The University of Konstanz’s Zukunftskolleg has existed for ten years. “In dialogue” with us, its director, Professor Giovanni Galizia, explains why cooking together can take science forward. The fellows Dr Jennifer Randerath and Dr Dennis Pingen explain what they value most about the Zukunftskolleg.
... has been Professor of Neurobiology and Zoology in the University of Konstanz’s Department of Biology since 2005 and Director of the Zukunftskolleg since 2009. From 2002 to 2005 he served as a founding member of the Junge Akademie, which was founded in Halle by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
Professor Galizia, you have headed the Zukunftskolleg for eight years. Do you still find your job challenging? And if so, why?
Yes, absolutely. The Zukunftskolleg changes all the time: There is a constant influx of new scientists and researchers - our fellows - with exciting and innovative research projects. They all come with their own personalities, experiences and impulses, all of which benefit the entire community. Bringing together fellows from entirely different departments makes for a very exciting mix and generates brilliant new ideas.
We call ourselves Zukunftskolleg for good reason: we look to the future, ask ourselves what the science of tomorrow needs, and try to work towards achieving that. A constant challenge, as you can imagine.
How would you explain the Zukunftskolleg to a lay person?
We can only survive in our modern world if we learn to understand and shape it responsibly. Research and science can help us do so, especially by involving the next generation of scientists. Research is awesome, and we are lucky that the University of Konstanz is a particularly strong research university. In the Zukunftskolleg, we offer the best possible conditions for carrying out independent and international research even before being appointed to a professorship. This is so important, because, let’s be honest, most people have their best ideas when they’re young!
The Zukunftskolleg acts as a role model of sorts, which is why we must continue to develop and grow even further. What impact does the Zukunftskolleg have on the university as a whole and its various departments?
Many of the university’s initiatives, such as a range of services offered by our Academic Staff Development unit, were tested in the Zukunftskolleg and have since been applied to the entire university. We invite senior fellows from across the globe who create new networks for our departments. Our fellows’ new teaching formats as well as our interdisciplinary approaches are also very popular with the departments. To say it with Dirk Leuffen’s words, who is our Vice-rector for Research and Academic Staff Development and a board member of the Zukunftskolleg: the Zukunftskolleg is like a microcosm within the university that sends out lots of positive impulses and innovative developments to the entire universe.
Outstanding research conditions are very important to you. What do they look like?
Our concept for the promotion of top-level research is based on the Zukunftskolleg’s 5i strategy: interdisciplinary, intra-university, international, intergenerational and independent. Our goal is to support junior researchers from all university departments as they start their careers, to provide a creative, international and cross-generational community and to ensure our fellows’ academic independence early on.
You stress the importance of having your own rooms and offices to facilitate exchange and conversation across disciplinary boundaries. Could this exchange happen online as well?
The weekly jour fixe, which takes place in our own building on campus, is the heart and soul of the Zukunftskolleg which nurtures a true spirit of interdisciplinarity. This is when all our fellows come together to exchange ideas and views about a given topic. Being able to do this face-to-face is a huge advantage. I also believe that our other regular events, such as book clubs, film discussions or social Fridays, would not work quite as well in a virtual environment. Often, it’s the spontaneous conversations that one has in the corridor or while meeting over a cup of coffee that yield the most surprising and innovative ideas for new research initiatives. The Zukunftskolleg’s scientific advisory board met only recently, handing us a very important task: To build a community, we not only need shared rooms and offices, but a communal kitchen as well - because talking with each other while preparing and sharing a meal often sparks unexpected, really innovative and especially exciting ideas that will shape the science of tomorrow. New things happen when we manage to leave everyday routine behind.
Can you tell us something about the career paths of former Zukunftskolleg fellows?
The political scientist Thomas Bräuninger was a fellow of the Zentrum für den Wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs (ZWN, Centre for Junior Research Fellows) - the Zukunftskolleg’s precursor - from 2001 to 2008, serving as its director from 2004 to 2008. He has been Professor of Political Economy at the University of Mannheim since 2009, putting his time and experiences at the Zukunftskolleg to good use developing the Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences. Thomas Bräuninger is the graduate school’s academic director.
