“The University must ensure that basic research and questions, which are genuine in and of themselves, can be researched unobstructed by the zeitgeist or the mainstream.”
Researchers are driven by their curiosity. They want to create knowledge. To do that, they need a secure framework and the freedom to pursue questions unhindered by the zeitgeist and the mainstream.
By Prof. Dr. Daniel Candinas, Vice-Rector for Research
Entirely in keeping with our guiding principle of “Knowledge creates value”, the researchers of the University of Bern once again made remarkable achievements last year, the second year of the pandemic. Bernese researchers have made vital headway toward delivering answers to urgent questions related to the pandemic. The strengths of our comprehensive university, with its diverse range of disciplines became clearly evident in the process: not only were potential solutions developed while drawing from a broad range of fields, including everything from life sciences to economics to social aspects, but interdisciplinary approaches, such as those embraced in the new Multidisciplinary Center for Infectious Diseases, were also demonstrated.
Coming on the heels of the previous year, when many research activities suffered as a result of pandemic-related restrictions, researchers quickly adapted to the uncertain and volatile situation. They opened up new communication channels via digital media and their activities were met with above-average success, which is reflected to some extent in outstanding publications, external funding and prestigious prizes and honors. For example, the University of Bern currently has 3 National Centres for Competence in Research, 449 Swiss National Science Foundation projects, 120 EU projects as well as more than 59 international grants and around 860 new research cooperations for technology transfer with the public and private sectors.
All this raises the question: Who are these researchers and what motivates them to devote themselves to their work day after day? It goes without saying that the title of “researcher” cannot be defined by simply drawing on a few stereotypes, particularly since we’re talking about a highly diverse group whose commitment probably stems from a wide variety of motives. What they all have in common, however, is that they’re driven by curiosity and address questions with an intensity that hinges on perseverance, an alertness of mind, creativity and scholarship.
“Scholarship” is a word that has gone out of style, but I feel it describes a key characteristic that is in a little danger of becoming lost in the fleeting nature of our metrics-dominated world. Yet it is precisely this stance that leads to excellent research at our university and fascinates both individuals and entire research groups. However, perseverance and scholarship aren’t merely characteristics that describe our researchers. The University and its institutes must also provide the right framework for their work. It must ensure that basic research and questions, which are genuine in and of themselves, can be researched unobstructed by the zeitgeist or the mainstream and it must provide the resources needed to do so. Ten years ago, for example, who could have foreseen in one of our “strategy processes” that basic research being conducted on coronaviruses at the Vetsuisse Faculty in Bern might someday shift into the spotlight of challenges being faced by the whole human race? There’s a French phrase that’s particularly apt in this case: “Le hasard fait bien les choses”, which translates roughly to “as luck would have it”.
Our faculties are home to researchers at very different stages of life, with widely varying perspectives and at different levels of academic maturity. That’s good and ensures that the system remains fresh, filling it with life and content. Ideas are constantly in competition with one another and that’s something we want to encourage. The past few years have also seen us making deliberate investments in expanding efforts to translate knowledge into practical and socially relevant applications; one example of this is an Innovation Office that we set up in 2021 to support this transition. Yet all this would be imperfect and ultimately rest on shaky ground if it lacked a solid foundation. And therein lies the excellence achieved by independent research. With that in mind, I’d like to express my gratitude to everybody who has helped make this possible.