Humboldt fellow Dr. Anitha Thillaisundaram und her host Prof. Dr. Benjamin Klopsch

Dr. Anitha Thillaisundaram from Malaysia studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 2011 she obtained her doctoral degree, also from Cambrigde University. A postdoctoral fellowship at the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in Allahabad, India and a research stay at Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany, succeeded her doctoral studies. Together with the research group of Prof. Benjamin Klopsch she moved from Magdeburg to Düsseldorf in 2013. Since 2014 her scientific work within the Algebra and Number Theory Research Group at Heinrich Heine University is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The research area of Dr. Thillaisundaram is group theory. In mathematics, the term “group” refers to algebraic structures that allow one to systematically study and understand symmetries. Applications are found within solid state and elementary particle physics, as well as crystallography and within other areas of chemistry, biology and medicine.

Dr. Anitha Thillaisundaram (Photos: Uta Brunner)

How did the two of you get in contact initially?

Dr. Thillaisundaram: We met at one of these small group theory conferences in London many years ago when I was in the second year of my PhD. So we knew that we were working in the same sort of area.  I was looking for a position where I could do a bit more teaching. There are a lot of research positions advertised and these are quite competitive. I was looking for one that would also involve a bit of teaching. I contacted Benjamin when he had such a position to offer. 
Shortly after arriving in Germany I applied for the Humboldt fellowship because I realized that this is a good opportunity.

Are you teaching now?

Dr. Thillaisundaram: During the Humboldt fellowship not but once I go back to my normal postdoc position I will also teach - in German.

Prof. Klopsch: She learned German extremely well. You didn’t know any German when you first came to Magdeburg, right? I think this was a big challenge, but you did very well.

Dr. Thillaisundaram: Yes, the German courses at Heinrich Heine University are amazing.

How do you benefit from AvH funding as a scholar?

Dr. Thillaisundaram: It frees you from teaching; although I like it, it takes away a lot of research time. There is also research money that comes with the fellowship that is at your disposal. So I can travel and also invite collaborators. That is really the best situation one can hope for. In addition, the fellowship opens up a lot of doors.

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Klopsch

How do you benefit from hosting an AvH scholar?

Prof. Klopsch:  The Humboldt fellowship is ideally suited for our field of research as we are interested primarily in people; we do not need huge amounts of money for instruments or lab equipment. In addition, the application process is rather streamlined and very efficient. It also involves a reasonable amount of initial contact you need to somehow coordinate an application. We could propose research we are going to carry out without limiting ourselves to a narrow procedure. In general, I think it is a very efficient way to bring highly qualified young people to Germany.

Is Dr. Thillaisundaram the first Humboldt fellow you are hosting?

Prof. Klopsch:  Indeed, she is the first. A second Humboldt fellow will join our Research Group in October 2016. Working with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is very satisfying. I have also been involved in evaluating applications for Humboldt fellowships and must say that correspondence with the Humboldt foundation runs very smoothly.  Also the way that they ask for references and experts' views is very organized and convincing.
However, these Humboldt fellowships are for two years. If you really try to bring somebody here that you don’t yet know very well and then they only have these two years, it is almost a bit short in my perspective. I think it helps quite a bit if one has some basic contact established beforehand, or there is a genuine prospect of follow-up funding. In this way someone could stay for another year, say, before they find the next postdoc position.

Did you take part in any of the activities offered by the Humboldt Foundation?

Dr. Thillaisundaram: Yes, I took part in the Alexander von Humboldt Annual Meeting in Berlin, the Network Conference in Augsburg a few weeks ago and also a trip around Germany organized by the Humboldt Foundation. That was pretty cool.

Is there a joint publication or project proposal that already results from the collaborative work of the two of you?

Dr. Thillaisundaram: Sure, we have one joint publication and another one is almost ready for submission.


The interview was conducted by Dr. Uta Brunner.

Verantwortlich für den Inhalt: Junior Scientist and International Researcher Center