For the first time ever, all Humboldt Professorships go to women

Women are gaining ground when competing for Germany’s best-endowed research award, the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. In early May two out of the six Humboldt Professorships awarded for this year went to women researchers. And the prospects that more top women researchers will become Humboldt Professors are good: Of the ten nominees taking part in the first selection round for the 2015 award winners, only women were chosen.

The literary scholar Elisabeth Décultot from France, the cell biologist Kathrin Plath and the plant geneticist Marja Timmermans, both from the USA, will now enter into appointment negotiations with the German universities that nominated them. The aim of the Humboldt Professorship is to induce internationally leading researchers in all fields who have conducted their research abroad to date to switch to a German university. The individuals selected for the Humboldt Professorship which the Humboldt Foundation awards and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research finances each receive up to five million EUR in funding for the first five years of their research work in Germany: An offer that has already persuaded 40 researchers, mainly from the USA but also from countries such as Canada, Japan and Sweden, to come to Germany.

“When stars in their fields leave Stanford and go to Halle or leave Tokyo for Stuttgart, this is not only a reflection of their high regard for the German research system but also for our research policies. We offer greater freedom and value basic research more than most other countries”, the president of the Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz, noted at the award ceremony held in Berlin to present the 2014 Humboldt Professorships. For Germany’s Minister of Research Johanna Wanka, the award is “an excellent instrument for bringing more top international researchers to Germany”.

Wanka was also pleased that two women researchers ‒ the molecular biologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and the environmental economist Stefanie Engel ‒ commenced their terms as Humboldt Professors this year. In the years since the introduction of this award, only one other woman has ventured to take this step: In 2009, the first year for the Humboldt Professorship, the developmental biologist Ulrike Gaul made the switch from the USA to Munich. The question whether the professors selected for 2015 will come to Germany will now be decided by the upcoming appointment negotiations. Should they accept the Humboldt Professorship, these researchers will be presented the award in a special ceremony next spring.

  • Elisabeth Décultot (46), a literary scholar at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, France, was nominated for a Humboldt Professorship by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.
  • Kathrin Plath (43) is a cell biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, and will prospectively come to Technische Universität Dresden with the Humboldt Professorship.
  • Marja Timmermans (49) is a cell biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, and will prospectively come to Technische Universität Dresden with the Humboldt Professorship.

     

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