryam, Javier, Chris, Dente, Ben, Zhao, Ling) from Pijanowski’s Lab. I might have left the US but thanks to smartphones we will keep in touch and will continue collaborating even from a distance which is exciting! Last but not least, I have plans to invite some US colleagues as Visiting Scholars to LISER in order to discover the research landscape in Luxembourg and collaborate on International publications/projects.

Listen below to the song my US colleagues wrote and sang on my last night at Purdue University.

Eva Sierminska
Department: Labour Market
Research interests: Field specialisation in economics, inequality and financial well-being, household wealth portfolios and the labor market

Dates: September 2016- August 2017
Sabbatical institution: University of Arizona, Tucson

What was the aim of your visit?
At the University of Arizona, Department of Economics, I studied the specialisation of women and men in the field of Economics. The field of economics is very broad --- from very descriptive to quite abstract and theoretical. I investigated the reasons why there is little diversity in the field with women concentrating in health and labour economics and men in theory and more quantitative methods. My goal was also to expand my network in the field and create opportunities for longer term collaboration between the department and LISER.

What were the results of your sabbatical?
By presenting our work to a varied audience we learned about additional data sources for our study. At the moment, we are putting together a broad database, which will allow us to answer many more questions regarding the behaviour of individuals in the labor market, their job choice and field of study preferences. In other words, my year in the desert was not only fruitful in terms of a completed project and networking, but potentially could keep me and my colleagues busy for years to come! While in Tucson, I was also asked by the department to teach an Econometrics course, which was a fantastic experience and allowed me to find a new passion I didn’t realise I had.

What are your next challenges?
My next challenge is to create an architecture for the amazing data we have and present our results to a broader audience in a paper that is already in the making. In the longer term, I have several additional paper ideas that will be fun to produce with my collaborator in Arizona. At the same time, I intend to expand the network and strengthen the ties we have began building at conferences and the department during my stay in the US.

Now back in Luxembourg, what do you miss most about the USA?
I miss Tucson –it is a medium size city – 100 km from the Mexican border. It is located in a unique kind of desert area with a very rich flora and fauna–with a monsoon (wet) season during the summer months and fantastic weather all year round. I also became fond of the department and new colleagues. It is vibrant and very hospitable and I greatly miss the intellectual exchanges we had during seminars and lunches. I loved their notion that we are here to support each other in a common goal, which is creating top research output and passing on knowledge to others.

Christophe Sohn
Department: Urban development & mobility
Research interests: Border cities and regions, cross-border governance, debordering and rebordering dynamics

Dates: Aug. 2016 - July. 2017
Sabbatical institution: University of California San Diego

What was the aim of your visit?
The objectives of my visit in San Diego where threefold and comprised research activities, capacity building and networking. The primary focus of my stay was to develop two research projects I had elaborated in the framework of my INTER Mobility grant. The first project dealt with the spatial development of the San Diego-Tijuana cross-border city-region. The second project sought to explore the role and significance of national borders in a comparative framework, in particular between Europe and North America. In my view, there is a potential fruitful dialogue here that is somehow under-exploited. I also wanted to strengthen my scientific competences through my integration within the dynamic academic community in Southern California and the building of a grounded expertise on cross-border urban development, planning and theory. Finally, I aimed at establishing long-term scientific collaborations between LISER and US academic partners.

What were the results of your sabbatical?
My sabbatical year allowed me to publish two papers related to the previously mentioned research projects and disseminate the results to a wider audience both in the US and in Mexico. Beyond these expected results, the development of new ideas appear most interesting to me. In this domain, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has had mixed consequences. Indeed, as a border scholar working on the cross-border relationships between San Diego and Tijuana, my work was impacted by the revival of strong political mobilisation of reactionary and xenophobic border narratives. On one hand, it has proved to be much more difficult to engage in a project with US partners due to the cancellation or freezing of funding related to research on the US-Mexico border. On the other hand, the shock that the election created for the border region has triggered strong reactions from local stakeholders engaged in cross-border cooperation initiatives. In a way, the conflict magnified the issues at stake and the strategies of the different stakeholders. It was thus an exceptional context to study conflicting bordering dynamics and elaborate new research perspectives. The political events in the US echo in Europe with Brexit and the rise of anti-European and anti-migration populisms, which also challenge the open-border regime and, more broadly, the process of European integration. The experience gathered during my stay therefore also nourishes comparative work, which directly concerns our European borders.

What are your next challenges?
In the short term, I want to devote myself fully to the valorisation of the research I did during my stay, especially by mobilising the interviews I conducted with actors from San Diego and Tijuana involved in cross-border economic promotion. I have a couple of exciting papers in the making. In the medium term, I want to take advantage of more than a decade of research on the role and significance of national borders for the development of border cities and regions in various contexts and engage in the writing of a single-authored book.

Now back in Luxembourg, what do you miss most about the USA?
I certainly miss the Californian sun and the Pacific Ocean, which gives such a boost of energy! I also miss the exciting academic environment that brought many encounters and discussions with scholars from all over the world. UCSD attracts so many prominent scientists, politicians and civil leaders; it is a fascinating melting pot. One day, I even had a coffee with a former Italian Prime Minister. Finally yet importantly, I miss the US-Mexico border and the people who live in-between these two radically different yet connected and interdependent worlds. Despite the waiting times and the pernickety checks, I crossed the border dozens of times for my research or just to eat some street tacos. On my last visit in Tijuana, a Mexican immigration officer noticed all my visits and exclaimed, You have so many stamps in your passport, do you want me to add one more? That day, I felt really like a true fronterizo.