An espresso with… Priyadarshani Premarathne

Porträt von Priyadarshani Premarathne

Hapuarachchige Dona Priyadarshani Premarathne did her doctorate at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Science (BIGSSS) from February 2017 to January 2022. Prior to this, she completed a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master of philosophy in sociology in Sri Lanka, as well as a postgraduate diploma in psychosocial work and counselling. She served as a junior lecturer before obtaining her PhD and currently serves as a senior lecturer (equivalent to associate professor in the US/German system).

Why did you decide to do your doctorate in Bremen?

I learned about the University of Bremen through a close colleague and mentor, Professor Asela Kulatunga, who previously served as a gLink Erasmus postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bremen. While searching for a scholarship for my doctoral studies, I came across the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND under the EU Horizon 2020 programme, which co-financed doctoral theses. With insights from my colleague and mentor, I gained an understanding of the research culture in German universities, in particular the clusters around Uni Bremen. With this knowledge, I then decided in favour of BIGSSS because its work in the field of sociology and humanities particularly appealed to me.

Did the doctoral programme in Bremen meet your expectations?

Certainly, it even exceeded my expectations. The initial phase in Bremen was challenging as everything, including the language and culture, was entirely new to me. However, I received tremendous support from various quarters at BIGSSS, including my main supervisor, Prof Sonja Drobnič, and my colleagues. Special appreciation from the very beginning goes to BIGSSS managing director Christian Peters, Susan Westing-Kilian, Stefanie and others from the administration.

The support extended beyond academic areas; various university groups and peers guided us through campus, explained university operations, and introduced us to the city. The U Bremen Research Alliance Welcome Centre played a crucial role, organising summer excursions, welcome parties, and the International Café every Wednesday, facilitating numerous connections. The International Office consistently provided valuable support in times of need.

In terms of academic assistance, my field studies, including the stay abroad program at UNC Chapel Hill and conference visits, were all financially supported. The support I received significantly contributed to my progress. Coming from Sri Lanka, where I primarily knew qualitative methods, various courses here equipped me with quantitative skills, enabling me to analyse substantial datasets. I am now bringing this enhanced knowledge back to Sri Lanka.

Which professors were the most consequential for you?

My primary supervisor, Professor Sonja Drobnič, had the most significant influence on me, particularly in the selection of my PhD research topic and the development of my interest in quantitative methods. She also introduced me to other research fields, such as the sociology of work, well-being, and work-life balance—topics that continue to be the focus of my work today. My second supervisor, Dr Mandy Boehnke, who is now the vice rector of the University of Bremen, was also incredibly supportive and important to me during my PhD journey. Additionally, Professor Barbara Beham, my third supervisor, inspired me to explore cross-cultural management, organisational psychology, and sociological aspects in my research. Collectively, these professors motivated me to specialise in the field of sociology of work, family, and well-being, emphasising work-family balance.

What did you bring with you from your doctoral studies in Bremen to your current job in Sri Lanka?

Certainly, the social science research methodology was a significant learning experience for me. During my study time in Bremen and the USA, I truly immersed myself in learning quantitative methods, where previously I had only received qualitative methods training. Another crucial aspect is engaging in international activities. Prior to my doctorate, I had no international experience, but now I actively encourage our students to pursue opportunities abroad, such as summer schools, workshops and internships. This extends to fostering international cooperation, as seen in our alumni network. In Bremen, I acquired the skills to internationalise academic activities and support students in their endeavours.

Furthermore, my time in Bremen enriched my teaching capabilities, introducing me to new didactic methods. Numerous other experiences have contributed to my growth. I gained resilience, a valuable lesson during my challenging doctoral studies. Dealing with personal difficulties, including the loss of my father and navigating the Covid pandemic, taught me the importance of persisting in learning despite adversity and not giving up.

What advice would you give to today's students?

It’s really important to develop resilience, social and emotional intelligence, and cultural competence in general. International students, in particular, have to overcome various problems such as foreign culture, language barriers, financial difficulties, missing families, and a lack of social capital. My advice is: don't give up!

It’s just as important to follow your own interests and passions. Due to the intense competition in various professional fields, students tend to change their fields frequently. That's not good as it involves too much stress. If you really want to stay in academia, then stand up for yourself and try to make your way there. Research new areas where you can develop yourself and keep on working.

How did you like the city of Bremen?

Very much, I enjoyed living there. The city is so green, and the people are so friendly. I often went to the Weser or Bürgerpark, and I cycled a lot. I always lived on campus in international student residence halls, and I have to say I loved being on campus. Additionally, I am still in touch with my Bremen friends. Overall, I love Bremen. It holds a special place in my heart.

What does the University of Bremen mean to you today?

I simply hope that many things will continue to develop. The international research collaborations, collaborative publications, the alumni network. And I am always happy to be an ambassador for the University of Bremen in Sri Lanka. During my graduation ceremony, I shared with the entire team what the abbreviation BIGSSS means to me:

B = Best

I = Inspiring

G = Guiding

S = Social

S = Sensitive

S = Supportive