Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers

Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers graduated at the Saarland University and at the Max-Planck-Institute for Computer Science. Since 2001 she has been a professor at the Institute for Computer Science of the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg and has been occupying the Chair of Information and Encoding Theory.

Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers

Would you be so kind as to describe your career path briefly?

After finishing my GCSE I started studying maths in my hometown Osnabrück. I graduated with a diploma and decided to convert my degree to computer sciences. I moved to Saarbrücken and started working at the Max-Planck-Institute, certainly one of the best institutes for computer sciences in Germany. I gained my doctorate within two and a half years and stayed at the Max-Plack-Institute because of the very good scientific environment which inspired me a lot. In the following years I worked abroad quite often; in Europe as well as overseas. I spent very interesting research stays abroad in the USA and Japan for instance. In 1999 I was appointed to the University of Dortmund to become professor for theoretical computer sciences. Since 2001 I have been working at the Institute of computer sciences in Freiburg at the Chair for theoretical computer sciences with the main focus on algorithms and complexity.

You gained your PhD at a graduate school. Would you tell us, what was the special thing about studying at this school?

Yes, of course. It was the first graduate school that was offered by the DFG. It was simply called graduate school of computer sciences. The great thing about it was that groups of eight to ten post-graduate students worked together on various topics. Especially the exchange of ideas within these groups was very inspiring. We also had the opportunity to attend lectures and seminars. This was a great advantage for me as I had studied maths previously and these lectures gave me the chance to gain profound knowledge in computer sciences.

With regard to your career, did you stick to a plan or did you follow your inclinations?

I always strongly followed my inclinations. I actually always did what was of interest to me and made fun and also whatever occurred with regard to my profession at that time. I might have had a certain plan that I would go into the industry after my graduation and work on projects in a company. However, there was suddenly by chance the opportunity to have an academic career at university and I decided to go that way. This was more of a challenge to me, a more exciting way.

Did you know from the very beginning where your path was supposed to lead you to?

No, absolutely not. I had decided to study maths in the first instance and later on realised that computer sciences was the more interesting discipline. As I said previously, I had always been thinking of a career in the industry. Then I found out that sciences and research were more of a challenge to me. Actually every time I had to make a decision with regard to my career there was always a promising opportunity. I decided in favour of it and put my original plans aside.

What has determined your career the most so far?

I think my passion for the sciences. I am simply fascinated to research new topics. Furthermore I was strongly moulded by my scientific masters of course with certain strictness, particularly with regard to the fact that one has to work discerningly. As a third important influence I would mention my colleagues. Colleagues of the same age who moulded and influenced me with their thoughts and the things they said to me. I experienced a lot of inspiration.

Do you have any prospects for the future?

I think that is the demand to keep on working in the sciences on a high level means with questions and results that can compete with the international competition even under sharp criteria. There are a lot more opportunities to work broadly based. Those are aims and questions that I cannot work on all by myself but have to be done by employees. Therefore I would like to extend my research group, more postgraduate students and post-docs who could be working on those topics.

How would you describe your personality?

I have a huge appetite for knowledge. I am a very curious person, always interested to gain more knowledge. Furthermore I would say that I am a very hard-working person. Whenever I am working on a project I am tough and persistent and I do not give up easily. If I am convinced of reaching a result I pursue it as long as I can see the finishing line. I am working very accurately, very precise and studious. If you want to achieve a result in research you have to ensure that your result is correct. You have to work very minutely and precisely and you have to be sure that there is no mistake. I think I have achieved that so far.

Does ambition play an important role?

Yes, I am certainly ambitious, however not overly or abnormally. Of course I want to make progress and I have certain ideas and aims that I strive for. I always tried to keep a certain serenity while doing that. You have to let go whenever you realise that a way is leading nowhere.

What is the attraction of the matters you deal with?

The attraction of computer sciences is that it is a relatively young discipline. You deal with problems and questions which are tangible. We work on problems within the computer. Nowadays actually everyone owns a computer which means that we are actually working on problems that concern us as well. We also deal with questions regarding big networks and the internet and that is of course a current matter. Those questions are relevant and topical. New solutions can change things and that is great.

