First-Person Report: Oliver Brock
As soon as he had finished his Diplom at the TU Berlin, Oliver Brock went to America, where the computer scientist completed his Master's degree and his Ph.D. 16 years later, the 39-year-old is now returning to Berlin for the Alexander-von-Humboldt Professorship.
After completing your degree you went to the USA to conduct research. What were your reasons for this move at the time?
It was more of a coincidence. During my degree course, a fellow student told me about DAAD foreign exchange scholarships. That sounded more interesting to me than a job in industry. I applied, and in the end my one-year study visit turned into 16 years of scientific work in the USA.
What was the argument that convinced you to return to Germany?
Family, friends and the quality of life that my hometown of Berlin has to offer - so, aspects outside the academic sphere.
What exactly will be your role in the context of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at TU Berlin?
My duties won't be any different than those of other professors, as I was appointed to a regular professorship at the TU Berlin.
What is your opinion of Germany as a location for science and research?
As I spent my entire scientific career in the USA, I can't authoritatively answer that question. But there's no question that top-class research is conducted in Germany.
What can the German scientific establishment learn from the American system?
The American system is less hierarchical and less bureaucratic than the German one. The sense of scientific equality between doctoral candidates, post-doctoral researchers and professors encourages innovation and outstanding performance, because everyone can benefit from the fruits of their own labour. In addition, the American scientific establishment is designed to enable research rather than regulate it. The basic attitude is: if it is beneficial to science, it should be possible. Particularly the top American universities have understood that they are the most economic and the most successful if they open all doors to science. The flip side of this approach is of course that science already has to produce measurable results in the medium term. Nonetheless the American system appears to be very conducive to top-class research.
Your research is in the field of artificial intelligence - what fascinates you about your work?
We don't have the slightest idea what intelligence really is. But almost everything that people know or are capable of, everything we believe makes us human, seems to be somehow connected to intelligence. Intelligence allows us to survive from day to day and at the same time to achieve fantastic scientific advances. So what exactly is this mysterious intelligence? It's a fascinating question, don't you think? And the idea of creating intelligent artefacts, for example robots, is - at least from my point of view - even more fascinating!
What do you consider the main factors for successful science and research?
Curiosity, passion, diligence, the right mixture of inspiration, intuition, know-how and stubbornness, inspiring teachers, a well-equipped environment and the famous sprinkling of luck.
What advice would you give to young scientists?
Just do it!
academics.com :: March 2009