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Visiting Scholars: when the University of Bordeaux invites international professors and researchers

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The University of Bordeaux is launching its 2nd call for applications for the Visiting Scholars programme, a scheme that finances the hosting of experienced international researchers and lecturers. Twelve candidates from ten countries were selected in the first round. James Forrest (University of Waterloo) and Silvia Soter (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) share their experiences at the end of their stay in Bordeaux.

Photo : James Forrest (University of Waterloo) and Silvia Soter (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) report on their experience of mobility at the University of Bordeaux
James Forrest (University of Waterloo) and Silvia Soter (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) report on their experience of mobility at the University of Bordeaux

James Forrest: "It's totally worth it!"

James Forrest is a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada and a researcher in soft matter. A recognised expert in his field, he studies the physical properties of soft solids, particularly in very small (nano) systems. He joined the Laboratoire ondes et matière d'Aquitaine (LOMA) in September-October 2023. 

What were the main aims of your mobility?

My main objective was to find projects of common interest that we could pursue together. I'm in the experimental field and my host at LOMA (Thomas Salez) is a theorist. Our research areas are similar, but not identical. 

What have you gained from this experience? 

It was a wonderful experience. There were lots of interesting discussions about different ideas and collaborative projects to pursue. In particular, I learned a new way of looking at very recent data from my group in Canada.  As a result of many discussions, I tried a new analysis, which revealed something that I consider to be a breakthrough in this field. We have almost finished writing a publication based on these data, and a student is interested in continuing the project, possibly as a co-director.

You have offered two seminars as well as a course at the Physics and Engineering Sciences doctoral school. How did that go? 

It was a bit time-consuming, but very useful. It was an opportunity to look back and present an overview of the work I started 30 years ago, and to see how it and the field as a whole have evolved. 
I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the students. They showed a keen interest in the subject and asked lots of questions. It was a very positive experience. 

Is it important for a researcher to be mobile? 

Absolutely! The Covid crisis and videoconferencing have made us forget the importance of face-to-face exchanges. Certain types of discussion and the emergence of ideas are not possible via Zoom. Immersion in another system is a wonderful thing, for researchers and students alike.
Of course, it requires preparation and organisation if you have a family or teaching responsibilities at your institution. The financial aspect is not to be neglected either, but it's worth it!

What advice would you give to future candidates? 

This programme is a great opportunity and you should take advantage of it! Of course, it's best to come with a programme, but be prepared and open to discovering new ideas and new research directions. Bordeaux is not only a great place to do science, it's also a great place to live!

Visiting Scholars programme

The aim of this programme is to encourage new collaborations and international partnerships in research and education between the University of Bordeaux and institutions abroad. It concerns all areas of research and teaching. The student community at the University of Bordeaux should be able to benefit from the experience and expertise of these international lecturers. Applications are open until 9 February 2024.

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Silvia Soter: "A boost for my career"

Silvia Soter is a teacher-researcher in dance and educational science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. She will have completed her 4-month exchange, supervised by Marie-Pierre Chopin at the Cultures and the Dissemination of Knowledge (CeDS) laboratory, at the end of December 2023. 

Why did you apply for this programme?

This mobility scheme is the result of my encounter in 2015 with the work of a teacher-researcher at CeDS, Marie-Pierre Chopin, described in the book 'Pédagogues de la danse'. I got in touch with her 2 years ago and decided to take advantage of my sabbatical to go on a mobility scheme and explore avenues for our future collaboration. 

How did your work placement go?

I was very warmly welcomed and, above all, well integrated. I got to know the other teacher-researchers and was able to take part in the life of the laboratory. The comparison between the two countries was made in real time through exchanges, observations and various very enriching encounters: participation in the Lyon Dance Biennial, meetings with dance associations and teachers from other structures such as STAPS for example. This mobility gave impetus to my career and new directions to my research work.

And after "returning home"?

Back in Brazil, I'd like to share my fieldwork with my colleagues. But to present the work of the CeDS, I need to translate Marie-Pierre Chopin's book into Portuguese, because there is a language barrier in Brazil. I'll take care of that when I get there. 2025 will be the Year of Brazil in France and we'd like to organise a symposium on dance pedagogy in partnership with the CeDS in Brazil.

Alongside your teaching and research activities, you are involved in an artistic and social project at the École libre de danse in La Maré. Could you tell us a bit about this? 

The Ecole libre de danse à la Maré is a cultural centre located in the Maré favela in Rio that I co-founded with Lia Rodrigues, a famous Brazilian choreographer, in partnership with the NGO Redes da Maré. It is funded by the Fondation d'entreprise Hermès. I am in charge of teaching and Lia Rodrigues is the artistic director. The centre is free and open to residents of all ages. Apart from the dance classes, we have a group of 20 students who take a 3-hour course every day from Monday to Friday. We're delighted to see that many of our students go on to university or audition for well-known Brazilian or international dance companies. But that's not our main aim. The school's main aim is to democratise access to dance, which is still a privilege of the wealthy in Brazil. 

What advice would you give to future candidates?

My advice would be to plan your stay well in advance with your host, from the moment you apply. This helps you to have clear objectives and to move in the right direction, while remaining open to new ideas. And, of course, to make the most of the city! Bordeaux offers an exceptional living and working environment!