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"I take matters actively in hand"

On 1 October 2020, Professor Simone Fulda was sworn in as the first female President of Kiel University. In an interview with "unizeit", she gives insights into her vision for the CAU.

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Professor Fulda, what have you experienced since your election on 24 June?

Becoming the President of Kiel University is a very exciting task for me. The time since the election was characterised by joyful anticipation, as well as preparation for the office. I have held very many discussions. I am impressed by the people at the university, who are highly motivated, completely identify with their task, and are willing to forge a common path with me and the colleagues on the new University Board.

What does this common path look like?

My vision for the future is to further develop our university into one of the 15 excellent universities with international visibility. To me, this means explicitly - but not exclusively - a successful positioning in the next round of the "Excellence Strategy" competition.  It is important that this is not just a singular competitive process, along the lines of "if this works, then great, and if not, then not". It is about developing a common understanding of quality into a high level of quality. This is not only limited to research, but also applies to teaching, knowledge transfer, early career researchers, internationalisation, scientific infrastructure and personnel development.

Does this mean that you consider Kiel University to be among the leading universities in Germany, although it didn’t achieve the title of University of Excellence?

Exactly. This is precisely the crux of the matter. I've also noticed from an external perspective that the result of the past round of the Excellence Strategy was perceived as a failure, by both the university and the state. But seen from the outside, it is certainly no failure. It is already an excellent achievement, having two clusters approved and thereby qualifying to submit an application to become a University of Excellence. Only 19 universities in Germany managed this. We therefore need a further development of our quality culture, and a different way of dealing with expectations.

What expectations do you have of Kiel University?

It is a very important aspect that cooperation also affects the CAU itself. There, especially the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations between the various departments and faculties are worth mentioning, which are already very well-developed. And this has already been shown in different contexts to be a unique feature of the CAU. For example, there are certain departments that are located in two different faculties, where a real cross-fertilisation of different subject cultures takes place. There is great potential here.

Research is inherently dynamic in terms of the way that new questions emerge, and research questions and research topics develop. This means that the orientation of the university as a whole is dynamic, and I would also like to keep it that way. This also includes self-reflection at regular intervals, and re-examination of tried and tested approaches.

How do you intend to promote collaborations within and outside of the CAU?

I am convinced that due to the complexity of the scientific questions, it is important to create networks and boost collaborations and cooperation. This applies both to our university – the networking between the scientific cultures, between research and teaching – as well as to networking with different national and international partners from science, business, society and politics.

I would like to actively shape this. This has also always been my principle: if I have done something, I was never just a sheep who was there for the sake of appearances. I like to take matters actively in hand, and try to advance them and drive them forward. This is just my nature.

In your inaugural speech, you summarised your strategy with the slogan "Think global, act local". Isn’t that a contradiction?

Not at all. I would like to establish the CAU as a global network university, and at the same time as a central participant in the science and society here locally. This combines global citizenship with regional and local anchoring. For me, these two poles are not opposites because they generate synergy effects. If we are globally visible due to our cutting-edge research, then this also reflects on the region. As a university we also have a social responsibility, not least towards the local citizens. I would like to involve the other universities and stakeholders in this process. The competition is not located in our own state. It is national and international. Science is more global.

That sounds like an ambitious programme.

We all set high standards for ourselves. This is something I would also expect from a state university such as ours. Yes, it is an ambitious goal, and a path that requires a lot of energy and hard work. This is only possible if the members of the CAU – and I am also speaking of the students – fully support it.

This interview was conducted by Claudia Eulitz and Christin Beeck.

Short biography of Professor Dr med. Simone Fulda

Since 1.10.2020, President of Kiel University; 2018-2020, Vice President of Research and Academic Infrastructure as well as Director at the Institute for Experimental Cancer Research in Paediatrics at Goethe University Frankfurt; multiple award-winning expert in cell death research; member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina; science policy experience as a member of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat); medical studies at the University of Cologne, as well as Harvard Medical School, Boston/USA, the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Arizona and University College Dublin in Ireland.