’I want to be part of scientific progress’

One of Claudia Caballero Reyes' favourite places in Münster is the Bota

One of Claudia Caballero Reyes' favourite places in Münster is the Botanical Garden of the University of Münster. © WWU - Kathrin Kottke

Scientific international exchange during the Corona pandemic poses many challenges. The junior researcher Claudia Caballero Reyes from Havana University has been researching her doctoral thesis at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Münster since April. She is the first doctoral candidate from Cuba to complete a research stay in Münster through the "Erasmus+" programme. Kathrin Kottke spoke with her about her research and challenges during the Corona pandemic.

It took you several attempts before you were actually on the plane on your way to Münster - what happened? It was quite an adventure. Frequent and unpredictable changes in Corona regulations changed plans more than once. Originally, I was supposed to come in September last year, but then there was a lockdown in Havana. We had postponed the arrival until January. Then came the lockdown in Germany. When I was already at the airport in April, I had to turn back again because the entry requirements regarding the Corona test had changed. A week later, I was finally there.

Was it worth the effort? Absolutely! Coming to Münster and visiting the Institute of Psychology is a great opportunity to advance my research - at the end of my stay I would like to have a first version of my doctoral thesis ready. The exchange with the team around Ulrike Buhlmann and the kolloquium with Gerald Echterhoff has greatly enriched my professional expertise, perspectives and possibilities of interpretation and given me new impulses.

What is your research project about? My research focus is community psychology. I am studying four geographical communities in western Cuba: Plaza de la Revolución, Marianao, Artemisa and San Antonio de los Baños. I conducted interviews in each community with more than 300 inhabitants and more than 50 representatives of institutions from different fields of work - for example, local government, health, economy, education and culture. In this way, I learned a lot about the cultural, economic, physical, political and social needs of the communities. Of particular interest to me were the processes of understanding and exchange between inhabitants and institutions in order to meet the respective needs. From my research findings, I derive practical recommendations for municipal governments.

What are these recommendations? The main aim is to establish fast and direct exchange between the institutions and residents and suitable communication channels. On the one hand, this includes regular meetings between the inhabitants and the government institutions to promote the joint development and implementation of solutions and initiatives. On the other hand, I propose to take more advantage of "electronic government" opportunities. This will enable citizens to access the services of municipal governments in an uncomplicated and time-independent manner.

What characterises you personally as a researcher? I like to study and learn for my life - it is the only way staying curious. For my research, that is my main motivation pursuing my goals.

What are those goals? I want to be part of scientific progress and contribute with my work to social transformation in favour of collective and individual well-being, for example, by providing support to communities so that they can better articulate themselves, increase solidarity and social support. An important component of this is the professional training of psychology students. In my role as a lecturer, I support the development of young people.

You are still at the beginning of your academic career yourself. What are your greatest academic achievements so far? I am part of a research team at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Havana that was recently awarded by the Ministries of Higher Education and Science, Technology and Environment. We conducted a research on social heterogeneity based on occupational identity, educational opportunities and networks of access to material and emotional resources. As part of a group of psychologists who provided group psychological counselling during the pandemic, we received another award from the Cuban Academy of Sciences. These are two great achievements for me.

Are there other important moments in your career so far? The Havana University has been my home from the beginning and the time at my Alma Marta has been very important to me: studying social psychology and organising the 'International Meeting of Psychology Students' - a biannual congress organised by students - were very important stages. The studies led me to my current research topic and the congress organisation gave me the confidence to set up an international event.

Speaking of international: What do you like about the city and the University of Münster? All the people I have interacted with - professors, students and university staff - are very friendly, helpful and work with great commitment towards common goals. I have already made good friends. Especially starting in Münster in spring was wonderful. Due to the Corona pandemic, I wasn't able to do many things, but I got to know and love the city and the scenic surroundings through some field trips.

Is there also something that you find a bit strange? I actually find some situations quite curious - especially in relation to traffic. For example, waiting for the green light even when there is no car, the punctuality of the buses and the number of bicycles! Our cultures are quite different in this respect and it was enjoyable to discover this. It was a nice experience that I would like to repeat.

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