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Surveying and Networking

The Senate and University Council have re-elected Gunther Neuhaus Vice President for Research

Freiburg, Apr 18, 2018

Surveying and Networking

Photo: Thomas Kunz

Prof. Dr. Gunther Neuhaus, a cell biologist, has been Vice President for Research at the University of Freiburg since 2012. The Senate and University Council have now approved him for another term. Nicolas Scherger spoke with Neuhaus about his time in the Rectorate until now and his plans for the coming years.

As Vice President for Research Gunther Neuhaus would like to bring together researchers from different disciplines — with the aim of inspiring new and promising projects for the future.
Photo: Thomas Kunz

Mr Neuhaus, what does it mean to you personally to be re-elected as Vice President for Research?

Gunther Neuhaus: Being re-elected is confirmation of what worked well during the last six years. The approval I received in years past from researchers and the university’s central administration reinforced my decision to seek another term and now I’m looking forward to the coming years.

How would you summarize your first term in office?

Ahead of reapplying for the position I met with my team and we put together a list of what we accomplished during that time — it was actually quite a bit. But a vice presidency can only be as good as the whole university, and research here was extremely successful during the past six years. I’d like to extend my thanks to my consultants, my office staff and all the researchers that contributed to this outcome.

 What were you particularly pleased about?

The development of the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). Six years ago, if you would’ve asked what FRIAS is at the university, you would’ve received a lot of different answers. What’s clear today is that it is a strategic tool that serves the whole university. There are many more examples: the integration of the Arnold Bergsträsser Institute for Socio-Cultural Research, which together with FRIAS is establishing the Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in Africa (MICAS Africa) in Ghana; the integration of the German Folksong Archive as the Center for Popular Culture and Music (ZPKM); and the founding of the Department of Sustainable Systems Engineering; or the grievance procedure for doctoral candidates.

Where would you like to have achieved more?

There are a few things. We’re still lagging a bit, for example with the concept of and basic financing for our research centers, because it’s difficult as long as it remains unclear how we will do in the Excellence Strategy competition and how the next budgets and financing for the university will be. Besides, I want to continue to improve the interaction and coordination with the medical program. Freiburg has an outstanding reputation in the life sciences, which is reflected in our existing clusters of excellence, applications for new clusters and the collaborative research centers. We want to make this unique feature even better.

Which experience has influenced you most?

I’ve met many interesting people from whom I’ve learned and benefited — starting  with my team members and extending to personalities like the FRIAS Administrative Director Dr. Carsten Dose, to the Nobel laureates who took part in the Staudinger Lectures or colleagues from our key partners schools, the Universities of Adelaide, Penn State, Nagoya, Nanjing and Strasbourg. All these encounters were really enriching for me.

How would you describe your administrative style?

My goal is, on the one hand, to set a clear direction — and on the other, it’s to encourage all staff members to contribute ideas or criticism openly. That’s why I’d really emphasize teamwork and transparency and honesty vis-á-vis everyone from the university community. That’s basic for me.

In which fields of research does the university want to shine most brightly?

There are eight areas where we really want to stand out, take for example, biological signaling studies, a field in which we are very strong and have research-oriented teaching. Then there are the potential fields that look at the complexity of the natural world and ecosystems of the future which will develop dynamically in the coming years. If the university wants to ensure its ability to renew itself, it has to successfully support new, projects that hold promise for the future. FRIAS contributes to that. The events held on the topic of “Disruptive Science” add to it, too. They are dedicated to viewing things from different angles and finding research approaches that could possibly lead to major scientific breakthroughs. Beyond that we promote the transfer of knowledge to society.  One of the most important upcoming projects is establishing “Freiburg Network on Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Science and Technology,” or FELSA, as a platform for researching developments in the natural sciences and technology with respect to legal issues, ethical questions and societal acceptance.

 What roles do the partner schools play?

As Vice President for Research, for me the university is the first priority. Yet it can only develop in conjunction with the entire location. First of all, we’ve got some important partners here in Freiburg: the Fraunhofer Institutes, with which we chart new courses that could serve as models for the entire country at the Sustainability Center Freiburg; and the Max Planck Institutes, which we continue to want to bring closer to the university. We’re well-positioned in the region with the Eucor partner universities and the European Campus and we have close ties to all the other universities and research institutions in the region as well. In this way we will succeed in augmenting continually the global visibility of the entire research region. Beyond that, at a global level, we’ve got a few key partners that I’ve already named, a few select universities with which we coordinate strategic goals and pursue joint projects.

How do you see your role as Vice President for Research?

I put my heart and soul into research and teaching, and it’s still important to me to remain close to actual research. I value close contact with the faculties. Research projects from all disciplines cross my desk. That allows me to keep an eye on everything and gives me a good overview. I see it as part of my job to connect researchers from different disciplines more closely with one another. But there’s a limit. When I applied for another six years in office I was aware of the fact that I’ll be 65 years old when I start my second term in October. Still, I’m convinced that I’ll ably take the university through the current excellence competition, but I’m also advising the institution nevertheless to reorganize  ahead of the next competition in 2026 – no matter how the results of the current one turn out. I see my work as finished in 2020.

What headlines would you like to read at that point?

That the University of Freiburg has been awarded two more clusters and was also successful in the second funding round of the excellence competition. But first we need both clusters so we’re eligible to submit applications for the second funding round.


Research profile of the University of Freiburg