The "Rhine-Main Universities" (RMU) Strategic Alliance
Held on October 24, 2022, the fourth "Day of the Rhine-Main Universities" focused on scientists in their early career phases as well as the academic mid-level faculty. Opening up more opportunities for them is one of the core concerns of the Strategic Alliance of Rhine-Main Universities (RMU).
Following two years of pandemic, the annual “Day of the Rhine-Main Universities" was this year once again held in presence. In the preceding two years, the meetings were hosted digitally: first in 2020 by the Technical University of Darmstadt, and last year by the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. In other respects, too, the event, which drew several hundred participants from Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, went back to its pre-pandemic roots: As in 2019, Goethe University Frankfurt hosted the annual meeting on its Westend Campus, welcoming employees as well as RMU members and friends.
In previous years, the focus lay on the potential of the cross-federal state alliance (2019), teaching and learning (2020) as well as research (2021). This year, the RMU Day centered on scientists in their early career phases and the "academic mid-level staff". "Winning over these talents for the long term and upskilling hem significantly enriches every university, strengthening and sharpening its profile as well as its future viability," Goethe University President Prof. Dr. Enrico Schleiff emphasized in his welcoming speech.
In two concise "Impulses from Politics", Ayse Asar, State Secretary in the Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts, and Dr. Denis Alt, State Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Health of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, underlined the importance of promoting and supporting young scientists. "The future of science lies in networking and in alliances that optimally combine the strengths of individual scientific institutions. This is exactly where the three RMU universities are leading the way," said Ayse Asar, adding that, "They unite almost 10,000 scientific employees, especially doctoral students and postdocs, who are the main focus at this year's RMU Day. Without this academic mid-level staff, the universities would not be the same. That is why smart personnel development, as well as comprehensive support, qualification and advisory structures are so highly relevant. At the federal government level, we are supporting the universities both financially and structurally, including, for example, with opportunities for new career paths – such as the qualification professorship, the tenure track, or the tandem professorship – offered under the Hessian Higher Education Act, which was amended in 2021. The 'Code for Good Work' was drawn up the same year. In it, the universities commit themselves to new standards for better and more attractive working conditions."
Dr. Denis Alt, State Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Health of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, emphasized: "The Rhine-Main Universities Strategic Alliance, with the partner universities in Frankfurt, Darmstadt and Mainz, is an important building block for raising the region's national and international profile in a differentiated scientific landscape. Together, these three strong research universities can further advance the Rhine-Main region as a science engine, benefiting not only the universities, but also the federal states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. The scientific successes of recent years – in the joint acquisition of third-party funding, for instance – prove that the universities are on the right track. We want to do everything in our power to support them."
In her keynote address, Prof. Dr. Marlis Hochbruck of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and former vice president of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), also put the promotion of early-career scientists at the "center of science(s)".
At the same time, however, it also became clear that the early career years of scientists are by no means characterized only by hope and a sense of optimism: At this stage of their lives, many scientists feel particularly burdened by economic uncertainty, the question of whether an existing or future family can be reconciled with a career, obstacles to the realization of ambitious research interests and a generally uncertain future. This was also the topic of a panel discussion between four representatives of university management, scientists in their early career phases and the RMU support structures for so-called “early career researchers".
This "public" part of the RMU Day was followed by a varied program of workshops and project presentations of RMU cooperations. The workshops dealt with specific funding opportunities within the RMU at both the national and the European level, alternative career paths to ministries, other authorities and NGOs, and ways of freeing oneself of the "Impostor Syndrome", i.e. massive self-doubt regarding one's own abilities, achievements and successes. In a networking meeting on the topic of sustainability, members of the departments overseeing sustainability at the three universities exchanged views on "Education for Sustainable Development".
At the end of the event, Prof. Dr. Tanja Brühl, President of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Goethe University President Prof. Dr. Enrico Schleiff, and Prof. Dr. Stefan Müller-Stach, Vice President of Research and Academic Growth at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, drew a positive yet differentiated balance: "Although universities are unable to take away some of the burdens faced by scientists at the early stages of their career, they can take many measures to make this phase easier: through targeted advice tailored to individual needs, a wide range of high-quality training opportunities, networking options and tangible support. These are all the more effective when universities do not act on their own, but as part of an alliance, using the resources available to them."
This is precisely what the RMU sets out to do: It wants to be a true "space full of opportunities". To that end, President Schleiff announced the establishment of a (virtual) exchange platform for RMU postdocs, which will also provide information to external parties and present the existing funding measures in a manner befitting the target group. "As RMU, we want to attract young scientists in Germany and worldwide – because we need their creativity, their esprit, their curiosity and their courage."
Vice President Müller-Stach presented the plans for the further development of the professional skills program offered by the RMU funding institutions: GRADE (Frankfurt), Ingenium (Darmstadt) and Gutenberg School (Mainz). "We will continue to expand the joint program for scientists in their early career phases. By bundling our strengths at RMU, scientists will be able to make more flexible use of the offerings."
President Brühl presented a new joint funding line of the RMU Initiative Fund Research, designed exclusively for RMU scientists in their early career phase: By networking within the RMU, they are now eligible for up to 30,000 in financial support. "We want to promote the creative and courageous project ideas of our early career researchers and encourage them to network and cooperate more closely within the Rhine-Main Universities Strategic Alliance – whether through joint publications, project proposals or in the field of science communication," Brühl explained. Finally, in keeping with tradition, she invited all guests to the next RMU Day, to be held in Darmstadt in 2023. "I am very much looking forward to welcoming you all next year at TU Darmstadt to discuss another facet of our alliance's further development." At the end of the day, all three university representatives agreed: For scientists in the early career phase, RMU is becoming the ideal starting point for building independent careers.
Further information: www.rhein-main-universitaeten.de
Photos for download: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/127146666Caption: Representatives of the RMU universities as well as science and politics at the fourth "Day of the Rhine-Main Universities", held at Goethe University (from right to left): host Prof. Dr. Enrico Schleiff, Goethe University President; Prof. Dr. Denis Alt, State Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Health of Rhineland-Palatinate; Prof. Dr. Marlis Hochbruck, Professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and former DFG Vice President; Ayse Asar, State Secretary in the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art; Prof. Dr. Stephan Jo lie, Vice President for Studies and Teaching at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz; Prof. Dr. Tanja Brühl, President of the Technical University of Darmstadt; and Prof. Dr. Stefan Müller-Stach, Vice President for Research and Young Academics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. (Photo: Uwe Dettmar/Goethe University)
New economics research unit established at Goethe University
Singles, couples, single parents, families with one child or with several – private households can look very different. A new research unit at Goethe University wants to find out how the individual behavior of households influences the overall economic situation and family policy – and vice versa.
FRANKFURT. The way in which income, consumption and wealth are distributed in an economy has a lot to do with decisions made within individual households. The research unit "Macroeconomic Implications of Intra-Household Decisions" will take a close look at the behavior of individual household members with regard to consumption, employment and investment opportunities, and explore their interaction. The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft, DFG) will fund the research with 2.44 million euros for an initial period of four years. The spokesman of the research group, which consists exclusively of Frankfurt economists, is Prof. Alexander Ludwig, Professor of Public Finance and Macroeconomic Dynamics at Goethe University. The other members are Georg Dürnecker, Professor of International Trade, Development and Growth; Leibniz Prize winner Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, Professor of Macroeconomics and Development; Leo Kaas, Professor of Economics, in particular Macroeconomics and Labor Markets, and the research unit's deputy spokesperson; as well as junior researchers Chiara Lacava and Dr. Zainab Iftikhar, who also specialize in research related to labor and family economics.
"Traditional macroeconomic models do not take into account the dynamics in private households, each of which is represented by a single member. Using complex economic models, we can now introduce interactions between the individual household members into macroeconomic models," explains Prof. Ludwig, adding that, in this way, the group's research will contribute to gaining an even better understanding of the microeconomic foundations of macroeconomics. The group intends to examine the topic of inequality not just between, but also within individual households – including, for example, the unequal distribution of income between men and women.
The research is divided into eight projects, each of which will address different topics. As such, one of them focuses on the question of how the possibility of freezing eggs and thus postponing the realization of the desire to have a child can influence women's work biographies. Some companies offer to cover the costs of this procedure to keep the workforce in the company. But what is the impact on women, or on the economy as a whole? Other topics include the effects of the intra-family division of labor on the income situation of individuals, and the interrelation between housing policy measures and families' housing decisions.
The researchers hope their work will fundamentally enrich our knowledge of how economic measures work, and in how far tax and transfer payments influence decisions on labor supply, savings, fertility and housing demand. In so doing, they will examine the measures' macroeconomic efficiency as well as their distributional effects. To illustrate these relationships, the research will focus, for example, on the extent to which labor-market specialization of one partner in a family – caused, e.g., by the birth of a child or by tax policy measures such as spousal splitting tariffs (as prevalent in Germany) – leads to greater inequality between men and women, and the extent to which this either has a negative impact on overall economic efficiency – by reducing women's labor force participation, for instance – or in fact has a positive effect, since greater specialization increases the labor productivity of the household's main breadwinner.
Photos for download: https://www.uni-frankfurt.de/126914376
Caption: Economist Prof. Alexander Ludwig the spokesman of the new research unit "Macroeconomic Implications of Intra-Household Decisions". (Photo: Dettmar)Further information
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With its new Sustainability Office, Goethe University intends to mobilize the potential of sustainability for university development
FRANKFURT. Goethe University plans to make consistent strides in the direction of sustainability in the coming years. Sustainability constitutes one of the most important goals of the university's eleven strategic fields of action, in effect since 2021. The aspiration is also reflected in the current research profile: "Sustainability and Biodiversity" is one of Goethe University's six research priorities.
"As one of Germany's largest and most research-intensive universities, Goethe University must assume responsibility for current and future generations. In the program for my presidency, I summed this up under the motto `Knowledge for Development, Sustainability and Equity in the 21st Century'," says University President Prof. Dr. Enrico Schleiff. "The transformation of Goethe University into a sustainable organization, taking into account the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a particular priority of mine," Schleiff says, adding: "That is why we are setting out on this journey."
In the late summer of 2022, the university set up a dedicated Sustainability Office with five employees, which directly advises the Executive Board, supports it in content-related matters, and – most important of all – operates a network that extends throughout the entire university. Schleiff: "We will only achieve our goal of becoming a sustainable university if we live up to and put into practice the sustainability claim. With a view to driving forward our development and excellence, we have begun the process of systematically and optimally anchoring sustainability within Goethe University in the fields of governance, operations, research, teaching and transfer, as well as with regard to the awareness among and actions of university members."
At the press conference held on October 20, 2022, Schleiff thanked the students for their valuable input: "I am very grateful that a major impulse for the establishment of a Sustainability Office came directly from the student body – clearly showing that students are actively taking on responsibility for their university and the sustainable shaping of their environment. At the same time, the decision to set up a dedicated Sustainability Office also illustrates just how seriously the Executive Board takes pioneering impulses from the student body – true to and in line with sustainable 'participation' – and how these are even given a permanent institutional form. In fact. the student initiative 'Goethe's Green Office' continues to support the new Sustainability Office in an advisory capacity."
The Sustainability Office serves as the central coordination hub for the entire sustainability process at Goethe University, acting as the link between university management, university lecturers, scientific employees, technical and administrative employees, students and external partners. It in effect bundles the wide-ranging tasks of sustainability management in one place.
"The Sustainability Office strengthens Goethe University's future viability, innovative ability and strategy capability. It also enhances the exchange with the ever-changing German university landscape, which is increasingly facing up to its own responsibility within a social-ecological transformation," explains Dr. Johannes Reidel, who heads the new office.
With a view towards shaping the transformation into a sustainable university, the Sustainability Office supports the university management in implementing a holistic organizational development in line with a "Whole Institution Approach". This practice goes beyond addressing the content-related aspects of sustainability at the university, and extends all the way to aligning all processes with the principle of sustainable development.
The Sustainability Office's main overarching, ongoing areas of responsibility are:
Of the various sustainability goals that Goethe University is either already working on or will start addressing in the near future, the energy management sector stands out in particular.
"It is during times of crisis that windows of opportunity open for necessary changes, such as the energy turnaround and the related move away from fossil fuels. From an ecological point of view, every ton of CO2 saved is a gain for climate protection," says Dr. Albrecht Fester, Goethe University Vice President for Finances and Administration.
