“Science as Peace-Building Project Across Borders”
Recap Max Planck Schools Day 2023
The atmosphere was vibrant at the former industrial site in Berlin: Two weeks ago, almost 200 participants came together to celebrate the annual Max Planck Schools Day. Once again, the day provided fascinating insights into the research of the three Schools, exciting discussions and, above all, the opportunity to get to know each other and get together. In keeping with the motto of the Max Planck Schools Day "3 Schools, 1 Community", the new cohort in particular was welcomed to the program.
Once more, the time had come: On the occasion of the Max Planck Schools Day on October 16, the PhD candidates of the new cohort were welcomed by the existing cohorts, the Fellows as well as partners and supporters of the Max Planck Schools. This year, the event did not take place at the Harnack-Haus as usual, but at Arena Berlin – in Berlin infamously known as "das Badeschiff”. Although the fall temperatures did not entice one to swim, the so called glass house as the main event-area created a wonderful atmosphere and the appropriate setting for an interesting program with lively exchange. The participants came together to attend the annual event with this year's leading theme "The Role of (Fundamental) Science Amidst a Global (Climate) Crisis".
Patrick Cramer who as President of the Max Planck Society co-chairs the steering committee of the Schools together with Walter Rosenthal, President of the German Rectors' Conference, opened the event saying that he was about to make a big mistake by telling the young scientists from all over the world the story of an 80-year-old man. It quickly became clear that he was referring to the famous Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards: Richards had recently said in an interview that, due to his age, he was no longer able to play as skilled as he used to; however, this did not prevent him from continuing and, above all, from being led by his intuition.
"(...) the guitar will show me there's another way of doing this. Some finger will go one space different and there's a whole new door just opened here."
This message, explained Cramer, was one that he also wanted to pass on to the doctoral candidates: the importance of always following one's own intuition and not allowing oneself to be discouraged by setbacks. He also spoke of the courage that young people in science need, especially in times like these amidst global crises. More than ever, he said, it is crucial to stand together as an international scientific community: Science is a "peace-building project" and builds bridges across borders. The exchange through and in the Schools, as an incubator for young talents, is therefore very important. The overall value of the program was also strongly confirmed through the positive final evaluation in the spring, where the idea of the Max Planck Schools, to pool the locally distributed excellence in Germany within one graduate program, was seen to be more than successful.
A short sustainability quiz combined with the question of what it would take to make science as a whole more sustainable provided many interesting ideas from the audience and a springboard for the subsequent panel discussion around this year's leading theme. Melina Kerou, Stephanie Fiedler, Dirk Notz and Dierk Raabe had a vivid and somewhat controversial discussion about the self-perception and social responsibility of science with regard to the climate crisis, the increasing importance of science communication and the role of fundamental research in times of urgent need for action. Melina Kerou argued that science must take a self-critical look at its own role and also try to make the scientific community, as one of the many CO2 emitters, more compellingly sustainable. The importance of fundamental research for measures to reduce CO2 more effectively was impressively emphasized by Dierk Raabe. He advocated for a better use of existing infrastructures, particularly in the emissions-intensive cement and oil industries. According to Dirk Notz, solution-oriented science communication plays a key role for social discourse and society as a whole. In his view, it could enable responsible action and well-founded decisions, and could thus allow for a necessary change in thinking and action. However, this must also apply to science itself:
"Why should science be excluded from the need to change its behavior?"
In addition, Stephanie Fiedler felt that scientists themselves have an obligation to provide information about their research and point out consequences, but by no means to dictate decisions or recommendations for action. After all, this should be the task of politicians.
Later in the afternoon, PhD candidate Aysecan Ünal spoke about her research project at the MPS Matter to Life: Cryo-electron microscopy allowed her to gain captivating insights into the structure of collagen fibrils - an image that fascinates her every time she looks at it. Laura Blazquez Martínez, doctoral candidate from the MPS Photonics, gave the audience stunning insights into the interaction of light and sound. Her group's experiments might pave the way for exploring the transition from classical to quantum physics for macroscopic objects, and could enable new quantum technologies along the way, she proudly told the audience. Finally, Meike Hettwer, as a PhD candidate at the MPS Cognition, took the audience into the field of adaptive brain development in terms of resilience and "adaptability." Her interest lies particularly in shifts in brain maturation in adolescents who show high levels of well-being despite traumatic events. In her opinion, resilience is also needed a lot during the PhD phase. She concluded her talk by highlighting the significance of exchange with peers and like-minded people in the Max Planck Schools and warmly welcomed the new cohort to the program.
In her Passion for Science Lecture, MPS Cognition Fellow Isabel Dziobek vividly described how three years of architectural studies that she previously had seen as "lost" turned out to be a meaningful time for her life. Her conclusion was that career paths do not always have to be consistently successful or even linear. It took herself quite a while to grow into her role as a scientist and she had to overcome many setbacks and challenges on her way to becoming a successful researcher. She therefore encouraged the doctoral candidates to trust in their own interests and "individual speed", as well as to take breaks or even time for detours in order to thrive and to be inspired once more.
In his own long career, he too had not always been able to take the direct or supposedly best path, Walter Rosenthal fittingly added in his closing remarks. He encouraged the doctoral candidates to "dare to look to the right and to the left".
With great thanks to his Co-Dean, Jan-Michael Rost, for the fruitful collaboration over the past five years and to the organizers of the event, he wished the new PhD students all the best for a successful start to the program and all participants for the rest of the evening. The event came to a closing with a joint barbecue, a fantastic live music program by various PhD candidates and a festive finale in the Arena Club.
We would especially like to thank the panelists, the three Science Talkers, Isabel Dziobek, the PhD organizing team and the musicians for their participation.
Here's to a joyful reunion next year in Berlin!