• A network of threads, Brain City Berlin

    Thinking outside the box

With a new transfer certificate, the TU Berlin certifies practical skills for students who have dealt with methods and issues of knowledge and technology transfer. With the certificate, which was awarded for the first time in December 2023, the university wants to make the importance of inter and transdisciplinary research visible, both internally and externally.

 “Motivation to learn,” “Handling complexity,” “Process analysis and design,” and “Teamwork” – these are just four of a total of 14 skills that a research team at the Machinery System Design at the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) has created in the form of a “Wheel of Competencies for Collaborative Research an Innovation”. However, these four skills are apparently key skills that many employees in science and research lack.

The researchers at TU Berlin came to this conclusion by conducting two consecutive surveys. Their aim was to find out which skills are important for innovation-oriented and knowledge-based transfer processes. “The starting point was a comprehensive literature analysis of transfer-relevant skills. These were clustered and condensed into types,” explains Thies Johannsen, research associate in the joint project “Providing transfer skills,” in which the TU Berlin, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) and the HM Hochschule München University of Applied Sciences are involved.

Based on the defined competence clusters, the TU Berlin team then surveyed management and research department heads in 200 SMEs from the automotive, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering sectors to find out what skills their employees need in research projects. “We contrasted this with the results of a Germany-wide survey of 1,100 scientists, in which they were asked to assess themselves in terms of the skills defined in the competency wheel. Of course, you have to take into account that these are subjective perspectives. Nevertheless, a delta can be derived from this that suggests a need for qualifications in science,” says Johannsen. In the team of Prof. Dr. Henning Meyer and his colleagues at the chair Machinery System Design at TU Berlin have since focussed increasingly on the development of practice-oriented qualification formats for students.

Teaching and research in the sense of the “Third Mission”

The latest approach is the new transfer certificate, which was awarded for the first time by the TU Berlin at the end of the 2023/24 winter semester. Thies Johannsen had the idea for this: “A lack of transfer knowledge is complained about everywhere, especially in small and medium-sized companies, but little is done about it,” he says. “I therefore focussed on the question of how to provide prototypical training for the topic of transfer in academic education. In the sense of the 'Third Mission', our aim is to impart and promote interdisciplinary competences and skills in science and research on a broad basis. Meeting overarching social challenges is only possible today if science, business, politics and civil society work together. The certificate is a step towards stabilising this.”

The program for the new transfer certificate is generally open to all students at TU Berlin. “In principle, it is aimed at anyone who wants to broaden their focus, sharpen their profile and make an impact with their research,” says Johannsen. The core and first compulsory module for the certificate programme is the course “Engineering for impact”. As an integrated event, the course combines lecture elements, workshops and guest lectures by practitioners. “In the event, we try to provide a practice-orientated and at the same time well-founded introduction to the field of transfer,” explains Thies Johannsen. “We regularly invite speakers from various fields to our centre. Last semester, we hosted representatives from the AI Park in Berlin-Mariendorf, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, the University of London and the Fraunhofer IAO.”

In small groups, students also develop specific application concepts for possible innovations. In the winter semester, one of the groups worked on safety technology that works via motion radar for people with dementia. The students are coached and methodically guided by the teaching staff. Johannsen: “Students learn to develop their own ideas in a practice-orientated way, to develop existing ideas further and to solve practical problems independently.” In addition to the compulsory module “Engineering for impact”, students must take two specialisation modules, which they can choose freely: One from the STEM field, i.e. maths, IT, natural sciences or technology, and the other from the humanities or social sciences. However, both events should have a clear transfer reference. The final prerequisite for the certificate is a final thesis, which can also be a transfer-oriented bachelor’s or master’s thesis.

Think holistically, work methodically and skilfully

The first TU Berlin students have already received the transfer certificate. According to Thies Johannsen, the university is taking on a pioneering role with the certificate. “Especially in conjunction with the existing sustainability certificate and the new ethics certificate, TU Berlin has a unique feature internationally.” One that also reflects the founding spirit of TU Berlin: “Since the reopening of the university after the Second World War, it has been part of our mission always to think holistically about technical disciplines against the background of their social application. With the transfer certificate, we want to give our students this ability of reflection. And this is method-based and in different areas.”

So, it’s about thinking outside the box. This is because finding possible applications for the knowledge acquired and researched, while also understanding the problems and challenges of the time, is a very complex task that involves a wide variety of stakeholders. Johannsen: “We therefore try to think very broadly about transfer and generate visibility for the third performance dimension alongside teaching and research at the university – both internally and externally.”

So far, only two students have received the transfer certificate. But the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary concept seems to be catching on. In the winter semester 2023/24, the “Engineering for impact” seminar was better attended than ever. And the certificate and the associated competences also appear to be attracting interest in practice, as Thies Johannsen confirms. “One of the best compliments for us is when students come back and say 'What we do in our jobs continues seamlessly from where we left off in the seminar'. Of course, we are very pleased about that, because it shows: We are on the right path.” (vdo)

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