At the celebratory meeting of the Max Planck Society in Göttingen on June 22, 2023, Martin Stratmann symbolically handed over the task to his successor Patrick Cramer with the chain of office. He paid tribute to Stratmann’s merits and in his inaugural speech outlined the three major fields of action he sees for a sustainable Max Planck Society.
75 years of the Max Planck Society and a change of president – how fortunate that Göttingen was wisely chosen as the location for the 2023 annual meeting. On the one hand, the Max Planck Society in its current form was founded in Göttingen. On the other hand, Goettingen, more precisely the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences, was the place of work of Patrick Cramer, the ninth President of the Max Planck Society.
In his inaugural speech, Patrick Cramer answered the question of how the Max Planck Society should continue after 75 successful years. The new president identified three areas of activity that were central to him: recruiting and promoting people, renewing processes and strategies, and assuming social responsibility.
Attract and encourage people
Excellent research needs freedom for creativity – at all career levels. Young researchers are particularly important to Cramer. “To attract talent, we have to work even harder. In addition to the doctoral programs, I therefore propose an interdisciplinary postdoc program. This is how we attract the best, open up career paths at an early stage and promote synergies between institutes.” With a view to the discussions about the Science Temporary Contract Act, he said: “We need a legal framework that creates flexibility and enables scientific careers.” Cramer also believes that funding with people to recognize them in their diversity: “It is important to me to say: EVERYONE is welcome who shares our values.”
Renew processes and strategies
The focus here is on the further development of the international strategy of the Max Planck Society under difficult conditions, such as the consequences of Brexit, restricted academic freedom in parts of Eastern Europe, or ideological currents in the USA and China. According to Cramer, it is important to find new partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America and to treat them as equals without taking a Eurocentric view. In order for Max Planck to remain competitive in global competition, development strategies for locations, administrations and centers are also required. “We should create larger units in the science-supporting area. This promotes the attractiveness, scientific autonomy and thematic development of our institutes,” emphasizes the newcomer.
Assuming social responsibility
On the one hand, Cramer sees high ethical standards for research, which should also be as environmentally friendly as possible. On the other hand, it is about making the results freely accessible and naming the opportunities and risks that arise from the research. In addition, he would like to develop a sustainability concept to make the MPG climate-neutral by 2035 at the latest. And he would like to bring the voice of science audibly into the social discourse and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technologies.
Handover in turbulent times
Cramer takes over the position in turbulent times from Martin Stratmann, who has headed the renowned research organization for the past nine years. Brexit and two years of pandemics were followed by the ongoing Russian war of aggression in Eastern Europe, which caused energy prices to explode and led to the termination of important scientific projects. “Together with the general administration and the institutes, you have guided us well through the pandemic and energy crisis so far,” Patrick Cramer thanked his predecessor.
Six Nobel Prizes in nine years
From a scientific point of view, however, they were particularly successful years for the MPG: During Stratmann’s tenure, six Nobel Prizes alone went to Max Planck scientists – five of them in the last three consecutive years. “Of course, it is the success of the individual award winners,” says the outgoing President, “which I was at least able to support.” Improving the framework conditions for young scientists with a uniform funding agreement and binding guidelines was a key concern for Stratmann. The MPG spent 50 million euros on this.
Cores of excellence for Central and Eastern Europe
Networking was another matter close to his heart – on a national and international level. With Dioscuri, Stratmann launched a program to strengthen science in Eastern and Central Europe. He established a networking program with Africa together with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. And with Cyber Valley, he created a center for AI research that is visible throughout Europe and a starting point for networking science and business. With the founding of the MPI for Security and Privacy, he helped to further expand the research field of computer sciences in the Max Planck Society.
Attractors for international young talent
Stratmann developed a pilot project with the Max Planck Schools to bundle what he called “distributed excellence” in Germany and make it visible. This also gave rise to new innovative approaches such as lab rotations, which enable young researchers to test different stations before they finally decide on a dissertation project.
The agency for breakthrough innovations was also based on a suggestion by Stratmann, who also wants to promote a new start-up culture in the Max Planck Society with MAX Entrepreneur. At the same time, with clear guidelines for more gender equality, he succeeded in making the Max Planck Society at least a little more female. The goal that there must be at least one director at every Max Planck Institute also applies beyond his term of office.