Name: Michael Gebel
Field: Sociology
Country: Germany
Occupation: Professor of Sociology, especially Methods of Empirical Social Research, University of Bamberg
Research Interests: Life Course Research, Unemployment, Atypical Employment, Social Stratification/Inequality



▐  Michael Gebel, one of our faculty members, was recently awarded the prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant amounting to 1.4 million Euro. He earned the grant for his longitudinal study "The Socio-Economic Consequences of Temporary Employment: A Comparative Panel Data Analysis (SECCOPA)" where he aims to provide a novel understanding of the socio-economic consequences of temporary work. With this Starting Grant, the ECR targets talented early-career scientist under the 'Excellent Science' pillar of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme.


   In an interview, Michael Gebel tells us about his motivations behind applying for an ECR grant, the challenges he faced and how he combined his personal experience with a mix of different ideas to create this one overarching research project.



    What drew you to Sociology and especially to labour market sociology?

   M.G.  When I grew up, Germany experienced mass unemployment and was called the “sick man of Europe”. This raised my interest in understanding labor market issues, but I also became interested in related sociological and economic topics. As sociology and economics were not covered in secondary school, I wanted to take on this challenge during my university studies. At the University of Mannheim I had the chance to follow courses of leading scholars in sociology and economics and to work as a student assistant on topics of labor market research and quantitative data analyses. I finally decided to do a PhD in sociology because sociology is well positioned in comparative studies. I particularly love studying aspects in an international comparison. I enjoy learning about the varieties, but also the similarities, of individual life courses in different cultural, institutional, and structural settings.


   How did you know you had an idea with the potential to make an important contribution to your scientific field?

   M.G.  Many concerns have been raised about temporary employment in political and scientific debates. So I knew that this is a hot topic. I discovered several shortcomings in the literature that I wanted to address. For example, not only comparing temporary jobs to permanent jobs, but also to the alternative of unemployment. I wanted to investigate various socio-economic consequences to get a comprehensive understanding and use panel data to model the dynamic processes at the individual and the household level as well. Finally, I wanted to extend European-focused comparative research by incorporating Canada, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Consequently, it was not the one brilliant idea, but the mix of several ideas that makes SECCOPA an important contribution. And I knew that I am the right person to do this given my specific skills and experience. The researcher and the project must match.


   When did you know this idea was ripe for funding and why did you choose to apply for an ECR starting grant in particular?

   M.G.  Developing the SECCOPA research idea was a very long process. I always think a lot about new research ideas, discuss it with my research associates, and like to make strategic plans for the future. So I had the SECCOPA idea in my mind and was just waiting for the right moment and funding initiative. At the same time, since becoming eligible, I planned an ERC application because I wanted the challenge and to face the tough competition for this prestigious grant. However, as I was successful in getting two large grants in 2015, I decided it would be better to wait with my ERC application. That meant the last application round was the appropriate moment.


   What difficulties did you come across?

The preparatory work helped me a lot in writing the proposal. Moreover, I gained a lot of experience through writing grant applications and acting as a reviewer for funding agencies and journals. I am also glad that Rick Glöckner from the Research and Transfer Division of the University of Bamberg supported me continuously. However, I also faced problems. There were strong administrative burdens with my two ongoing research projects EXCEPT and TEW-CCA and I had to spend much time coordinating the work of the 80 researchers from 13 countries that are involved in the two projects. I also had a full teaching load. Consequently, I had to spend even more time working in my office in the late evenings and on weekends than usual. When preparing the grant interview I became worried upon hearing that other applicants received extensive private coaching. But, finally, I think it is also good news that one's application can succeed without the applicant getting amenities such as private coaching or deductions from the teaching loads.


   What was your strategy before receiving the grant and what is your strategy for the next five years?

Since the start of my PhD, I have been very much engaged in comparative and collaborative research and attended many conferences worldwide to get connected and well-known. Next to doing European comparative research, I have crossed European boarders doing research on the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Right now I am in Taipei doing collaborative research on Taiwanese panel data. Working internationally is really exciting. In addition, I worked hard on publishing diverse topics, getting several research grants, often acting as a reviewer, and teaching many courses. So I would say I followed a quite diversified strategy to get established and this is also what I want to continue doing in the future. Additionally, my specific strategy for the next five years is to fulfill the expectations of ERC, which is to do excellent research. I have to spend much more time on research again and I am very much looking forward to it. I hope to find the right support and get enough freedom to fulfill the expectations of the ERC. 

// Interview: Katrin Bernsdorff 







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