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1998-2004: Rudolf Grosschedl

Rudolf Grosschedl was the first to introduce the tenure-track system at the Gene Center

grosschedl300pxIn 1998, Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker was elected President of the German Research Foundation (DFG). In the following, Rudolf Grosschedl describes how he was convinced by Prof. Winnacker to come back to Germany from the USA and how he succeeded in further promoting the independence of young scientists at the Gene Center.

Strengthening the scientific independence of junior researchers

In late 1996, Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, visited me at the University of California, San Francisco to explore my interest in assuming the directorship of the Gene Center in Munich. After having spent 14 years in the USA, enjoying the “American way” of science and having moved up the ranks to Professor and well-funded Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, I could not see myself coming back to Europe with its more hierarchical structures. However, I was intrigued by Ernst-Luwig Winnacker’s concept of the Gene Center, in which the career of young scientists was supported by giving them full independence.

Tenure-track system at the Gene Center

To extend this concept, I tried to convince the Bavarian Ministry for Science and Art of the benefits of a tenure-track system, which provides young researchers with a long-term perspective after successful external assessment. The positive reaction and willingness to assess this option at the Gene Center convinced me to make the move. groupleaders2003With two tenure-track positions at hand, a recruitment package that was competitive with packages offered in the USA could be made, persuading Patrick Cramer and Karl Peter Hopfner as rising stars in Structural Biology to join the Gene Center. I had been warned that the budget negotiations with the Chancellor of the Ludwig-Maximilians University would be more difficult. Indeed, when I first met the Chancellor he showed me his empty trouser pockets but at the end he agreed to provide additional funding. I knew the importance of a critical mass of scientific expertise and two subsequent recruitments included the RNA biologists Ralph-Peter Jansen and Katja Strässer. It was wonderful to witness the stellar career of these scientists, who further extended the vision of the Gene Center after I was recruited to the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg.

Department of Biochemistry and MSc of Biochemistry

The establishment of a Department of Biochemistry and a Biochemistry master’s program within the School of Chemistry and Pharmacy, spearheaded by Patrick Cramer, Karl-Peter Hopfner and their colleagues, showed the enduring commitment to fully integrate the outstanding research at the Gene Center into the University’s teaching structure.

The Gene Center has been an evolving success story and thanks to continuous visionary leadership on advancing academic and research excellence, it has become an internationally well-know and acclaimed biological research institution. It has been a privilege to contribute to the progress of Gene Center, and it has been rewarding to see that the success of tenure track recruitments at the Gene Center sparked a wider use of this wonderful mean of scientific career development at the Ludwig-Maximilians University and the Technical University in Munich.