To save fossil energies and thus CO2, Goethe University is investing some 30 million euros in energy-efficient building refurbishment, sustainable power generation and energy-related upgrades to technical facilities. Fester adds that additional savings of more than 4 million euros annually are to be achieved by means of:
Upcoming event: Representatives of all status groups will discuss the current state of sustainability at Goethe University in a public panel discussion, held in a fishbowl format, on November 22, starting at 18:00 in the Festsaal on the Westend Campus. University members are invited to join the discussion and network with colleagues from the Sustainability Office.
The human pathogenic bacterium Bartonella henselae serves international research team as model organism for highly resistant infectious agents
Using bacteria of the Bartonella henselae species, researchers from Goethe University, Frankfurt University Hospital, the Paul Ehrlich Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines in Langen, and the University of Oslo demonstrated for the first time that antibodies can prevent certain surface proteins of bacterial pathogens from entering host cells. The findings are important for the development of new drugs against highly resistant infectious agents.
FRANKFURT. Infections, especially those with highly resistant pathogens, pose a significant threat to human health. It is dangerous when pathogens manage to colonize the organism and subsequently cause severe infections. The first step in such an infection always consists of the pathogens attaching themselves to the host cells' surface. From here, the infections spread, resulting, for example, in infections of deeper tissue layers and organs.
A group of scientists surrounding Prof. Volkhard Kempf from Frankfurt University Hospital's Institute of Microbiology and Hospital Hygiene has now succeeded in blocking this adhesion mechanism in a bacterium, thereby preventing the infection of host cells. For this purpose, the researchers examined the pathogen Bartonella henselae, usually causing cat scratch disease. Transmitted by cats, the disease mainly affects young children, whose symptoms include swollen and hardened lymph nodes around the site of infection – usually following a scratch or bite injury caused by infected cats.
Bartonella bacteria infect so-called endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels. Via their surface protein Bartonella adhesin A (BadA), they attach themselves to a protein (fibronectin) of the so-called "extracellular matrix", a network of protein fibers that lie on top of the endothelial cells.
To determine which parts of the BadA protein are important in the bacterial adhesion process, the researchers equipped Bartonella bacteria with various genetically modified BadA variants, among others, and then analyzed the extent to which these variants were still able to bind fibronectin. Once it was clear which BadA segments were responsible for the binding, the team produced antibodies against them, using cell culture experiments to show for the first time that such antibodies can prevent infection by such bacteria.
Prof. Volkhard Kempf explains: "Bartonella henselae is not a very dangerous pathogen, and in most cases, cat scratch disease does not require any specific medical treatment. However, for us Bartonella henselae is a very important model organism for far more dangerous pathogens such as Acinetobacter baumannii, a serious pathogen that usually causes wound infection or pneumonia and often shows resistance to several last-choice antibiotics. The BadA protein of Bartonella henselae belongs to the so-called 'trimeric autotransporter adhesins', which are also responsible for adhesion to human cells in Acinetobacter and a number of other pathogens. A drug-induced blocking of these adhesins is therefore a promising novel and future approach to combat dangerous bacterial infections."
The research was supported by the Viral and Bacterial Adhesin Network Training (ViBrANT) program; a HORIZON 2020 research and innovation program of the European Union under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement; the Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany; the “PROXYDRUGS" project of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research; as well as the German Research Foundation DFG.
Publication: Arno Thibau, Diana J. Vaca, Marlene Bagowski, Katharina Hipp, Daniela Bender, Wibke Ballhorn, Dirk Linke, Volkhard A. J. Kempf: Adhesion of Bartonella henselae to Fibronectin Is Mediated via Repetitive Motifs Present in the Stalk of Bartonella Adhesin A. https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/spectrum.02117-22
Background: How bacteria adhere to cells: Basis for the development of a new class of antibiotics (22 June 2022) https://www.goethe-university-frankfurt.de/74958144?search=kempf
Caption: Adhesion of Bartonella henselae (blue) to human blood vessel cells (red). The bacterium's adhesion to the host cells could be blocked with the help of so-called “anti-ligands". Credit: https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4418/11/7/1259
Professor Volkhard A. J. Kempf
Director of the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hospital Hygiene
University Hospital Frankfurt
Goethe University Frankfurt
Phone: +49 (0)69 6301–5019
According to a study by Goethe University Frankfurt, a combined approach works best
If a therapy for chronic back pain is tailored specifically to a patient's individual requirements, the chances of success are far greater than with standard forms of treatment. Accompanied by a psychotherapeutic procedure in the shape of cognitive behavioural therapy, the pain can be alleviated even more effectively. This is the result of a meta-analysis by Goethe University Frankfurt, in which the data of over 10,000 patients were combined and analysed. It can be concluded from the study that multimodal therapies should be promoted on a larger scale in the German healthcare system, in line with the National Disease Management Guidelines.
