Scientists at Fraunhofer must have versatile personalities: They must be both a researcher and a manager, and must keep an equal eye on both the industrial clients and research development. What the perfect IMWS scientific employee looks like and what skills are sought is now explained by the Director of the Institute, Professor Dr Matthias Petzold.
In your eyes, what does the IMWS scientist look like?
That is relatively easy to answer: He or she combines recognized scientific expertise in material sciences and microstructure with an interest in practical tasks and the ability to implement their personal knowledge and ability in technology-orientated problem solutions. They should therefore have curiosity, desire and pleasure in making important practical things work, while at the same time working together with partners from industry and take up and address their problems and development objectives. Apart from knowledge of the field of research, this also requires knowledge of application and the market. In particular, however, this requires working in a way that is very goal and results-orientated as well as being time-efficient and meeting deadlines agreed with clients. In addition they need the talent to manage projects and lead employees and to organize efficiently. In short: In the IMWS I see the need for scientific employees who use their material science expertise and management skills for application-orientated research, focused on the problem and clients.
Scientists and managers of industry-orientated research: Can one expect (new) employees, for example, graduates, to have this combination of skills?
No, I don't believe so. But it can be acquired and developed. As we here in Halle, as employees of the GDR’s Academy of Sciences, or university staff, were absorbed into the »Fraunhofer System« in 1992, the requirements were completely new and in no way comparable to anything that we knew. At that time we had to undergo an initially difficult and sometimes painful development process, until we had learnt to consistently focus on industrial needs and to earn money with research. Many of today’s university graduates are little prepared for an application-orientated way of working and efficient results management. But that cannot be expected. Work at the Fraunhofer is therefore definitely good training for those who can imagine working in industry at a later date. This form of qualification is in fact a task that the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has set itself – alongside their research activity it also prepares its employees to take up responsible activities in industry.
Does that mean as learning by doing? Or how are the skills acquired?
To a large extent, yes, but not exclusively. New employees are involved in industrial products as quickly as possible. With increasing experience they are gradually assigned responsibility. This project work is the best training ground in our company; in our experience there’s no other way. This process naturally has to be accompanied through support and further training. On the one hand, this takes place internally through exchange of experience and knowledge between employees, through advice, assistance and instruction from experienced staff and senior experts. On the other hand, internal and external further training measures are available, directed at professional expertise or continued personal development. Or in other words, we throw our employees into cold water as quickly as possible but they are kept on a lifeline until they are able to swim better by themselves.
Scientists and managers of industry-orientated research: How do you see the role of providing services at IMWS?
Application-orientated research is located between the conflicting priorities of providing a service for businesses and our own innovation. The role of the service provided in the developments of industry should not be underestimated. Services provide an excellent opportunity to come into contact with our target partners in industry and to learn what it is that companies actually need. One also becomes familiar with current technologies and can supply this knowledge as the starting point for actually relevant further developments. Through reliable work, at the same time the necessary trust is developed until an institute is accepted as a qualified partner and is later involved by the company in continuative innovation projects. In the service-orientated research work the employees in the team are also trained in the already mentioned results and deadline-orientated way of working. And last but not least, the service contributes to the institute’s industry income and also secures the financial basis of the work which serves to set up new fields in other areas. We also receive income from other areas, for sure. But even the institute’s own methods, technology or material-orientated innovations ultimately fall into line in the service ethos for higher-level industrial development – as a material-orientated institute we are mostly at the start of the value-added chain through to the end product.
How can the IMWS scientists adjust to the interaction between industrial projects and public funding?
Public research project provide opportunities for us to develop our own preparatory knowledge and technological know-how. This typically also takes place in the form of joint projects with industrial partners. We are therefore able to match the focus our own research work in new fields to a future industrial need. Pure Fraunhofer in-house research also has its place, especially when the objective is to develop the necessary know-how lead or our own exploitable patent portfolio. Overall, the question is always: How do we position ourselves for the future? What knowledge and know-how will really be in demand and needed? Publicly funded projects should at all events not be a place of refuge from the actual engagement on the market and in competition.
What motivates you personally in your work?
We have an excellent work environment available to us, which offers very good opportunities for further development. I see these investments as a responsibility for the future and a leap of faith in us, which is based on the work of the IMWS in previous years and the resulting acceptance acquired as a reliable partner. In particular, it is the feedback from partners too, who draw immediate, direct benefits for their products from our results, which is repeatedly a large source of motivation. Work in applied research can therefore offer pleasure time and time again gained from direct visible success in attractive research topics. This is also the basis for good working together in the team and for the personal and professional development of all employees.