A talk with Kathleen Waak: Cluster stories, thoughts, and plans

The managing director of SCIoI in a conversation with Maria Ott.


Hi Kathleen! You are the managing director of SCIoI. What does that mean?

I am the head of the Coordination Office, which runs the administration of our central activities of our Cluster of Excellence. The office takes care of human resources, IT services, academic coordination, equal opportunities, and public and internal communication, as well as the cluster’s labs and workshops. Our job is to support the daily work of the researchers and the national and international collaborators. In short, the team puts the Cluster’s central activities into practice.

Together with the spokesperson, I am responsible for the strategic management of SCIoI. I participate in the meetings of the Executive Board in an advisory and reporting function. Besides that, I also coordinate the evaluations of the scientific and ethics advisory boards.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Before joining SCIoI, I was the managing director of an interdisciplinary central institute at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for many years. Bringing together several scientific disciplines has been part of my daily business. Since interdisciplinarity thrives on different perspectives, my background as an art historian and classical archeologist comes in very handy.

Furthermore, through my work experience at the Cluster Bild Wissen Gestaltung, I am very familiar with challenges and needs in third-party funded research collaborations.

I also know how to coordinate exhibitions, for example, and I like to put my visual training to good use: one of the many things I did when I started at SCIoI was to give our grey door labs a new identity with feature symbols from our different cluster disciplines, in collaboration with Berlin designer Leon Giogoli.

What motivated you to apply at SCIoI back then?

I have been following the Berlin cluster networks ever since the beginning of the cluster funding phase. In particular, SCIoI interested me because of its topics, interdisciplinarity, and because of its importance for our technologically evolving world. What I love about intelligence research is that it’s very relatable, and the topic is so widely communicable.

What is important to you?

I am a team player, I like to communicate, and I believe in a good working atmosphere, as well as openness and trust. Fortunately, I am pragmatic, which is useful in decision-making, and as an optimist, I like to motivate people to reach their full professional potential.

How do you deal with challenges?

My first principle here is to keep calm. In order to minimize issues, I try to simplify processes and to coordinate as much business as possible from within the Cluster. All in all, I like to follow and spread a “we-can-do-it” mentality.

Where do you see the important priorities for the Managing Director in the coming years?

The infrastructure of the Cluster is in place, the exceptional situation of the pandemic has now become normality, and now we are moving into regular operation. The aim is to make the cluster and its work known, which is why preparations for the SCIoI-Fair (planned for September 2023) are currently underway, and, of course, to prepare the renewal proposal for successful further funding. For both goals, the commitment of the whole cluster is important and I am happy to contribute significant parts to this.


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