The linguist Eleanor Coghill came to us from Cambridge in 2010 and was a Zukunftskolleg fellow until 2015. She went on to a post-doctoral position at the University of Zurich, researching “language and space”. Since 2016, she has been Professor of Semitic Languages at Uppsala University in Sweden. One of her former doctoral students now works for Google - as a linguist!
The Zukunftskolleg also welcomes artists. How do you select them and in what way do your researchers benefit from their presence?
The Zukunftskolleg promotes a community comprised of various disciplines and generations. Just as our fellows can nominate and invite established researchers from across the globe to spend time at the Zukunftskolleg as senior fellows, we also welcome artists or writers in residence. For instance, the artists Alexander Schellow from Berlin (2010-2012) and Patrick Tresset from London (2013) as well as the authors Frank Moorhouse from Sydney (2009) and Heike Schmoll from Frankfurt (2009) helped boost our fellows’ creativity by conducting a series of shared projects at the interface between science and art.
With her partner, the philosopher Julien Bernard, who was a Zukunftskolleg fellow from 2013 until 2015, the artist Julie Pelletier from Marseille put on an exhibition entitled “Gedankengeflechte” (webs of thought) in the Konstanz BildungsTURM.
During the artists’ stay at the University of Konstanz, they produced a number of works that now adorn the Zukunftskolleg’s common room and kitchen, which turns your average coffee break into a truly inspiring experience.
Does your budget allow you enough leeway for the successful promotion of junior researchers?
As you know, one can never have too much money. But even so, you learn to make the most of what is available. We receive funding through the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments as well as the EU-funded “Zukunftskolleg Incoming Fellowship Programme Marie Curie”. There really is no reason to complain. Also, starting in 2018, the Hector Foundation II will finance one fellowship. And we are thrilled to find out how things turn out with regard to the university’s application for the Excellence Strategy competition.
What is your greatest wish for the Zukunftskolleg’s next ten years?
First, I would wish for the Zukunftskolleg to continue to support the University of Konstanz in its efforts to promote junior researchers, so that we can provide at least another 99 up-and-coming talents with the structural, financial and personal support that they need to climb the career ladder. But above all: Many brand new and thrilling research results!
How many Zukunftskolleg fellows are there, former fellows included?
Since 2007, the Zukunftskolleg has been home to 99 junior researchers, many of whom have since been appointed to professorial positions.
How do you recruit new fellows?
The Zukunftskolleg selects its fellows by means of a competitive multi-stage procedure. The initial call for applications if followed by a strict selection process according to formal criteria (for instance, whether the application form is complete, what year of his or her doctoral studies the candidate is in, how well the candidate’s research interests match the university’s research priorities). A selection committee (comprised of the deans of all three university faculties, one senior fellow, one alumnus/alumna and one member of the scientific advisory board) reviews all applications and also asks for external expert opinions. Based on these expert opinions, the commission selects candidates for the Zukunftskolleg’s two and five-year fellowship programmes.
All applicants for the five-year programme are also invited to Konstanz. During a two-day symposium, the commission decides upon who is selected as a new five-year fellow.
Who is eligible for the two-year and five-year fellowships?
The two-year post-doctoral fellowships are geared towards junior researchers who are in the early stages of their post-doctoral studies. The five-year research fellowships are geared towards experienced post-doctoral researchers who have already acquired third-party funding and are working towards their first professorial appointment.
Where do the fellows come from? How many female fellows are there?
Of our 99 fellows, 58 per cent are from abroad, with 38 per cent of all fellows being women.
The Zukunftskolleg emerged from the Zentrum für den Wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs (ZWN, Centre for Junior Research Fellows), which was established at the University of Konstanz in 2001. Following the success of the university’s Institutional Strategy in the third funding line of the German Excellence Initiative, the ZWN was given permanent funding in 2007, which was the starting point for the new Zukunftskolleg.