Shaping the Jacobs Center’s Identity

Stepping down after serving for eleven years as the director of the Jacobs Center at the University of Zurich, Prof. Marlis Buchmann was honored at a symposium on June 9, 2017. At that event, held at Marbach Castle on Lake Constance, Prof. Michael Shanahan, the Center’s new director, thanked Prof. Buchmann for her work and her many achievements.

Klaus J. Jacobs (d. 2008) at the official opening of the Jacobs Center, which was held in the University of Zurich auditorium in 2003.
We spoke with former director Prof. Marlis Buchmann about the founding of the Jacobs Center, its greatest achievements and her hopes for its future.

What was the Jacobs Center like in 2004, and what have been its greatest accomplishments?
The Jacobs Center was inaugurated in 2003 at a ceremony held in the auditorium of the University of Zurich, and it began operations in 2004. As a scientist and the Center’s founding director, I have had the unique opportunity to build, from the ground up, a center for research on child and youth development and to help shape its identity.
The Center’s greatest achievement during my tenure has been to launch a major longitudinal study of children and young people in Switzerland that looks at their social conditions, life experiences and psychosocial development from a life-course perspective. The COCON study, which has been studying the lives and development of individual children and youth for the past 12 years, is a groundbreaking achievement. It has established the Jacobs Center as an important player in the international research community in the field of child and youth development.

What results are you most proud of?
The COCON study was one of the first to conduct systematic research on the importance of transitions during the early years of a person’s life – from the time children start school until they enter the job market. It has made a major contribution to our understanding of the role such institutionalized transitions and turning points play in the development of cognitive, socioemotional and action-oriented skills.

How does the Jacobs Center differ from other centers funded by third parties? What makes it so unique?
From the very beginning, an interdisciplinary approach has been central to the work of the Jacobs Center. Our studies systematically combine research from a developmental-psychology perspective with a sociologist’s understanding of the importance of social contexts and norms in a child’s development. This has enabled us to show how institutional and structural factors and social expectations shape developmental processes, and how those processes, in turn, affect subsequent transitions.

What opportunities and challenges are facing the Jacobs Center today?
The Jacobs Center’s expansion in 2015, which increased personnel and funding, and the long-term commitment of the Jacobs Foundation and the University of Zurich have given the Center an extraordinary opportunity to expand the range of disciplines involved in its longitudinal research on child and youth development, beyond the “traditional” disciplines that focus on children and youth, such as psychology, education and sociology. While collaborating with additional disciplines is obviously a major challenge, the benefits – in the form of significant new findings – promise to be enormous as well.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes for the Jacobs Center?
My greatest hope for the Jacobs Center, as for any research center, is that it will generate high-quality, innovative research.
The Center’s expansion will allow it to achieve the “critical mass,” in terms of personnel and funding, that will make it a major player in the international research community in the field of child and youth development.