So, do you think it is a good idea to qualify in two subjects to achieve something in life? Do you think it is possible to generalise that?

Yes, it certainly is. The combination of maths and computer sciences, so, being qualified in both disciplines is a huge advantage for me and I can imagine that it also might be advantageous to combine subjects such as physics and chemistry. I think nowadays it is difficult to make a career with only one qualification.

Do you think it is possible to make a career without enthusiasm?

I think that is almost impossible. You have to be enthusiastic about the things you deal with, to get the best out of it and to work persistently on difficult questions. As a scientist it is somehow your duty to present your ideas to your colleagues and to convince them. For that you definitely need a certain enthusiasm, a certain fire. When you write down your ideas or results or if you want to present them you should communicate them passionately.

Is there anything that you are particularly proud of or is that of no importance to you?

As I am a person who always looks forward and not backwards, I have not made up my mind about the question what I possibly could be proud of. However, there are of course things I am proud of for instance one thing that happened lately. I was given the Leibnitz-award by the DFG. It is the highest respectable science award given in Germany, endowed with a 2, 5 Million Euro fund. I am a bit proud of being awarded this prize and being accepted in this circle of scientist. Yes, I do associate a certain feeling of proud with it.

How important for your career were the experiences you made abroad?

Very pivotal I must say. Working in the field of sciences is very international. If you are working on a high level you have to keep up with the best scientist worldwide and therefore you need to know what they are working on and what is happening at the scene. You have to have been there to understand what is going on. As a scientist you need a network of colleagues and you might not find them in your city but somewhere in Germany and first and foremost abroad. Therefore you need to know how this actually works, to keep in touch and to meet colleagues so that you not only communicate via email.

How important is networking for a career?

I think it plays a pivotal role because, despite the fact that you are working on your own, at a certain point research is organised and it is important that your colleagues know who you are, that they know your name. There are also networks which are useful for things such as publishing etc. Such networks develop naturally. If you work successfully you might be offered this or that office. I do not think you can make it if you isolate yourself. You have to play are part and you must be willing to take over parts such as voluntary work. You have to be willing to write assessments and to lecture. Research is certain structures which require voluntary work and you have to be ready for commitment. If you always stay out of it, it might end as it does in private life; when you are invited and reject the invitation over and over again, one day you will not be asked again anymore and you are sent to Coventry. It is the same in research.

You are currently working as a lecturer at university and deal a lot with students. Is it important for you to support their career and follow their paths in life?

Working here is of course a combination of research and teaching and I must admit that I really enjoy teaching. To enter the theatre, to give a lecture, to notice that the matter you convey kindles interest and people have a sudden insight that is one of the best moments for me. Especially when I realise after 90 minutes that people will remember it and that they enjoyed the lecture. If there are any graduates or master graduates attending the lecture I always ask precisely: what are you doing after your graduation, where did you get a job? I am happy for those who got jobs that I would find interesting as well. I always ask them to visit me one day and to let me know if they like their jobs. I like following their career paths and to see what became of them.

What kind of advice would you give your students for their career planning?

Basically you should do what is fun because you can only put energy into things that you are really interested in. You should follow the things you are convinced of even if friends or family are trying to dissuade you from doing it. If you have the impression thats the thing you should follow your aims despite the warnings. Work hard on yourself; think about where you can make progress and where not. Do not take the line of least resistance but have the demand to make progress and to contribute.

Could you develop an online-algorithm for a career?

No, I think there is no such algorithm. Any life is individual, there is no patent remedy. There are three features that I think are crucial: passion, hard work and to do what you are convinced of. And maybe to do what just occurs. If there is anything of special interest to you, take your chance and do not stick to your fixed plan.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers
Institut für Informatik
Universität Freiburg
Georges-Köhler-Allee 79
79110 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 203-8041
Fax : +49 (0) 761 203-8042

E-mail: salbers(at)informatik.uni-freiburg(dot)de