Austrian Science Talk 2008 - a Fresh Breeze in the Windy City

bridges vol. 19, October 2008 / News from the Network

More than 100 Austrian scientists gather in Chicago for the 5th Austrian Science Talk.

For the fifth time, the Federal Ministry for Transportation, Innovation and Technology (bmvit) held the Austrian Science Talk in North America, and more than 100 Austrian scientists got together in Chicago.

For the first time ever, a political representative joined the event: in the person of Christa Kranzl, state secretary at the bmvit. In her opening speech, Kranzl emphasized Austria’s success on the way towards the three percent Lisbon Strategy. Austria is rapidly catching up and furthermore plans on reaching four percent by 2020. Kranzl also pointed out the weaknesses of Austria’s innovation system, such as a lack of highly skilled talent in R&D, and referred to brainpower austria as the major initiative to attract scientists from all over the world.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} In the talk that followed Ingolf Schädler, Deputy Director General for Innovation of the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, spoke metaphorically, comparing the first Austrian Science Talks to the arrival of the Argonauts. But in recent years skepticism has turned into curiosity and interest, and Austrian scientists in the US have become an even more important incentive for Austria’s politics. In addition, Schädler presented the three steps in an ongoing analysis of the future investments in Austria’s research landscape, namely the so-called “Systemevaluierung” – an evaluation of the national research promotion, the “Österreichischer Forschungsdialog,” and an international peer review done by CREST.

Round table at the Science Talk

Wolfgang Knoll provided insights into the newly organized Austrian Research Centers, the future “Austrian Institute of Technology” (AIT). As the new scientific CEO, Knoll presented the agenda of AIT. With some examples of current and future research topics, he introduced the five main areas of the new institute, namely: safety & security, health & environment, energy, mobility, and foresight & policy development. “You will hear of us,” Knoll ended his presentation, and reminded the audience to memorize the new abbreviation.

Universities and basic research were covered in the speech by Christoph Kratky, president of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Kratky presented some figures showing that, despite the growing research funding, Austria is scarcely to be found among the top countries with respect to scientific results. He attributed this to the relatively small number of scientists in general, fewer publications, fewer citations, and fewer top-performers. Only 20 percent of all university employees apply for funding at the FWF, a rather small number according to Kratky. Contrary to arguments about the lack of career opportunities in Austria, he asked all Schrödinger scholars in the audience to raise their hands and then mentioned that 70 percent of all scholars have returned to Austria and 50 percent had become full professors after 15 years.

One who has worked unceasingly on numerous projects regarding internationalization of research and brain circulation is Bruno Buchberger, founder of the Softwarepark Hagenberg. In the last speech before lunch, he delivered three messages: First, he expressed his happiness to see all the young scientists in the audience and his hope that at least some will consider Austria their future home. Despite e-mail and other modern communications, Buchberger, as a computer scientist, recommended that everyone should come to Austria personally, even if it is only for a short time. A lot has changed and one can feel and experience certain things only in person. This introduced his second message: the changes in the atmosphere in Austria. From his own experience, Buchberger strongly believes that those who are willing to move things will find many doors opening to them. Thirdly, he believes in encouraging young talents to come to Austria. Buchberger made it clear that the important people are not only the expats, but talented people from all over the world.

Science Talk on stage.

During lunch, the meeting room was rearranged to host a so-called World Café, a rather new kind of open space discussion introduced at last year’s event. The morning speakers and additional experts welcomed their ”guests” at each of the seven tables. Philipp Marxgut, director of the Office of Science & Technology (OST), asked if the OST was a real helping hand for scientists in the US. Sabine Herlitschka, director of the European and International Programs (EIP) at the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), gave an account of research promotion at the European level. René Siegl, managing director of the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), discussed options and opportunities regarding entrepreneurship in Austria; and questions regarding taxes and tax laws were answered by Michael Richter, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and owner of J.S. Richter, Ltd. in Chicago.
Each table engaged in lively discussions. Their topics covered concerns about a career in Austria, applying for a research fund – especially at the FWF, obtaining more and better information about grants and deadlines, issues regarding citizenship and residence permits, and the Austrian image abroad – especially in the US.

The afternoon ended with more networking and drinks outside the meeting room on the 14th floor of the Knickerbocker Hotel. Most people used the break before the evening event for a short walk along the Chicago River, before meeting again at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center. Reinhard Heinisch, an Austrian professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and Norman Neureiter, director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy, AAAS, and former science and technology advisor to the Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Collin Powell, were invited to a roundtable discussion regarding the 2008 US presidential election and its potential implications for science and research. Both experts gave insights into the campaigns and the role of science, which is only a side issue at best to both candidates. Research funding in the US is decreasing further, only the military has increased its investment in research and development. Both Heinisch and Neureiter agreed that whoever becomes the next US president needs a strong person as science advisor.

The Austrian Science Talk 2008 was again a unique opportunity to get so many Austrian scientists together, as well as an inspiring incentive for Austria’s key players in science and technology policy and representatives of the science and business communities.

For further information on the event and on brainpower austria, please visit