The choice of Göttingen as the venue for the 2023 Annual Meeting holds special significance for the Max Planck Society as it marks its 75th anniversary and coincides with a change in presidency. Göttingen is not only the birthplace of the Max Planck Society in its current form, but also holds personal significance for the new President, Patrick Cramer, the ninth President of the Max Planck Society, whose professional “home” has been the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Natural Science in recent years.
In his inaugural address, Patrick Cramer addressed the question of how the Max Planck Society should move forward after 75 years of successful operation. The new President outlined three key areas of focus: attracting and nurturing talent, revitalizing processes and strategies, and embracing social responsibility.
Attracting and supporting a diverse range of talents
Creating an environment that fosters creativity is crucial for conducting outstanding research – at all career level. Patrick Cramer places a particular emphasis on nurturing young researchers. "To attract exceptional talents, we must redouble our efforts. In addition to the existing doctoral programmes, I propose the establishment of an interdisciplinary postdoctoral programme to further attract the brightest minds, provide early career opportunities, and foster synergies among institutes. As regards the current discussions surrounding the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (Fixed-Term Employment in Higher Education and Research Act), he emphasises: “We need a legal framework that creates flexibility and enables science careers”. Cramer also stresses the importance of recognizing and embracing diversity: "It’s important for me to affirm that ALL individuals who share our values are welcome."
Renewing processes and strategies
Cramer believes that the focus lies on advancing the Max Planck Society's international strategy in the face of challenging circumstances, including the repercussions of Brexit, restrictions on scientific freedom in certain parts of Eastern Europe, and ideological currents observed in the USA and China. He emphasizes the importance of forging new partnerships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America based on mutual respect, without adopting a Eurocentric perspective.
However, to ensure the Max Planck Society's continued competitiveness in the global arena, it is also essential to develop strategies for the advancement of locations, administrations, and centres. "We have to establish larger units in the within the support areas of scientific endeavours. This will enhance the attractiveness, scientific autonomy, and thematic development of our institutes," stresses Cramer.
Accepting social responsibility
The newly appointed President recognizes the importance of upholding high ethical standards in research, with a focus on environmental compatibility. However, he also emphasizes the significance of openly sharing research findings and addressing both the potential benefits and risks associated with scientific pursuits Cramer is also committed to developing a sustainability concept that will lead the Max Planck Society to achieve climate neutrality by 2035 at the latest. Additionally, he aims to amplify the voice of science in societal discourse and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technologies.
A change in leadership in turbulent times
Patrick Cramer assumes the Presidency during a period of significant turbulence, following in the footsteps of Martin Stratmann, who has effectively led the research organization for the past nine years. The challenges posed by Brexit, the global pandemic, and the ongoing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe have created a volatile environment, impacting energy prices and leading to the cancellation of crucial scientific initiatives. "Working together with the Administrative Headquarters and the institutes, you have guided us effectively through the pandemic and energy crisis thus far," Patrick Cramer expressed his gratitude to his predecessor.
Six Nobel Prizes in nine years
In scientific terms, however, they were particularly successful years for the MPG. During his tenure, Max Planck scientists were awarded a total of six Nobel Prizes, with five of them being received in the last three consecutive years. “It is, of course, the successes of the individual prize winners," says the outgoing president, "but at least I was able to provide support to them." Stratmann also prioritized improving the working conditions for young scientists by implementing a standardized funding agreement and establishing clear guidelines. To further support this initiative, the Max Planck Society has allocated 50 million euros.
Hubs of excellence for Central and Eastern Europe
Stratmann was also deeply committed to promoting collaboration and networking at both national and international levels. One of his notable initiatives was the Dioscuri program, which aimed to strengthen scientific research in Central and Eastern Europe Additionally, he established a networking programme with Africa in partnership with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Another significant achievement was the creation of Cyber Valley, a renowned centre for AI research that serves as a hub for connecting academia and industry across Europe. Furthermore, Stratmann played a pivotal role in expanding the field of computer sciences within the Max Planck Society by founding the Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy.
Attracting international young talent
Under the leadership of Martin Stratmann, the Max Planck Schools initiative was established as a pilot project to consolidate and highlight what he referred to as "distributed excellence" in Germany. This initiative led to the introduction of innovative approaches like Lab Rotations, which allow young researchers to gain experience in different research stations before finalizing their choice of dissertation topic.
The establishment of the Agency for Disruptive Innovation was also a product of Stratmann's suggestion, with the aim of fostering a new start-up culture within the Max Planck Society. Additionally, he introduced the MAX Entrepreneur initiative to support entrepreneurship within the organization. Stratmann also prioritized efforts to improve gender equality by implementing clear guidelines. The ongoing goal of having at least one female director at each Max Planck Institute will continue beyond his tenure.
Dr. Christina Beck
Head of the Communication Department
Administrative Headquarters of the Max Planck Society, München
+49 89 2108-1275