Aarhus University Seal

Interview with new DANDRITE SAB member: “Take a step back if you want to move forward”

According to DANDRITE’s new SAB member, the future generation holds great potential but also has a responsibility for keeping the commitment to science intact by not forgetting to sometimes look up and take a step back.

Volker Haucke giving a lecture at DANDRITE, April 2023

Science and being a scientist are inextricably linked to the changes in our world. New technology, new generations, and new ways of working are gradually transforming laboratory research and how we do science. According to DANDRITE’s new SAB member, the future generation holds great potential but also has a responsibility for keeping the commitment to science intact by not forgetting to sometimes look up and take a step back.   

During the last 40 years, the world has changed radically on all levels. Technology, climate, demography, economy, and health greatly impact our way of thinking, living, and working.

It also affects the way we perform science.

“Back in the old days, when I was a student, a biochemist, geneticist, and physiologist were very different breeds. They would never go to the same meeting.”

Volker Haucke started his studies as a biochemist back in 1989. This was the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain and with it the end of 40 years of the Cold War. Europe and the world moved towards unity, freedom, and democracy. When looking back, the science performed at that time seemed affected by years of stagnation:

“When I was a student there were of course no genome sequences available. So, papers published at that time were still reporting on a DNA sequence of a new protein that had just been found, and that was good enough to get a Nature paper,” he remembers.

Today Volker Haucke is a professor and Director of the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie Berlin (FMP). During his career, he has seen how the scientific field has evolved from a one-man show to an inter- and multidisciplinary workspace and thus the way we perform science has radically changed:

“What came with this development is that the fields have really blurred. Today we work on both neurons, proteins, and structural biology in the same lab, and I think it is sort of paradigmatic, there is very little you can ignore now in science, because in fact all of these developments may be relevant to what you do,” he explains.

According to Volker Haucke, today it is possible to scale research from a particular gene to its functional consequences for human behavior and the development of new tools. This allows scientists to do large-scale comparisons, he explains.

Going from blind roads to a roadmap
Being a significant profile in the field of molecular cell biology and neuroscience, Volker Haucke now steps in as a new member of the Advisory Board of DANDRITE, taking on the role of guiding the next generation of scientists into their future careers.

On a professional level, he explains, his contribution is especially on a cellular molecular level of basic mechanisms that contribute to the functioning or dysfunction of the brain.  

On a more personal note, he is more reluctant to become very specific when giving career advice:
“I don’t perceive myself as anybody who should advise people in the sense of what they should do, I think it is important they themselves find out what they should do,” he states and elaborates:

“To me, it is all about raising the right questions. I think it is important that you find out what you are genuinely interested in and take a question that is general enough to excite more than one person.”

This is not necessarily an easy task, he admits. But what lies in this simple quest is the ability to not follow trends, not invest time in tiny things, and not fall in love with a very particular scenario. Even though science is constantly moving forward, Volker believes it is important to sometimes take a step back and look at your own science from a bird’s perspective. By doing that, you will hand yourself a roadmap of possibilities instead of ending up on a bunch of blind roads:

“I am no better than anybody else at making predictions, but I don’t think you need these predictions. Over the next nine years, things will develop differently and with some probability, none of what you planned will actually materialize, but other things will, and they might seem more interesting than what you originally planned,” he emphasizes. 

Science is (also) in the cafeteria

With the coming of new methods and technology, he has noticed a change in the way we work with science today: 

“20-25 years ago the battle was only won at the bench (i.e., in the lab). This has changed now. There is a lot more time spent on analyzing data, conceiving hypotheses, designing experiments, and making new programs.”

According to him the increase in work spent outside of the lab might be one of the biggest changes taking place right now, and seems to be caused by a new generation who has grown up with computer-aided science:  

“This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. There is a big chance that we will have new people coming in that are able to program, and who don’t fear handling large data sets. I think there is a lot of opportunity in that end,” he explains.

His fear is on the other hand that this will affect and in the worst case deteriorate the commitment to science and to doing science through experiments and constant interactions. His message for the young generation of scientists moving into the future is thus rooted in this concern:

“Interact! Discuss in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and at your desk with your colleagues and fellow researchers. I think all these sorts of interactions are important for science because you are not just delivering a job. If you want to become a scientist, you must invest, and you must invest big,” he states.

Professor Volker Haucke joined the DANDRITE SAB in Spring 2023.