19. September 2022 | Magazine:

Role Model: Jan Büssers Experiences as a First Generation Academic

The project Role Models: First Generation Academics at TU Braunschweig makes social diversity at our university visible within the framework of Focus 2022: First Generation Students, enables people to get to know different educational biographies and creates academic role models for First Generation Students. Through short interviews, various members of TU Braunschweig who were the first in their family to study introduce themselves.

Photo: Jan Büssers, officer at the Centre of Gender Studies and doctoral student in philosophy at TU Darmstadt/TU Braunschweig

When did you decide to study and what influenced that decision?

Actually, science has always excited me – both the STEM subjects and the humanities. I completed my compulsory school internships at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen and also attended philosophy and physics lecture series there during my upper school years. That’s why it was quickly clear to me that I wanted to study after my Abitur. The more difficult question was “What?”, because I naturally lacked role models in my family. At the same time, I was torn between my fascination for the natural sciences, especially the life sciences, and philosophical reflection on the world. I had to work that out with myself, even though the question from family members, “And then what do you do with that?”, certainly advised more towards the natural sciences – although my choice of “biotechnology” then also led to a similar reaction. The fact that it was ultimately possible to study both was due to where I chose to study. At TU Darmstadt, there is a Master’s programme in “Technology and Philosophy”, which is particularly interesting for students who previously studied a STEM subject (similar to the KTW programme at TU Braunschweig). Today, I see myself more in the humanities, but I am very happy to also have some understanding and basic knowledge of the STEM subjects.

In what situations did you realise that you were a first generation academic?

I can’t say exactly what made me realise it, but I quickly realised that there is a certain simultaneity of different life realities at universities. Perhaps it was situations like this, such as my anxiety and hope at the beginning of my studies that the BAföG decision and the first money would come soon, before my savings from my civilian service time were used up. While others at the first student parties talked about their new flat that their parents had bought for them near the university: For me as a working-class child, completely utopian. In addition, there was a lack of guidance that a related person with university experience could give, answers to questions such as: What should one pay attention to? What makes strategic sense in the curricula? Which institutions at a university can help you? Who can also take a look at a student research project? But I did have to deal with the latter at a certain point in my school career.  It’s also helpful to know that other fellow students have the same problems and that you can help each other.

From today’s perspective, what message would you give your student self? 

“Don’t give up!” (if you like it dancey and have learned to dance to your own “suffering”, feel free to sing Sia’s “Never Give Up” at this point). May sound simple, but this long road through exams, just like things that happen to you outside the university context, sometimes make you want to give up. This is certainly not a unique characteristic of First Generation Students, but part of every academic career – even in the subsequent precarious employment at universities (keyword #IchBinHanna). But looking back on this rocky road, I would want to complete large parts of the route again in exactly the same way.

What ideas do you have to improve equal opportunities for first generation students?

In addition to many measures that could certainly be implemented in the degree programmes in an advisory capacity, or the development or use of networks that already exist, I personally find visibility important, as this interview also attempts to create. It takes more than promises of advancement and hardly encouraging statistics, but contact with people who can give hope to others with their story and show that it is possible. It’s okay to fail at it, but it’s not okay not to have dared because you think an academic path isn’t mapped out. Perhaps this also requires literary works, such as those that already exist in France with Didier Eribon’s “Return to Rheims” or the books of Édouard Louis. Autobiographical literature that illustrates paths already taken and also shows the hurdles that have to be overcome in life.