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Interview | 02-02-2022

“We can be a role model”

In an interview, Professor Thomas Schröder, Director of the Leibniz-Institut für Kristallzüchtung, and Professor Stefan Eisebitt, Director at the Max Born Institute, talk about the FVB and their plans as the new team of spokespersons for the Executive Board.

The DNA of FVB: Excellent science efficiently managed. | Illustration: Anne Riemann & Thomas Schröder, IKZ

Professor Thomas Schröder took on the role of the Executive Board Spokesman of the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB) in September 2021; Professor Stefan Eisebitt is his deputy. The term of office is two years. Both are directors – Thomas Schröder leads the Leibniz-Institut für Kristallzüchtung (IKZ), and Stefan Eisebitt heads the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy (MBI). In this interview, they talk about what is so special about the Forschungsverbund, and the plans they have

The interview was conducted by Anja Wirsing.

Mr. Schröder, you were appointed Director of the Leibniz­-Institut für Kristallzüchtung over three years ago. Since then, you have also been a member of the Executive Board of the Forschungsverbund Berlin. How did you see FVB when you started, and how do you see it now?

T. Schröder: When I started as Director of IKZ, I had the advantage that I already knew several FVB institutes from my scientific work. So I was familiar with FVB from that perspective. But what I lacked when I first came to FVB was an understanding of the Joint Administration processes. How do I see FVB now? A standing ovation for having implemented three key digitalization projects in our Joint Administration over the past few years: electronic purchasing, the electronic personnel file, and the electronic invoicing program. They were a savior during the pandemic. We can be proud to perform at this level.

Mr. Schröder and Mr. Eisebitt, you are the new team of spokespersons for the Executive Board of FVB. What is so special about FVB? What is its added value, in your opinion?

T. Schröder: I’d like to use the image of DNA to describe FVB: One strand is our efficient administration, the other is our excellent research. Both strands of DNA are bound to each other by bases from one strand joining with bases from the other strand. To me, this symbolizes the “handshake” of administrative and scientific cooperation among the institutes. Regarding the added value of FVB: Our administration is more modern than that of many other research institutions. After all, joint administrative structures help to consolidate requirements, reducing costs. This idea is more current – and necessary – than ever. There are, of course, also scientific synergies within the Forschungsverbund, especially between institutes that have close thematic ties.

S. Eisebitt: Our institutes have very independent scientific profiles. There is some disciplinary overlap between the institutes, and they would cooperate even if FVB did not exist. But the alliance improves the flow of information. Our connecting link is the Joint Administration. Regarding this aspect, I would go even further: I see FVB as a think tank, given its role as a pioneer in how to manage science effectively. So many facets and perspectives are represented in FVB, giving us the opportunity to move forward. We can be a role model.

FVB is one of the largest non-­university research institutions in Berlin. Which types of collaboration are particularly important, in your opinion?

T. Schröder: Very good progress has been made recently with BR50, the network of non-university research institutions in Berlin that was founded last year. The current BR50 position paper on the election in Berlin, defining the framework conditions for excellent research, is outstanding.

S. Eisebitt: BR50 is a very good initiative. It also shows how FVB can act as a think tank, given that the Forschungsverbund helped initiate the creation of BR50. The universities in the region continue to be important partners for FVB. We have excellent links, thanks to our joint appointments. As a result, however, we also see structural problems, such as the complicated business of appointing professors. In the past, we have already put forward proposals for improving joint appointment procedures in the political arena.

T. Schröder: Another example I would like to mention is the Leibniz Strategy Forum “Technological Sovereignty,” many facets of which reach out to politics at the federal level. Several Leibniz institutes pool their expertise in this forum to create a joint strategy for the further development of key technology fields in Germany. We recently held a panel discussion on this topic at Berlin Science Week 2021. This involved us cooperating with other institutions in the field of materials science at the Adlershof site, in particular IGAFA, the Joint Initiative of Non-University Research Institutes in Adlershof.

Where do you currently see an urgent need for action?

T. Schröder: We are keen to consolidate and continue to develop the Joint Administration, which has suffered considerably due to the restructuring following the departure of the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut at the end of last year. It led to a turnover of staff and a loss of competence, and the workload was and still is very high. But now we look to the future. It is particularly important for our administrative staff to be able to say again: “Hey, it’s great to work at FVB.” We also have new young recruits who can develop and gain a strong foothold in the current dynamic environment. The challenge we face also creates opportunities. We need to listen carefully, maintain close contact, and assist the department heads in implementing the proposed structures. Our new Managing Director Dr. Nicole Münnich will be strongly committed to these goals. I would just like to say that our administration functions at all levels, which is very much appreciated. But we – the heads of institutes and departments, and the researchers – must also show our appreciation.

S. Eisebitt: I would like to add that the Forschungsverbund is a pioneer in the administrative area. The digitalization projects we mentioned are one good example. It’s interesting and appealing not only to all those who are not after a run-of-the-mill job, but also to young and ambitious employees. We must also continue to work on promoting exchange between research and administration. A format such as “Meet your ‘purchaser’” would be one example of how this could work. We need to create opportunities to talk, making it easier to see things from the other perspective.

What do you want to focus on during your term as the team of spokespersons for the Executive Board?

T. Schröder: I see the topics of digitalization, equality, and the climate-neutral development of our buildings as our main areas of focus. IT security will also be a key issue. Regarding equality, it would be great if FVB could be on a par with the Leibniz Association, which, with a share of 47 percent female scientists in 2020, has come a long way. In contrast, only 31.5 percent of FVB scholars are women, which of course is also linked to our institutes’ subject orientation. To improve on this, we need to join forces in FVB to develop excellent ideas and measures that will have a greater impact. And much needs to be done regarding our buildings, because some have come to the end of their useful life and incur very high maintenance costs. We want to achieve climate neutrality in our buildings – it’s politically desirable, but finding the funding for it is more than challenging.

S. Eisebitt: Buildings play a huge role in the climate debate. As FVB, we could contribute model projects in the area of construction. And because we also operate joint infrastructure, this would allow us to be more efficient.

The current issue of the Verbundjournal focuses on “Women in science.” What would you like to do for female researchers at FVB?

T. Schröder: I co-chaired the Leibniz Association’s Equality project group for three years. There are guidelines on equality at Leibniz, and examples of action have also been compiled. The DFG also has very good material that we can work with. Introducing “shared leadership” at middle and senior management levels was the solution at IKZ – this increased the willingness of female scientists to take on such a position. They can continue researching, while sharing the administrative work with another person. We need to reach out to talented young women, and develop measures to attract them to work in appealing positions.

S. Eisebitt: Unfortunately, there is not a balanced pool of male and female applicants in our natural and engineering science institutes; the situation is better in our environmental and life science institutes. I believe we need to start much earlier – we have to go into schools and get girls in particular interested in science. And funding programs also help: At MBI, we recently submitted an application to the Leibniz Programme for Women Professors, which has now been approved. Female scientists at IGB and FMP have also been successful in this program in the past.

The interview was published in the Verbundjournal 117 | 2021 with the focus on women in science.

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