Stardom vs. Bescheidenheit

Kommentar von Alec Wodtke

Warum die deutschen Universitäten es nicht nötig haben, Harvard und Stanford nachzueifern. Eine Verneigung vor dem deutschen Mittelbau.

Unlike my own country, the United States of America, where the only substitute for wealth is fame, and usually they come hand in hand, Germany still retains “eine gewisse Bescheidenheit”. Bravo, take a bow. You’re suspicious of “the star” and rightly so. Science, like most important human endeavors is not the work of an individual. Ganz im Gegenteil, it is above all else a community effort – eine Gemeinschaftsarbeit. And when it comes to Gemeinschaftsarbeit it is unavoidable that credit will simply not always go where it is due. Germany is blessed with a vast army of highly-trained, thoughtful, hard-working scientists and technicians who make up Germany’s famous Mittelbau. It is high time that the Mittelbau got a chance to “take a bow”. Where would we so-called “Spitzenforscher” (I hate that word) be without the Mittelbau? I can tell you where … dreaming about a little town in mid-state Kansas named mediocrity. Because the truth of the matter is: the most to which a scientific director or a professor can ever aspire, is to possibly inspire his coworkers to accomplish more than they maybe thought they could; leading the charge on “what is just possible”, but not forgetting who does the real work.

Summing up, the creative space that I see in Germany is one where a scientist doesn’t have to constantly worry about money and where there is a strong sense of Gemeinschaftsarbeit amongst a collegial cast of many supporting actors, who are fascinated by their work even though they know they will never be rich or famous. That’s an environment where science can simply be fun. And that’s when great things can happen.

My hope is that German university presidents reading this will stop worrying about how best to reinvent German universities in the likeness of their elite American counterparts. The German paradigm is a special one. Treasure it and build on it. You can start by calling up your Ministerium today and ask them to work with you to begin expanding opportunities for the Mittelbau.

Dieser Beitrag erscheint auf Deutsch und in voller Länge in der Deutschen Universitätszeitung, DUZ.

aus Humboldt Kosmos 101/2013
Alec Wodtke
Alec Wodtke 
Foto: David Ausserhofer

Professor Dr. Alec Wodtke ist Humboldt- Professor an der Universität Göttingen und Direktor am Max- Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie.