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Sanja Damjanovic, neue Wissenschaftsministerin von Montenegro

From science to politics: Sanja Damjanovic, Minister of Science in Montenegro and GSI Researcher

Eine Personalie der ganz besonderen Art: die lange Zeit wissenschaftlich mit der GSI verbundene Physikerin Sanja Damjanovic ist Wissenschaftsministerin von Montenegro. Wir haben sie gefragt, wie ihr dieser Aufstieg gelungen ist und welche Prioritäten sie nun setzen wird (Interview auf Englisch).

How does one become a Minister of Science (of Montenegro)?

The answer can only be specific to my case. As Montenegro became independent of Serbia in 2006, the first Minister of Science (and Education at that time) was actually a physicist of the University of Podgorica. In 2007, I played a major role in the creation of the first cooperation agreement between Montenegro and CERN, with strong support from the Minister. Starting with the following government in 2008, candidates outside science were chosen. It was thus a great surprise for me to get the offer of the Minister of Science almost 10 years later myself. I felt honored and finally even happy, being convinced that science with its unique features in content, in sociology and in the very pragmatic way to deal with complex situations does give a superior basis for the task, knowing by doing what science and the needs of science really are. On top, for a small country like Montenegro which is still in an early stage of development towards today’s needs of a globalized world, choosing a scientist should really make a more general impact on the country on its way towards accession to the EU. As far as the choice of the person goes, it was probably mostly my solid international experience including knowing numerous people, after having been working for many years for CERN and for GSI.

Will you be able to continue scientific work in this function?

Yes, fortunately so. Both the Prime Minister-designate and the management of GSI Darmstadt, my employer since 2014, accepted my wish to continue my scientific work for some fraction of my time. I am very grateful to both sides for their understanding; I don’t think I would have accepted the offer without that.

What priorities do you follow up in your work as a Minister of Science? What are the first measures which you will take? 

Modern science requires modern technology, high-tech equipment, but also large size projects which in many fields of science can only be achieved by unifying resources of many countries. For development countries with small resources there is practically no alternative other than to join these collaborations. Initial steps towards that strategy have already been taken to establish an active collaboration between existing research groups in Montenegro and renowned international institutions such as CERN and EMBL, with others (including GSI-FAIR) to follow. This would improve very much the visibility of Montenegrin science, increase the success rate in EU funding projects and finally have a strong impact in the recognition of our country on its way towards integration in the EU. Another focus will be to establish a competitive environment for innovative activities and will support the transfer of research results and technology into the business and the industrial sectors. Still another aim will be to establish a Smart Specialization Strategy in order to join the Smart Specialization Platform of the EU to benefit from assistance for developing and implementing our own strategies.

Are there aspects of the German scientific system which could be exemplary for Montenegro?

Too early for me to judge. The German system is multifaceted, not just with a large number of universities, but also with several major organizations for research and technology financed by the state, plus a highly developed industry with its own huge contribution to R&D. Montenegro is a very small country, with less than one million inhabitants. There are just three universities (two of them private), a number of dedicated institutes, and a small part in industrial R&D. If there is one common central aspect to be learned from Germany (like from all major developed countries in the world), it is their sole awareness of the importance of research and technology for the sheer survival in the modern globalized world. Montenegro presently invests only about 0.4% of its GDP into that direction compared to Germany’s value of about 3%, further relatively reduced by a factor of four if the comparison basis would include GDP/capita. My dream example of where to learn from initially is Malta, even smaller than Montenegro, but with an almost explosive upward development in a rather short time. I have already the first solid advisor from there….

Assuming that you were to be the Minister of Science in Germany: What would be your central goals and first measures?

Given my lack of experience in any science management, not to speak about the detailed aspects of the German scene, it would be inappropriate to even try for an answer. I resort instead to a single general comment which can be made for each of the countries under discussion including mine. I think that the role of scientists and related professions in the ministries of science today is not really on the level where it should be, from the top down to the lower stages in the hierarchy. Lawyers and economists dominate, also in places where special knowledge would really be crucial. This has been a slow development over decades, and I think it would be very important if that trend could be reverted.

What were your most important experiences at GSI?

As I switched field around 2010 from basic research (high-energy nuclear collisions) to applied research (radiation fields created by high-energy beams of accelerators), GSI explicitly came in by a special collaboration agreement between CERN and GSI for that field. I remained stationed at CERN, working in parallel for both sides (and financed by both sides) on a number of aspects which finally brought me the position at GSI which I hold since 2014. I owe GSI the most outstanding experiences of this era, connected with work for the FAIR SIS100 project within their accelerator department. This superconducting machine will reach world records in beam intensities for heavy ion beams. One example out of many is beam instrumentation with many facets, including machine protection with quench prevention of the superconducting magnets. On the human level, I owe great thanks to many colleagues at GSI who supported me and acknowledged my work throughout the years, something of the highest value for me.

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