Engineering of Advanced Materials

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Career & Diversity

Cluster of Excellence

Engineering of Advanced Materials

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg


Cluster of Excellence
Engineering of
Advanced Materials (EAM)

Nägelsbachstrasse 49b
91052 Erlangen, Germany

EAM Rising Stars

EAM support of young academics: A review

November 2014                                                                                

Short term contracts year in year out, an uncompetitive salary compared to industry and always the concern that if a suitable professorship doesn’t open up, it’s already too late for a business career. Without doubt, young academics have much to worry about, even before considering private concerns like the career of a partner and family planning. In order to promote the new generation of scientific leaders and offer a clear career path, the Cluster of Excellence EAM established three support programs at the beginning of the first funding period in 2007. These established nine new fixed term professorships divided between two associate professorships under the EAM Award scheme, six “Rising Star” juniorprofessors and one juniorprofessor in the framework of the Cluster’s industrial liaison program. In the second funding period, which commenced in 2012, up to two Rising Star juniorprofessors will be established. Unlike “normal” professorial openings, all these professorships were freely advertised across the broad range of EAM topics. The appointed professors therefore represent a strategic consolidation of not only the Cluster of Excellence in particular but of the University’s interdisciplinary research and teaching concept in general. Indeed, the FAU has underlined its commitment to the strong support of young academics by assuring, through a “Tenure Track” option, that all these temporary professorships can become permanent following a successful evaluation.

The support schemes were especially designed to attract internationally visible young scientists to Erlangen or to retain high potential researchers who have come up “through the ranks”. The Rising Star W1 juniorprofessors receive a start-up package of € 360,000 each, a sum which can be flexibly used to fund basic equipment and personnel. This supports juniorprofessors, who may have only completed their doctorate in the past few years, in quickly establishing an independent research group and developing self-sufficiency through the acquisition of third party project funding. The EAM Award W2 professorships included start-up funds of € 750,000 each and were aimed at winning exceptional scientists at the senior postdoctoral level with an exemplary publication track record along with previous project management and teaching experience.

Strong support yields positive results

After seven years of EAM we can reflect very positively on the success of our young academics. Thanks to the support schemes described above, leading scientists with high potential for excellence could be attracted to and retained in Erlangen. Furthermore, the new career paths established by EAM meant that aspects of the central University administration had to be sustainably reformed, for instance in the acceleration of hiring processes or in establishing a Tenure Track program. This has enabled the EAM and FAU to recruit at the highest international level, attracting new professors from leading institutions including the University of Cambridge (Sandra Korte-Kerzel and Graeme Whyte), UC Berkeley (Sabine Maier) and Argonne National Lab (Jana Zaumseil).

All the new professors appointed by the Cluster were quickly integrated into their chosen research fields and into the interdisciplinary environment of EAM. Within a short time these new colleagues were actively contributing to the establishment of new programs such as DFG Collaborative Research Centers (SFBs) and Research Training Groups (GRKs). They also racked up an impressive series of individual achievements. Two juniorprofessors (Ana-Sunčana Smith and Sabine Maier) were accepted on the “Förderkolleg” of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences while juniorprofessor Bastian Etzold successfully proposed and coordinates the EU-funded consortium project SusFuelCat. EAM young academics have also demonstrated that they can obtain highly competitive funding from the European Research Council (ERC). Three female professors, the juniorprofessors Ana-Sunčana Smith and Sabine Maier as well as Jana Zaumseil, EAM Award professor, have received ERC Starting Grants totalling € 1.5m each. Prof. Zaumseil adds this to the € 1m Alfried Krupp Preis, which, as the youngest ever winner, she received for her impressive early career achievements at the University of Cambridge and Argonne National Laboratory. The second EAM Award professor is Hannsjörg Freund, an expert in the model-based optimization of chemical reactors. Providing a vital link between EAM Research Areas A3 (Multiscale modeling and simulation) and D (Catalysis) he already received several accolades including the Chemical Engineering Science “Most Cited Paper 2003 – 2006” Award and the Hanns-Hofmann-Prize of the ProcessNet working group on Reaction Engineering. Demonstrating a continued strong commitment to the Cluster as associated with an EAM Award holder, Prof. Freund took over the reins from Prof. Zaumseil as speaker of the EAM Graduate School (GS AMP) in June this year.

EAM: A springboard to a scientific career

The strong scientific and personal support provided to the young academics of EAM shows – not only through scientific achieve­ments but through offers of professorships at other institutions.  In evidence of the University’s commitment to excellence through continuity and underlining the unparalleled interdisciplinary  re­ search environment to which EAM has contributed, it was possible to retain three juniorprofessors through promotion to W2 (Robin Klupp Taylor and Ana­Suncˇ ana Smith) or W3 (Michael Stingl) following highly attractive external offers. For some EAM profes­sors, a fruitful period in Erlangen was an important springboard to a higher position at another leading institution. Two EAM Rising Star professors who followed this route were Sandra Korte­-Kerzel who took over the Chair for Physical Metallurgy and Metal Physics at RWTH Aachen and Graeme Whyte who became an Associate Pro fessor at Heriot­Watt University in Edinburgh. EAM Awardee Jana Zaumseil similarly found Erlangen to be an excellent career stepping stone, having recently accepted an offer of the Chair for Applied Physical Chemistry at the University of Heidelberg.

EAM is extremely proud of all its young academics, whether or  not they remain in Erlangen. They have brought innovative thinking  and energy to the Cluster, resulting in numerous exciting new research directions and national and international recognition. Furthermore, with fewer administrative duties than senior profes­sors they have been able to channel their passion for their subject through very positively appraised teaching activities. Without doubt, the EAM strategy to support academics on the first rung  of the career ladder was a successful one, and one from which  the University will profit for many years to come.

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