Marsilius Kolleg – Making the Difference...
... for all who are willing and able
He was in his mid-20s and had just earned his doctorate in experimental virology – he had every right to feel satisfied. He wasn't sure yet if he wanted to do research or go into clinical practice; both options were attractive and promised a successful career. But the little nagging voice at the back of Hans-Georg Kräusslich's mind kept saying “there must be something better than my current situation”.
Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker advised him to go to New York State University at Stony Brook on a DFG scholarship for postdoctoral research. And that’s where he met them - the outstanding researchers and academic teachers that really made a difference. He discovered an environment that supported and encouraged junior scientists and showed them by example how good science is made. The time in New York was a turning point for Hans-Georg Kräusslich; it came to mind again as he began working for the Marsilius Kolleg at Heidelberg University. Because what he found back in New York is just what he and his colleagues are aiming for today: “We want to make a difference for anyone who's motivated and able.”
As a “Center for Advanced Study”, the Marsilius Kolleg is one of the central measures of the University's Institutional Strategy. It helps the University create scientifically sustainable bridges between very different scientific cultures – the life sciences, natural sciences, social sciences, economics, law, humanities and cultural studies – in order to live up to its potential as a comprehensive university. That is the challenge; the effect, as Hans-Georg Kräusslich describes it, is as follows: “Immersed in the natural sciences as I was, I brought with me a certain arrogance that is characteristic of my subject – only to find out in the Kolleg that there are scholars from other scientific cultures blessed with the extraordinary ability to present complex issues in a convincing and succinct manner.” He adds that the most important experience for him was the somewhat trivial realisation that there are brilliant scientists in every subject at the University, and that the ultimate goal must be to understand the terms and methods of other researchers, to give each other encouragement and ideas. What is interdisciplinary science? How can we deal with each other? These are important questions in the Marsilius Kolleg, questions that frequently keep the 13 fellows talking long after the regular meetings – while enjoying a glass of wine at Haus Buhl, a welcoming place that invites people to stay.
“The time and money for this personal commitment are well invested”, says Professor Kräusslich, who is convinced that the non-public character of the Kolleg is one of the secrets of its success. The Kolleg is about new ideas, creativity and innovation, about testing theories and allowing everyone the right to fail – an important point for people who are under constant pressure to succeed. The Kolleg offers outstanding and brilliant scientists the opportunity to think freely, be each other’s sounding board and sometimes go “just a little crazy”. “These are thoughts a university must be able to afford - it's how new ideas are born.”
Another key statement: “In science, you need people that are worth talking to.” Bringing these excellent Heidelberg scientists together, getting them to talk to each other and develop new ideas and projects across traditional disciplinary boundaries – that is the Marsilius concept. The Kolleg is named after the first Rector of Heidelberg University, Marsilius of Inghen, who came to Heidelberg from the University of Paris in 1386 and created an institution of higher learning that comprised all disciplines in existence at the time. Today, this comprehensive university still carries the potential to bring forth new knowledge and ideas. Under the guidance of Hans-Georg Kräusslich and Wolfgang Schluchter, his partner from the social sciences, the Marsilius Kolleg has so far given rise to four projects that contribute greatly to focussing and increas ing the range of topics and methods of many disciplines at the University: “Human Dignity”, “Perspectives of Ageing”, “The Global Governance of Climate Engineering” and “Ethical and Legal Aspects of Total Genome Sequencing”. Not all of them have made the desired impact or succeeded in building new bridges – the success of a project cannot always be planned, concludes Kräusslich.
More than 40 Heidelberg scientists are currently part of the network – they know each other, get along well and Kräusslich is certain that they will continue to work on joint projects in the future. Starting with the second round of the Excellence Initiative, inter - national colleagues will also be able to participate in the Marsilius Kolleg – a development that was fostered by the Kolleg’s international summer and winter schools. No one realised at the beginning how productive this interdisciplinary concept for the support of junior scientists would become. Nor did anyone fore see the introduction of the “Marsilius Studies”, a complementary study programme initiated by students of the University. The programme enables students of all disciplines to catch a glimpse of other scientific subjects and illustrates ways of cooperating and discussing issues across disciplines. At the heart of the Marsilius Studies are “bridging seminars” that are held by at least two lecturers from different subject cultures. The student initiative shows just how indispensable the Marsilius idea has become to the self-concept of Heidelberg University, says Hans-Georg Kräusslich. “When we started out, we weren't sure at all that the Marsilius Kolleg would be continued beyond the first phase of the Excellence Initiative.” By now, it's clear that the Kolleg has become an integral part of Heidelberg University and will be continued with or without Excellence funding. “There's been no shortage of positive feedback”, comments Hans-Georg Kräusslich, who just declined a prestigious position at a major research institution. “I'm proud of what we have accomplished with the support of the entire University, and I'm convinced that the Marsilius Kolleg will continue to be a resounding success.”
Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Kräusslich
Hans-Georg Kräusslich graduated from Medical School in Munich with distinction and completed his doctoral thesis on viral protein processing in 1985. He then did a postdoc at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1989, he established his own group at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg working on assembly and replication of HIV. In 1995 he became full professor and head of department at the Heinrich-Pette-Institute in Hamburg, an institute of the Leibniz association, whose director he was from 1996 to 1999. Since 2000, Hans-Heorg Kräusslich is head of virology at Heidelberg University. Hans-Georg Kräusslich is currently coordinator of a DFG priority program on “Membrane envelopment” and coordinator of the Cluster of Excellence “CellNetworks”, he is a member of the founding directorate of the BioQuant center and serves as director of the Marsilius-Kolleg at Heidelberg University. Kräusslich is elected member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy Leopoldina, he has received several research awards and the Ordre du Mérite of the country Burkina Faso.