Interview with Prof Dr Azirah Hashim, Alexander von Humboldt alumna

Tell us about your research background and interests

My research interests are in the areas of Language Contact, English in Southeast Asia, Language and Law. I have been involved in research projects such as the study of loan words in the media in Malaysia, arbitration and courtroom discourse in Malaysia, English in Cambodia and Public understanding of expert views on health risks.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is one of German’s most prestigious funding bodies. How did you learn about it?

I learnt about it from a visiting professor from Germany, Professor Gerhard Leitner from the Free University Berlin, who shared some of the same research interests as myself.

How did you go about applying for the fellowship?

I browsed the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation website and keyed in information about myself to find out which fellowship would suit me best and found that the Georg Forster Research Fellowhsip for Experienced Researchers appeared as the most suitable one for me. I then decided on the area of research that I would want to focus on while in Germany and wrote a research proposal, filled in the necessary documents and sent in my application. I had determined by then that the host university that I would apply for was the Free University Berlin where my collaborator was based at. The Georg Forster fellowship is a programme where anyone with his/her discipline competes worldwide with other disciplines. To get such a grant shows recognition of one’s scholarly work.

What are the most significant benefits you derive as an Alexander von Humboldt alumnus in terms of work and networking?

As an alumnus, I have maintained connections with German academics, continued researching and writing with my research collaborator from Free University Berlin and have had the opportunity of being selected for the International Deans Course conducted in Germany and in Southeast Asia thereby connecting me to more German academics and Southeast Asian scholars.

As a researcher, how do you see the benefits of networking?

To me it is an essential part of being a scholar. It has led me to learn about research that is done in a number of places outside of Malaysia, enabled me to be involved in collaborative research, organise joint events and expand knowledge significantly.

Are there any tips that you would like to give to prospective AvH candidates?

AvH provides this great opportunity that for many is once in a life time. Be open to learning from other research/academic cultures. Germany has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, history and culture.

You have recently taken on the role of Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Institute at UM. What are your goals for the future development and mission of the institute?

My goals for the Asia-Europe Institute (AEI) are to sharpen AEI’s role as strategic think tank of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process from the Malaysian perspective and interest, to make it a lively hub for research, teaching and learning on Asia-Europe that attracts both scholars and students, to have increased mobility of academics, researchers and students between the Institute and other universities in Europe and Asia, and to have more European students enrolled in the four International Masters programmes at the Institute.

What would be your main advise to junior researchers considering a research stay in Europe?

Junior researchers should look out for grants more widely and adapt their actions to meet expectations. While in Germany, they should use that opportunity to sharpen their research skills and benefit from intercultural experiences.

What are your plans to the future?

For the next few of years, I would like to focus on the Asia-Europe Institute (AEI) and the Centre for ASEAN Regionalism University of Malaya (CARUM) and enhance their regional and international status as well as visibility. I would like to see an increase in the number of research fellows and professors as well as a pool of young talent at AEI and CARUM, locate key people in disciplines, and increase partnerships with outside UM, with European universities, other regions and industry.

Thank you for your time!

About the researcher

Azirah Hashim (BA Hertfordshire, MA (TEFL) East Anglia, MA (Lings.) East Anglia, PhD (Lings.) Malaya) is a Professor in the English Language Department, University of Malaya (UM). She researches on Language Contact, English in the Region, Language and Law and Professional Communication.