▐  The Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences is privileged to host the ECPR’s Winter School in Methods and Techniques for the last three years and will continue the collaboration in 2018. With 50 courses and roughly 500 participants the event is a considerable success every year.

Led by a team of diverse, experienced and internationally known instructors, participants are supplied with the methodological skill set needed to start their academic careers while our interesting plenary program gives them the opportunity for all important networking. This is achieved in the form of intensive and interactive small-group workshops, Brown Paper Bag sessions and opportunities for informal exchanges.The ECPR’s Winter and Summer Schools are characterized not only by the participants’ and instructors’ diverse social scientific backgrounds but also by their varied origins.

Professor Benoît Rihoux from the  University of Louvain in Belgium, one of the academic convenors of the  ECPR methods school summarizes the Winter School: „The Methods School is not only about 'technical' training, it's also about thinking about one's research, about networking, exchanging experiences, and enjoying a relaxed atmosphere. Working hard and having a good time is not incompatible. I [always] look forward to having a good, hard-working time in Bamberg!”

___ What is the Winter School like?

Participants and members of the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences give some insights:

   Mirijam Böhme (pictured below), ECPR Winter School 2016 participant, said: "I took the 'Qualitative Interviewing' course. The instructor gave many helpful examples and spoke about the experiences she gained when working together with Master and PhD students. During the course, we did a lot of practical exercises, conducted an interview with other PhD students on 'Social Capital' and even received feedback on the interviews. So we learned a lot!"

   Ai Miyamoto (pictured below), ECPR Winter School 2016 participant, added: "I took part in the 'Handling Missing Data' course and I really liked it! It was very helpful because I am currently dealing with the challenge of missing data for my research. Since our instructor was acquainted with the NEPS data I am working with she could also reply to questions regarding the data."  

   Lucas Geese, associate member of the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences and ECPR Winter School 2017 participant tells us: "I’m doing the course on Bayesian Inference with Susumu Shikano. There’s a good mix of theoretical background and application. Before, I was studying this topic just for the fun of it but turns out to have real, practical relevance for my PhD studies."

___ An Interview with Benoît Rihoux

We talked to one of the academic convenors, Benoît Rihoux, about what makes the Winter School special, what makes Bamberg the perfect host and what he personally aims to achieve here.

   What is special about the ECPR Winter School in Methods and Techniques?

   Benoît: There are several important aspects, which are shared both by the Winter School and the Summer School, as really this is an integrated Methods School, all year round. First of all, it is designed to be all-encompassing. Many varieties of research are presented - qualitative, comparative, quantitative methods etc. In most method schools around the world, there is often an emphasis on a given ‘family’ of methods (typically: more qualitative, or more quantitative methods) because this is seen as the ‘best’ way to do research. However, there are multiple views of methods in social sciences. Our view is: ‘Let’s be rigorous in our methods, whichever one we choose.’ So that is what we aim to do.

Secondly, the Winter School is non-profit. We aim to financially break-even of course but the mission is really to make methods training as accessible as possible to the maximum number of people. This is especially important for self-funded students, mainly from Eastern or Southern Europe where funding for additional training and mobility is not necessarily available.

Thirdly, the Winter School is a place where people develop career skills. Not only the attendees but also the instructors. We strive to find a wide diversity of instructors from different backgrounds. This means we don’t only invite ‘big names’. Often we invite young, very motivated instructors, post-docs or such. They might not yet be as established but they really burn for their respective courses and projects. We want to target colleagues that are committed to the mission of teaching rigorous methodology to a a demanding and motivated public.

   What makes Bamberg in general and the Graduate School of Social Sciences of the University of Bamberg specifically a suitable host?

   Benoît: From a technical standpoint, it is practical that we can concentrate all the activities in one single building. People are in the same facility, spend their breaks together and can exchange what they’ve learned in their courses; they can also socialize, create links in general, which is very important for network- and career-building. So it is large enough but still, everything is in one building.

From a content perspective, there is a local critical mass of people who teach and are specialized in various methods. At BAGSS, and around BAGSS, there are many professors and students who work rigorously with numerous methods. This is of course also cheaper because they do not require travel costs and this again helps our mission to keep the enrolment fee as low as possible as to make the Winter School accessible to all.

Bamberg as a city is great because it is relatively small and cosy. I personally think this is a great advantage. After the course sessions, during the social events, you spontaneously bump into people in the city centre and that is just nice. Of course it’s not Berlin, or Paris, or London, etc. but people don’t scatter when the daily academic activities are over, which is great for socializing and networking.

   What are you personally hoping to achieve this Winter School?

   Benoît: I definitely have long-term goals. In two keywords I would say: social contact and innovation. Social contact in the sense that we are building a community here. It’s not only about professional networking, personally I have developed real friendships. It’s a platform where you can sit together at dinner or over a coffee or beer and discuss all kinds of topics, academic or non-academic.

Innovation in the sense that the Winter School is not about replicating knowledge but to help develop methodological innovations and to push the participants to think about what methods are about. It sounds ambitious but I am proud of the fact that we are expanding frontiers. ◼







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