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Max Engel is a postdoc at the University of Cologne’s Geographical Institute. He recently received a researcher excellence grant from the University for his research on typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Congratulations, Max Engel!

Please briefly describe your current research and how the grant will help you to pursue this research.

In Professor Brückner’s working group at the Geographical Institute, we are primarily concerned with the reconstruction of landscape changes, particularly in coastal regions. These changes are either gradual, evolving over several millennia, or they are quite sudden, as in cases of extreme natural events (storm tides, tsunamis and the like). Besides investigating the impact of typhoon Haiyan on the coastal system of the Philippines, I am currently working with colleagues from different institutions on the reconstruction of climatic and environmental conditions in northern Saudi Arabia, coastal changes and sea-level fluctuations in Qatar, as well as the integration of sedimentary evidence of prehistoric tsunamis with numeric models of correlative tsunami scenarios in the southern Caribbean. In this context, the postdoc grant offers me the unique opportunity to document the impact of the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded on the coastal landscape, to use these sedimentary and geomorphological data to identify similar past events and – hopefully – to at some point be able to make first assertions about the regional frequency of such extreme events on a long, prehistoric timescale.

Can you describe in three words what convinced you to pursue your research at the University of Cologne?

1) cooperation opportunities

2) equipment

3) private situation

You do a lot of international travelling for your research at the UoC, conducting studies with other researchers at international universities and research institutes. How important is mobility and research collaboration among international researchers in your area?



I think mobility is very important, but perhaps that depends on what is being researched. Particularly for undergraduate and graduate students as well as young postdocs, it is tremendously important to experience different research environments: to learn in their subjects, to gain new perspectives on the familiar, to better asses oneself and one’s “home base”, and to build a network. Also, interdisciplinary research plays an increasingly important role. To successfully carry out research projects, it is essential to bring together a broad spectrum of competencies by cooperating with colleagues at home and abroad.

Is the University of Cologne an attractive employer for international postdocs?

There are many important factors at the University of Cologne: a great variety of subjects, research grants and research support, great cultural diversity among students and staff, numerous offers of the International Office, a well-developed research infrastructure (at least in the Geosciences) – and all that in an attractive, cosmopolitan city. 

Last but not least: If you could have a supernatural power, which would it be and how would you use it? 

From my own limited perspective, I would sometimes like time to run more slowly, or to add a few hours to each day. But these kinds of wishes are completely irrelevant when you are confronted with precarious humanitarian situations such as the one our team witnessed in the Philippines. We conducted interviews with eyewitnesses there in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan. In light of these kinds of impressions, the most important thing to wish for is that the world’s wealth be distributed a bit more justly. That way, in the long run people might be better prepared to take local precautions against the increasing occurrence of natural disasters.