Presentation of the Cottrell-Fulbright Awards

Speech by Cornelia Quennet-Thielen State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the occasion of the presentation of the
Cottrell-Fulbright Awards during the Berlin Seminar of the German-American Fulbright Commission

Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Staatssekretärin im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Cornelia Quennet-Thielen © Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung

Dr. Hoffmann, Excellencies,  Fulbrighters,  Ladies and Gentlemen, and above all Our esteemed award winners: Professor Vazquez and Dr. Slama,

The chances are good that academic teaching is experiencing a renaissance. On the one hand, student numbers are rising – which means that higher education must be provided for more and more young people. And on the other, new instruments are available for the dissemination of good teaching. For example, we now have 70,000 young people who register for an online story-telling course even in Germany. At the same time, people are realizing that the first MOOCs generation had too much faith in technology to the detriment of real, face-to-face interaction.

In the future, therefore, we will need new formats, and I hope that good academic teaching will enhance reputations. This is why my Ministry is wholeheartedly committed to funding this prize – the Cottrell-Fulbright Award – and I am delighted to be able to inform you that we will continue to do so in the coming years.

It is thus my very great pleasure to honor the first Cottrell-Fulbright Award winners today. Ms Vazquez, Mr Slama, both of you embody the ideal of this new prize in Germany – that is to link cutting-edge research with an innovative teaching approach and hence to stimulate and nourish the fascination of continually seeking new insights among the next generation of young scientists. As the German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher once said,

“From experience, I know that there is nothing which educates quite like the education of others.”

Professor Vazquez and Dr Slama,
I offer you my sincere congratulations and hope that this award will provide both recognition and inspiration for you.

Professor Vazquez,
Your research project involves using chemical tools to decode epigenetic mechanisms. It not only brings together research and teaching but is also at the interface of several disciplines: chemistry, biology and medicine. Methodological approaches from the field of chemistry are being used to better understand epigenetic processes and ultimately to help the development of therapies. It is students who create the chemical substances which affect the epigenetic processes and they are also involved in the observation and analysis of the effects.

Someone, like you, who has a postgraduate qualification in education along with your outstanding scientific qualifications, must really be dedicated to teaching. A strong focus on teaching commitments as well as interdisciplinary research places special demands on young academics and is not generally considered the fastest route to a successful academic career. Choosing this path requires great personal conviction. I hope that you will feel affirmed in your choice not only this evening but that you will maintain your commitment to quality teaching throughout your career!

Dr. Slama,
Your research project is also highly topical. You are concerned with the search for a single-photon source. This is of major significance for numerous applications in quantum physics. The results are intended to be directly implemented in an experimental course in laser physics for undergraduate students. On the one hand the students’ work can thus make a productive contribution to the research project, and on the other, the students are involved in cutting-edge research. In this way, they experience at a relatively early stage of their training what it means to break new ground and to contribute to the pursuit and attainment of new insight. Clearly, it is not only your students who value your great commitment, but also your university in Tübingen, which has honored you with the prize for outstanding teaching. It is my wish that you can be a trendsetter and signal for a change of mentality in higher education towards a growing appreciation of dedication and excellence in academic teaching.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Everyone knows how much Germany, the United States – and in fact the whole world – need young talents. The crucial question is how we go about discovering and promoting them.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides strong and active support to young scientific talent.

  • The Cottrell-Fulbright Award is a small but particularly fine piece in the mosaic of our help.
  • The creation of reliable and transparent career paths is one of the key challenges. We are currently negotiating a joint program with the German Länder for a structured introduction of tenure-track professorships in Germany. This represents a minor revolution for the German higher education system. The United States is our role-model in this.
  • [WissZVG ]     The amendment to the Academic Fixed-Term Contract Law entered into force on Thursday last week. Fixed-term academic contracts are important, because they allow flexibility and dynamism. But they cannot be imposed arbitrarily. Young scientists cannot live for several years in a state of continual uncertainty about their futures. This amendment in the law makes a significant improvement to their situation.
  • Germany’s internationally reputed Excellence Initiative is benefitting young scientists. It has created numerous new positions and provided a considerable boost to cutting-edge research in Germany. At the moment we are negotiating with our Länder about the follow-up initiative. I am confident that we will reach a good agreement that will further strengthen cutting-edge research in Germany – and thus also Germany’s competitive position as a location for science.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
According to Plato, "seven years of silent inquiry are needful for a man to learn the truth, but fourteen in order to learn how to make it known to his fellow-men".

Naturally, we would today include women in this strong statement about the value of research and teaching. Germany is without doubt the motherland of the Humboldtian educational ideal as an inseparable connection of both these elements. Perhaps we sometimes place this vision on too high a pedestal and overlook obvious possibilities for practical application. This must be the reason why such a good idea as the Cottrell award is re-imported from America by the country of Wilhelm von Humboldt.

This is all the better because it adds a new element to the decades of successful and productive partnership with the German-American Fulbright-Commission and we can benefit from American experience and a unique German-American network.

In recent years we have occasionally heard the view that Europe and the United States are moving apart, setting new priorities or becoming more self-absorbed. Anyone who looks beyond the agitated excitements of daily politics recognizes that Europe and America generally cannot get along without each other. In particular, we have never stopped learning from each other. This is more important than ever in our globalized world. Let me give just one example: The Paris Agreement on climate change is, in no small part, the result of patient European diplomacy. But it would never have come about if the United States had not lived up to its leading role in the world in impressive fashion at the crucial moment. In his last State of the Union Address, President Obama defined this leadership role thus:

“On issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

This rightful expectation of a partnership will only be fulfilled on a lasting basis if the focus is not only on political and economic interests but also on actively maintained networks and contacts between individuals in every new generation. The Fulbright Commission creates and maintains such a network, and, as of today, our award holders will be a part of it.

Ladies and Gentleman, Fulbrighters, esteemed award winners,

We should value evenings like these. They teach us both that and why – despite all crises and threats – we have reason to be optimistic as we look to the future.

Thank you very much.

And now it is my pleasure to honor you with this award. I invite you to come up to the stage.