FRANKFURT. Lack of exercise, bad posture, overexertion, constant stress at work or at home – back pain is a widespread condition with many causes. For a not insignificant number of sufferers, the symptoms are even chronic, meaning they persist for a long time or recur again and again. Sport and exercise therapies under instruction can bring relief. Common treatment methods include physiotherapy as well as strength and stability exercises. But how can the therapy be as successful as possible? Which approach alleviates pain most effectively? A meta-analysis by Goethe University Frankfurt, published recently in the Journal of Pain, has delivered new insights.
The starting point was data from 58 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of over 10,000 patients worldwide with chronic low back pain. First, the data relevant to the topic were filtered out of the original manuscripts and then evaluated in groups. When evaluating these data, the researchers examined on the one hand whether and to what extent standard forms of treatment and individualised treatment differ in terms of the result. “Individualised" means that there is some type of personal coaching, where therapists specifically target the potentials and requirements of each patient and decide together with them how their therapy should look.
The study concluded that individualised treatment for chronic back pain led to a significantly increased effect in comparison to standard exercise therapies. The success rate in pain relief was 38 percent higher than with standard treatment. “The higher effort required for individual treatment is worthwhile because patients benefit to an extent that is clinically important," says lead author Dr Johannes Fleckenstein from the Institute of Sport Sciences at Goethe University Frankfurt.
However, the study went even further. The research team in Frankfurt compared a third group of treatment methods alongside the standard and individualised ones. In this group, individualised training sessions were combined with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This procedure – a type of talk therapy – is based on the assumption that negative thoughts and behaviours surrounding pain tend to exacerbate it. Through CBT, pain patients learn to change the way they handle it. They stop being afraid to move or are taught tactics for coping with pain. This makes them realise that they are by no means helpless. But what does the psychotherapeutic support through CBT actually contribute to the success of the treatment? Analysis of the data revealed the following: When an individualised approach and CBT were combined, the success rate in terms of pain relief was an impressive 84 percent higher than with standard treatment. The combined therapy, also called multimodal therapy, thus led to the best result by far.
Fleckenstein sees in the study “an urgent appeal to public health policy" to promote combined therapies both in terms of patient care and remuneration. “Compared to other countries, such as the USA, we are in a relatively good position in Germany. For example, we issue less prescriptions for strong narcotic drugs such as opiates. But the number of unnecessary X-rays, which, by the way, can also contribute to pain chronicity, and inaccurate surgical indications is still very high." This is also due, according to Fleckenstein, to economic incentives, that is, the relatively high remuneration for such interventions. The situation is different for organisations working in the area of pain therapy, he says. Although these are not unprofitable, they are not a cash cow for investors either. In his view, it is important here to improve the economic conditions. After all, pain therapy saves a lot of money in the long run as far as health economics are concerned, whereas tablets and operations rarely lead to medium and long-term pain relief.
Publication: Johannes Fleckenstein, Philipp Floessel, Tilman Engel, Laura Krempel, Josefine Stoll, Martin Behrens, Daniel Niederer. Individualized Exercise in Chronic Non-Specific Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Exercise Alone or in Combination with Psychological Interventions on Pain and Disability. The Journal of Pain (2022) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2022.07.005
Caption: People who sit a lot and do not exercise often develop back pain. Credits: Markus Bernards for Goethe University Frankfurt
Dr. Johannes Fleckenstein
Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology
Institute of Sports Sciences
Goethe University Frankfurt
Editor: Dr Markus Bernards, Science Editor, PR & Communication Office, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Tel: -49 (0) 69 798-12498, Fax: +49 (0) 69 798-763 12531, email@example.com.