Sabine Walter in conversation with ...
Dr Beate Hafner, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
Dr Hafner, what do you love about your profession?
First and foremost, the new challenges. My main task at LMU Munich is to coordinate research networks at the interfaces between biology, chemistry and physics. This requires building new structures again and again, channelling money as smoothly as possible to where it is needed, getting new projects up and running and supporting the scientists to co-operate optimally, also across disciplinary boundaries, in order to achieve their research goals.
Above all, the procurement and distribution of financial resources is often associated with lots of rules and bureaucracy. I see it as my task to understand existing rules as flexibly as possible and to find solutions that are ultimately satisfactory for all sides through persistence. In this way, I also contribute to preserving the scientists' desire to do research despite all the bureaucracy.
When a research network starts up, I also take on the task of communicating with the outside world. My goal is to market the project well in the media available to us. This includes organising events and maintaining the homepage. I make sure that all the communication channels we use are interesting and present the project's development and successes well. This pays off in attracting donors as well as new scientists.
I am a biologist by training. But for research, I lack the love of detail and perfectionism. I'm more the one who searches widely, always needs something new, provides impulses, makes decisions and implements ideas. Since I am still fascinated by natural sciences, this coordination task in the research environment is ideal for me. I see myself as a companion on the path to the ultimate goal.
One thing I value extraordinarily is the work with people who are exclusively intrinsically motivated. At the university, there are many people who are self-motivated or for whom the desire to achieve the research goal is the sole driver of their actions. It's a great, creative working environment.
What parallels are there to what we do, personality development?
Some. I initiate, provide impulses and get processes going. That also happens in coaching or workshops. And then I organise seminars, workshops, coaching and conferences for the scientists I supervise. This means that I create space for personal development by providing an offer of further education that goes beyond pure research.
It is important to us that our academics also learn, for example, to argue well, to present convincingly or to manage conflicts confidently.
When do you get the best ideas?
Whenever I'm in motion - whether it's going for a walk, jogging or swimming.
What will your profession look like in 2050?
I thought about this question a lot in the run-up to our conversation. And I have come to the conclusion that this interface function, like I have, will always exist. Machines cannot take over these tasks. These require empathetic people who can mediate between science and administration or society. It needs people who appreciate the talents of scientists, know their way of thinking and also forgive them if the rhetoric or even the social competence is not quite so strong.
Since there will always be research, there will always be people like me. Those who make something out of good approaches and thus act as a kind of midwife for new research ideas.
Dr Beate Hafer is a biologist. She has been working at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich since 2007. Since 2015, she has coordinated the Research Training Group "Molecular Principles of Synthetic Biology" at the Biozentrum of the university. Scientists at the college conduct research on projects located at the interface between biology, chemistry and physics, including, for example, research into the molecular principles of synthetic cells.