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“Research towards Trustworthiness and Self-Determination in a Networked Society”

A Review of the Alumni Conference on 24 and 25 September 2018 in Boston

Deutschland Calling - Research alumni conference in Boston awakes interest for Germany

Two days of academic input combined with an insight into funding options in German academia and opportunities to network - these were the ingredients which helped make the multi-disciplinary conference held in Boston, USA on "Research towards Trustworthiness and Self-Determination in a Networked Society" such a success. The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, together with the TU Berlin Alumni Program, invited 20 research alumni from various disciplines currently residing in the USA and Canada to attend the event. The conference was sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as part of its "Research Alumni Strategies" competition. TU Berlin's concept for a conference for research alumni abroad was one of the winning entries to this competition. In addition to talks given by renowned experts, such as Professor Gerald C. Kane from the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and Professor Fábio Duarte of the Senseable City Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the program also included a discussion forum on the highly topical theme of "Data Sovereignty - Privacy and Security in Consumer IT and Public IT". Representatives from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH), the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) were also there to present opportunities for research in Germany. "It was a very successful conference, and the choice of participants proved a very good match. The discussions were highly interesting and will undoubtedly lead to follow-up action being taken. My impression is that the scholars who attended received a good overview of the various options for a research stay in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany", observed Professor Dr. - Ing. Ina Schieferdecker. Ina Schieferdecker is head of TU Berlin's Chair for Quality Engineering of Open Distributed Systems and one of the three founding directors of the Weizenbaum Institute. She was responsible for issues relating to research at the conference in Boston. The following texts provide the views of some research alumni regarding a return to Germany and the differences they observe between the German and American academic systems.

Dr. Jafar Mohammadi

I did my doctoral studies at the Chair of Network Information Theory, TU Berlin, under Professor Slawomir Stanczak’s supervision in 2016 and have been working as a postdoc research associate at Rutgers University in New Jersey since July 2017, where I conduct research in the area of distributed machine learning with privacy. My research focuses on theoretical aspects rather than software development. In other words, I deal with the development of algorithms and mathematical proofs.Graduate studies in the USA are highly regulated in comparison to those in Germany. Doctoral candidates have to take courses recommended by their supervisors. Supervision is not limited to one person necessarily. A grad student could ideally be co-supervised by other professors. I find taking courses during doctoral study very helpful. However, in a typical German university one might be given more liberty to do research. German system is more flexible to accommodate students with different learning styles.

Prof. Dr. Fatih Dogan

I studied materials science at TU Berlin and completed my doctorate in 1989. Today I am professor of materials science in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Originally, I intended to conduct research in the USA for one year, but after the first year, I was encouraged to continue working on my research, and so end up staying in the USA until today.  Studying in Germany prepared me very well for the challenges in the USA, perhaps even more so than had I studied in America, where higher education is more structured and timely constrained. I had a great deal of freedom during my studies in Germany. This helped me to become far more creative and innovative, something which benefited my career greatly in the USA. I maintain close research cooperation with a number of countries, particularly Japan, and wish to initiate cooperative research projects with the German partners as well. This is one of the reasons for attending this conference here in Boston.

Prof. Dr. Chandra R. Bhat

In 2013, I was a visiting scholar at TU Berlin on an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation scholarship. I worked with Professor Kai Nagel, the Chair of Transport Systems Planning and Transport Telematics. I am a professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at the University of Texas and my focus is on transport research, including human decision behavior in the context of transport planning. During my research stay at TU Berlin, we worked on individual activity-travel behavior patterns of individuals. One outcome of this research was that we were able to develop an integrated demand-supply model for transportation planning.  I have a good network with academics in Berlin and Munich and am very much interested in returning to Germany to conduct research. Perhaps things have changed, but my impression is that you have really good opportunities in Germany to undertake purely academic work and that there is substantial federal funding for basic research, which is not the case in America. Here the approach is much more entrepreneurial.

Dr. Andreas Lehmann

I am a protein modeler and designer in drug discovery at Biogen in Cambridge, MA. In the biotech industry, we frequently work with patients’ genetic and clinical data. Looking at the advent of digital health, it is foreseeable that these kinds of sensitive personal data will have tremendous benefits for biomedical research and ultimately for patients through dramatically improved ways to measure health outcomes in response to medical treatment. I came to this conference to learn more about how online trust emerges and how the societal benefits from personal data can be realized without compromising privacy and security of patient data.

I studied energy and process engineering at TU Berlin and then went to Pennsylvania State University, completing my PhD there in 2004. Returning to Germany is an interesting option, but in my view a company needs to be at least mid-size to benefit from a permanent modeling team in drug discovery. Compared to the United States, the German biotech industry is relatively small and many German biotech companies tend to be suppliers for major pharmaceutical firms rather than discover or develop drugs.  A positive aspect in Germany, Scandinavia, or the Netherlands is the closer collaboration between industry and academia. I have the impression that this occurs on a broader scale than in the U.S. A remaining challenge in Germany is the financing for innovative start-ups. While in the early stages there are good funding options (often with government support), it becomes difficult to find private venture capital when entering the later capital rounds. Today’s mid- and large-cap biopharma companies rely in part on an ecosystem of ideas, technologies and drug candidates that are bred in these smaller companies.

Dr. Katarzyna A. Tarnowska

In May of this year I completed my PhD in information studies at the University of North Carolina, and in the fall I will be starting my new position as assistant professor at the Department of Computer Science at San Jose State University. My research focuses on the application of machine learning and data mining technologies to solve real problems through the development of intelligent systems to support people in  various decision problem areas.  I am a graduate of the dual degree master program in computer science at TU Berlin and the Warsaw University of Technology. As for imagine doing research in Germany, I would love to have such opportunity, especially at one of the Computer Science-related Institutes at TU Berlin.

Dr. Andrea Lynn Stith

I work in the Office of Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara as an associate director for research development, science and engineering, and one of the things I do is advise the faculties regarding their research proposals. I am also involved in international research cooperation activities. I completed my doctorate in biophysics at the University of Virginia in 2001. I was at Humboldt University and LMU Munich as an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation German Chancellor Scholar from 2007 until 2008. I would very much like to return to Germany, as I can imagine looking for opportunities there for cooperative activities between the University of California, Santa Barbara and German research institutions. From my experience, what I particularly like about German academics is that they know what their strengths are and which goals to pursue.

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