Interview with Anke Allner, January 2012

Anke Allner is the executive director of CliSAP. Allner, who has a doctorate in meteorology, was previously involved in setting up the Jacobs University in Bremen. Together with her office she is responsible for the cluster´s strategic coordination.

Profile Picture Anke Allner

Can you describe your role within CliSAP?
I took over as head of CliSAP in September 2010. I have two main responsibilities: firstly operative management of the cluster, and secondly setting up and maintaining connections to other bodies within the university and to our partners. My work also includes raising the public profile of CliSAP. Together with my office I also support the strategic coordination of the research and work towards ensuring that the KlimaCampus becomes a permanent fixture in Hamburg.

How did you get to where you are today?
I became a mother of two sons while studying meteorology in Hamburg. My career eventually took me to the Jacobs University in Bremen in 2001 following positions at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. As the director I helped set up the School of Engineering and Science there. Once my youngest son had started his studies in Lübeck in 2010 I decided to change direction professionally and to fulfill my dream of applying the large amount of knowledge management experience I had gained over the years to climate research here in Hamburg.

What are the main challenges?
The biggest challenge lies in the wide variety of the work involved: I'm overseeing research and teaching projects, managing and supervising staff and pushing ahead with the structural development of the KlimaCampus. Let me just give you two examples. 
We're now in the critical stage of the first DFG support phase. Our top priority is to consolidate what we've already achieved while ensuring continuity and making sure that the project remains successfully on course. The CliSAP project is at the heart of, and the driving force behind, efforts to establish the KlimaCampus as an institution. 
The Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN) and the Center for Globalization and Governance (CGG) were founded in 2011. Both are research centres of the university which are concerned with climate research issues. The organizational development of CEN, the university-based part of the KlimaCampus, is progressing at a rapid rate. We're working concurrently with our partners on establishing the KlimaCampus as an institution. 

To what extent are the different cultures within the natural, cultural, economic and social sciences apparent in your work?
During the first phase of CliSAP we were given the great opportunity to carry out interdisciplinary research in flexpool projects. The whole thing is based on cross-sector thinking which provides fertile ground for new methods. I'm amazed by the radical new approaches and insights and I'm really grateful to be a part of this development. 

How is the work split between the CliSAP Office, which you head, and the cluster's Scientific Steering Committee?
The Scientific Steering Committee takes decisions regarding the cluster's strategic orientation. The CliSAP-Office, on the other hand, is responsible for operative implementation and prepares the groundwork for the strategic decisions.

What do you think are CliSAP's greatest successes?

In my opinion, it's the people who are most important. The scientists, for instance, who work in the 10 new CliSAP research groups on new topics which have never been covered before. The reorientation of scientists from different disciplines to working on interdisciplinary aspects is a further success, I think. But much more important, I feel, are the highly motivated staff members who support and carry the research work and who simply enjoy working on such an interdisciplinary basis.
There are many examples here, including observers such as soil scientists working on climate modelling, and physicists collaborating with economists – that's what an interdisciplinary approach is all about. But our greatest success, I'm sure, is that the project has succeeded in generating enthusiasm for the field as a whole.    

What are the main problems you've encountered with CliSAP?

I prefer to think of this in terms of identifying where the main areas for potential optimization lie. Where and how can we make improvements? Above all, I'd like to see more community spirit. And we should also look at how synthesis can best be promoted in an interdisciplinary project and how the overall scientific quality can be ensured and assessed. How to analyze what we're doing more self-critically, for example. There's still much to be done in the second phase of the project.

If you were given full control, what would you organize differently in CliSAP?
I'd leave more room for flexibility as a means of stimulating innovation and new ideas. Also I'd offer more careers support to our upcoming scientists. Again, people are our greatest asset here: we should offer personal and ongoing support to each individual in their role as a scientist and an employee.

Will the application for the second funding phase be successful? What are the critical factors?
Yes! I'm absolutely convinced that our proposals will be successful. There are a number of critical factors, of course, including the fact that we haven't yet completed the new building set out in our first application. But here, too, I'm sure that our new KlimaCampus construction proposals, which are now complete and are already being implemented, will be convincing. 

You yourself have detailed knowledge of two universities – the Jacobs University in Bremen and the University of Hamburg. How do the two compare?
I've been involved with the Jacobs University right from when it was founded. Highly motivated young scientists, whose overriding goal is to achieve excellence in their research and teaching, have worked hard to establish the university. I was, and indeed I still am, highly impressed by this enthusiasm – and by the short decision-making chains. At Hamburg University, by contrast, the emphasis is on achieving excellence within developed structures. That can be slow-moving and difficult. Which makes what we have already achieved all the more impressive. 

How do you rate the idea of the "KlimaCampus Hamburg"?
For me, "KlimaCampus Hamburg" is climate research in Hamburg. The foundations have been laid by the nucleus of CliSAP and the partners involved: the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the German Climate Computing Centre and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht. Parts of the German Meteorological Service and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency are now also on board. In the second phase of the CliSAP project we want to expand the list and formalise the alliance. This will make the research beacon of climate science in Hamburg visi-ble both nationally and internationally.

What do you think about our series of interviews?
The interviews help give a better understanding of the different aspects and groups – and help define the corporate identity as a result. I'm pleased that the focus is not only on the scientific highlights but also on the variety of backgrounds of our colleagues and their commitment.

The interview was carried out by Prof. Dr. Mike S. Schaefer, head of the working group “Media Constructions” at the KlimaCampus Hamburg, and Prof. Dr. Hans von Storch, head of the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht.