"This competition for the best minds primarily takes place at the highest international levels, so our competitors, if we want to call them that, are universities like Harvard, MIT, and of course ETH Zurich, the British universities, the elite universities there. That's the league we play in and where we have to stand out and do better to convince these really high-ranking professors to join us."
[Moderator Matthias Kirsch:] The man we just heard is Ulrich Meyer. He's the spokesperson of TU Munich, which means that, along with the President, Ulrich Meyer is one of the most important voices of the university. And he plays an important role when it comes to attracting new top talents from the world of science to TUM, since the way the university is perceived externally is a decisive factor in filling vacant professorships. Welcome to "We are Tum" – the podcast by and for the Technical University of Munich. My name is Matthias Kirsch and I'll be guiding you through this podcast. As always university President Thomas Hofmann will get things started by introducing the topics of today's episode to you.
[Präsident Thomas Hofmann:] Welcome, dear listeners: Few fields of research are developing quite as rapidly as Artificial Intelligence. And research will help decide whether or not AI will have a positive impact on our lives. Professor Ruth Müller conducts research at the TUM Center for Responsible AI Technologies and is working hard to make sure that Artificial Intelligence is applied in a trustworthy manner in both technical and societal terms. In the present episode she'll share a close look at her work with us. And early encounters with information technologies are becoming more and more important for the coming generations as well. That's the cause adopted by the makers at she.codes. These young woman university students work on a volunteer basis to teach young girls of elementary school age to program so that they will also be enthusiastic about IT. Co-founder Clara Buchholz tells us what moves she.codes in its efforts. We conclude this episode with Sarah Ziegler from the Geschwister Scholl student housing facility. Many students use the semester breaks as a chance to look for an apartment, especially of course those who are just beginning their studies. In our feature Five Tips, Sarah Ziegler gives us some concrete advice on what to keep in mind when applying for a spot in student housing and what living together with hundreds of other students is like. And now I wish you an enjoyable listening experience with the latest episode of "We are TUM"!
[Kirsch:] Ruth Müller was practically born to deal with Artificial Intelligence in her professional life. Even since her childhood she's been a great fan of Science Fiction. Today, she's still addressing the question of how reality and fiction relate to one another, now at the Center For Responsible AI Technologies, which was founded at TUM last year. She conducts research at the Center on the future of Artificial Intelligence. She talks with my colleague Fabian Dilger about the direction AI is heading in today.
[Fabian Dilger:] Good morning, Ms. Müller, it's nice to have you here with us.
[Ruth Müller:] It's a pleasure to be here.
[Dilger:] Ms. Müller, the fact that you would one day be working with AI was clear from a very early stage, especially due to a very special hobby of yours…
[Müller:] You probably mean my great love for reading Science Fiction, watching it, listening to it… It's always exciting to see how reality and fiction relate to one another. And, especially today, most of the ideas we have about AI aren't based on knowledge we take with us from the research laboratory. Our ideas come from things like the films we watch, Star Trek and things like that, because AI is playing a roll there.
[Dilger:] The Center For Responsible AI Technologies was created in 2022. In your opinion is that too early or too late, or is it exactly the right time for a Center like that?
[Müller:] As a science and technology researcher I of course always think we should do these things as early as possible, but I think it's a very good and practical point in time to found a center like ours. Right now we're seeing Artificial Intelligence make increasing inroads into everyday scientific and societal areas, and that's a very important point in time to ask the question: How do we want to develop these technologies and how can we develop them in such a way that they really have a positive benefit to society and don't just work to the advantage of a few individual groups in society.
[Dilger:] Ms. Müller, let's talk about the theoretical foundation on which the Center is built, referred to as the Embedded Ethics and Social Science approach. Can you summarize for us what that means?
[Müller:] Well, the Embedded Ethics and Social Science approach is about making sure that important decisions on the societal impact of new technologies and new research results are already made during the research process. This is why it's important to reflect on these dimensions as early as during the research process, to recognize them and to react accordingly. We do that in the Embedded Ethics and Social Science approach by embedding social scientists and ethicists in the research teams in technological sciences. There they participate in these processes and, together with the colleagues from these fields, identify exactly these decision points, these important dimensions and then they help generate concepts: How can we further develop these technologies so that they will achieve the most positive effect possible for society? In Artificial Intelligence a tremendous topic is buyer personas in training sets: Here someone with sociological expertise can detect entirely different dimensions in which the training set is not only technically adequate, but also for example how the training set appropriately reflects society in all its diversity.
[Dilger:] Why don't you explain the Embedded Ethics and Social Science approach to us using the example of a device called "GARMI", which is currently being developed at TUM. What is GARMI supposed to be able to do and how does embedded ethics help?
[Müller:] GARMI is a healthcare assistant robot being developed by Prof. Sami Haddadin and his team. The objective is to develop a robot which can provide help in the context of caregiving. The question is also of course, from what perspectives do we regard the applications we develop? Do we think in terms of what's especially favorable for the development of the technologies in particular, or do we for example adopt a perspective which is referred to at TUM as Human-Centered Engineering? That's an approach which says we start with the humans who are supposed to interact with these technologies and try to adapt the technologies to their requirements. Using GARMI as an example, we can say that it's of course easiest for a robot to move around on wide open, flat surfaces. So it would be great for the healthcare robot if elderly people preferred to live in lofts. Now if we think about the older generation here in Bavaria, there are certainly people who would be very happy to live in a spacious loft. But it's relatively improbable that we suddenly come up with a lot of loft apartments for so many elderly people. This means the question is once again: How can we represent the social circumstances, the socio-economic conditions of the people whom this technology is to support?
[Dilger:] Now I have a slight suspicion that not only research but also at some point teaching and education will be an objective of your Center. What will that look like? Will separate courses be offered at your Center in ten years, will you be educating interdisciplinary students?
[Müller:] Well, in the area of teaching, TUM has been developing more and more towards an interdisciplinary character for some time now. With the Center for Responsible AI Technologies we can build on these developments and it will indeed be our goal to offer courses in AI in the widest possible variety of educational fields, whether or not at the School of Social Sciences and Technology and just in the engineering sciences degree programs: How does AI work, what does this technology do in our society. And the best would of course be if in the first place we had courses in which students from these various fields have a chance to learn about these topics together and then develop joint questions which they later take with them when they enter research. This way they'll pass on this Human-Centered approach to a new generation of researchers, this idea that we actually always have to think in terms of society when we develop new technologies.
[Dilger:] Ms. Müller, thank you very much for speaking with us about Artificial Intelligence.
[Müller:] It was my pleasure, thank you for having me.
[Kirsch:] Approximately 600 professors work at TU Munich and every year new and vacant professorships have to be filled. For TUM this means competing with the world's largest and most important universities. Fabian Dilger speaks with Technical University of Munich's spokesperson Ulrich Meyer about the challenges involved in this kind of recruiting; he shows us how TUM will present its new professors in the future.
[Dilger:] Welcome Mr. Meyer, thank you for finding time to speak with us!
[Meyer:] I'm glad to be here!
[Dilger:] A large number of really outstanding researchers work at TUM, you could say we have the Champions League of international research. How hard is it to appoint these top-class researchers?
[Meyer:] Well, it doesn't just happen by itself. In principle it's like a kind of headhunting, we take a look around at who is really a standout in their respective fields with especially brilliant research, with outstanding innovations. Then we specifically approach these people and say: Hey, we've got the ideal basic conditions for your research, why don't you come to Munich! On the whole the process works best using what are called lighthouse appointments. This is a very special kind of appointment, in which very specific people are identified; it isn't followed by a major competitive process between various professors for the Full Professor position here with us; instead we have someone very specific in mind and then we see how to get the person in question to come to Munich. How can we convince them? Here of course the President himself is always very, very deeply involved and also speaks with the new prospects. Naturally the deans are on the front line here as well as those who address these people in an international context and then, in often very tedious negotiations, they try to convince the candidates to switch to us and come to TUM in Munich.
[Dilger:] Of course there's plenty of competition in these appointment processes, when you try to bring the best candidates here. Which universities and colleges are in the most direct competition with TUM on a national or international level?
[Meyer:] Actually, this competition for the best minds primarily takes place at the highest international levels, so our competitors, if we want to call them that, are universities like Harvard, MIT, and of course ETH Zurich, the British universities, the elite universities there. That's the league we play in and where we have to stand out and do better to convince these really high-ranking professors to join us. This of course is all done by fair means, completely transparently, but we're a public university, whereas many American universities are privately financed and have entirely different possibilities for addressing and attracting professors. That's why we choose to rely on our strong point, the Munich ecosystem. We have so many excellent research facilities here with so many wonderful researchers and of course the students here are first-rate as well. So the environment they can participate in here is especially attractive to many, even if we may not be able to keep up with the Americans when it comes the financial things. Nevertheless we usually succeed in convincing these professors to join us, simply because the overall package is so good here.
[Dilger:] Naturally, all the good and very good professors gather up here and it would probably be a little unfair to pick out one name or another… But could you give us a couple of examples of recent high-ranking new arrivals?
[Meyer:] That's right, as you say, it would be a little unfair to just choose someone in particular. But I think we can point to several new arrivals at TUM who enjoy particular recognition among their own peers. We have about 40 new professorial appointments every year, and there are certainly a couple of real standouts among them. For example, I'd point to Professor Matthias Hebrok, who works in organoid research. Organoid research refers to growing organs in the lab which are thus not in a living animal or human and using these organs in research, for example to assess the impacts and effects of medications. This is an enormously important area for example when it comes to reducing animal testing. There would also be professor Enkelejda Kasneci, who is working at TUM in the field of educational research, another highly renowned successful appointment.
[Dilger:] Now let's take a look to the future. Where do you see room for improvement in the TUM professorial appointment process, in the competition for the best minds in research?
[Meyer:] We certainly have plenty of potential improvements, but one point which is of special importance to us, and which I know is very high on the president's agenda, is appointing more women. We need more female professors, since if we don't have enough woman professors we don't have the role models encouraging young women to pursue these often highly technical and highly scientific professions. Our tenure-track program for professors, for talented young researchers, is a very, very important lever here; we're already succeeding in addressing many, many young women, and that's a very, very important goal to us. Not just so that our numbers look better, here we're talking about real diversity, since in precisely this environment, when you encounter an atmosphere like that you're bound to come up with new ideas, which is exactly what we want to have happen. The innovation process needs diversity.
[Dilger:] We'll soon be seeing a few of these names you just mentioned in a new format. TUM is using this new format to present newly appointed professors. Tell us more…
[Meyer:] TUM is a gigantic operation and it's always important to know what's going on here, and we don't always hear about everything that happens. We have 630 professorships, so it's virtually impossible to stay up to date, to actively search for everything new. That's why we want to make sure that we primarily keep TUM employees informed. Who's new on board with us? The format is called NewIn and basically uses a video format: Last year we assembled several professors who are new at TUM and asked them to tell us about their research, their visions, what they want to find out, what the major objective of their work is when they come to TUM, and of course we ask them to tell us a little bit about themselves personally. We want to introduce the people, we want to get to know them.
[Dilger:] Mr. Meyer, thank you for speaking with us and thank you for so much information.
[Meyer:] The pleasure is all mine - thank you very much.
The Young Perspective
[Kirsch:] There are plenty of cliches when it comes to the world of IT. Many of them are true, some are not. In any case, the fact that significantly more men work in IT professions than women is still true, at least in terms of statistics. Nonetheless, and this is confirmed for example by statistics on IT students throughout Germany, this inequality is shrinking. A student group at TU Munich has joined with classmates from Karlsruhe and set the objective of further reducing this inequality. At the same time they want to act as role models for young women who are interested in IT and other technical topics. she.codes is the name of the group, which consists exclusively of women students. One of them is our guest today in the podcast, Clara Buchholz. Welcome, Clara Buchholz!
[Clara Buchholz:] Hello, thank you, it's good to be here.
[Kirsch:] The declared objective of she.codes is to attract young girls, in particular between the ages of 11 and 14, to technical topics , for example information technologies. You do things with workshops with young women, in elementary school classes, etc. What fascinates you about this? Why would you say we need she.codes and the work you do?
[Buchholz:] I think she.codes is still necessary today because in pure numbers there are still many more men in information sciences than there are women. You can see it at TUM. We have approximately 20 percent women students; studies have shown that interests among girls and boys develop differently once they reach puberty. Girls often lose interest in technical professions, in technical fields, between the ages of 11 and 16. And that's exactly where we wanted to start. We want to show young women: Programming is incredibly interesting, because we ourselves are all students from this field and we have a lot of fun here. On the one hand we want to present approachable role models and on the other hand we really want to convey information: How does programming work? What can I do with it myself?
[Kirsch:] You just said it, when they're kids, boys and girls still have a very similar interest in this kind of topic. That doesn't change until later. How do you explain the fact that this interest diverges so strongly during puberty, between 11 and 16? Where do these differences come from?
[Buchholz:] Well, on the one hand I think that today stereotypes are still communicated which show the image of a male programmer; also, girls and boys are often encouraged in different directions, maybe without any conscious intention of supporting them in different areas, but nevertheless it does happen. Studies show for example that teachers tend to suggest different things to young girls and boys. We wanted to create an alternative to that, we want to show them: We have a program especially for girls, a place where they have a secure space in which they can try things out, where they can learn and motivate one another at the same time.
[Kirsch:] What's the content of a workshop like that? What do the young girls learn, for example in a one-day workshop or in some of the programs where they're supported over the course of several months? What do they learn there?
[Buchholz:] We always start with beginner workshops, where the participants don't need any prior knowledge or experience at all. Then we teach them the programming language Python in online development environments and we do it all in a game-oriented manner. That means in the beginning they program something like Rock-Scissors-Paper or a little chat program where the participants ask the computer questions and someone else can enter an answer. For example, we program a small calculator and at the end of our four-month program all the participants are able to program a hangman game, also using the graphic user interface. They can then really play the games, which motivates many participants. Then they can show the game to their parents or friends and try out what they programmed together with their peers.
[Kirsch:] You got involved with she.codes back when it was still very young, in the meantime you've also acquired quite a lot of workshop experience. Are their experiences, occurrences, which you still remember most?
[Buchholz:] Yes, definitely. The most satisfying thing is when you see that the participants are having fun, somehow that always especially moves me. When a participant runs into a problem, then she shares her screen and explains what her problem is or shows what's not working right, and then one of the other participants in the small group helps her, maybe they've run into the same difficulty before, or maybe they can help some other way, like by explaining their solution strategy. I find it incredibly inspiring to see how they help one another, that's really fantastic!
[Kirsch:] Your capacities are limited, and you all work on a volunteer basis. So: If our listeners are now interested and want to support the project, you project is under the official sponsorship of the non-profit organization EduRef.ev; on the web at codes.education you'll also find a bank account and all the data necessary in order to provide financial support to the project and support the work that she.codes does, the work you do. Clara, I'd like to thank you for the insight into your work.
[Buchholz:] Glad to be here! And thank you for giving us a platform to reach out to people, we're naturally glad to hear from any students who are interested and would like to join in and help us, and of course all donations are welcome!
[Kirsch:] Our pleasure. We wish you and your mentors continued success in your future efforts...
[Buchholz:] Thank you.
[Kirsch:] As always we conclude this episode with our feature Five Tips. Today's topic: Living in student housing. As in many other large German cities, accommodations are scarce in Munich and students usually have a tight budget to live on and not much room for part-time jobs while studying. And the state BAFÖG grants and scholarships alone won't be enough to pay the rent even for a room in a shared apartment in Munich. So it's no wonder that demand for student housing is steadily on the rise at many facilities. Sarah Ziegler from the Geschwister Scholl student housing facility shares five tips with my colleague Fabian Dilger on living in student housing.
[Dilger:] Hello Ms. Ziegler, welcome.
[Sarah Ziegler:] Hello.
[Dilger:] Ms. Ziegler, our conversation today is taking place at the Geschwister Scholl student housing facility in the middle of central Munich's Maxvorstadt district. There are almost 270 rooms and apartments here, where students can live together. How long have you lived here in the Scholl dormitory?
[Ziegler:] I moved in at the end of 2019 and spent my Corona time here; the last two years I've also been a house councilor here in the dorm. That means I'm something like the interface between the administration and the students.
[Dilger:] Then let's get started with your five tips...
[Ziegler:] My first tip has to do with applying for housing. When you apply for student housing, the sooner the better! The waiting periods can be up to three semesters long, so take an early look at what you'll need for the application, what the basic prerequisites are… They often include things like you may not be eligible if you've passed a certain age limit, say 30 years old. You shouldn't already live in the area covered by MVV public transportation, unless there are some kind of special circumstances, family reasons, which could justify your needing to live in student housing. And in addition to the general application form there is usually also a cover letter. Most cover letters are read by the students themselves. There's often a committee that meets once a month and decides on the application. But that also means that you can make your application highly personalized, you can address the students directly, you can be very honest and open. You don't have to worry about making yourself sound as quiet and unobtrusive as possible.
My second tip relates to your expectations about living in student housing. When you move into a student dormitory you should expect to be surrounded by 270 motivated, vibrant and lively students. On the one hand this means there will be just as much activity as you'd like to have. You'll always find people you can do something with, whether doing some sports, watching a movie, holding a game night… However: You should also keep in mind that student dormitories are also inhabited by people with completely different wave-lengths, different characters and people from different places, so that you'll definitely have to be ready to compromise, for example when it comes to noise in the hallways. It just may get a little loud at night. Of course everyone is a little more considerate during exam weeks, but if you're sensitive to noise, a pack of earplugs may not be a bad idea.
[Dilger:] If you're accepted in the dormitory and actually live there, you'll have a lot of roommates. What kind of tips do you have for living together with so many others in a very big shared apartment?
[Ziegler:] Tip three is actually about living together with others in student housing. In addition to all the fun in the dormitory there are also several obligations. There's garbage duty on every floor which has to be taken care of. There's also kitchen duty, which means for a whole week you'll be responsible for making sure the kitchen looks half-way cleaned up. In general, just like anywhere else you live, you should be ready to try and keep things as neat and clean as possible so that everyone can enjoy living there and nobody feels uncomfortable or is furious first thing in the morning because they went into the shared kitchen and it was still full of dirty dishes from the night before.
My fourth tip has to do with getting involved in student housing. Many dormitories are structured so that they are completely self-administered. That means the students are completely responsible for living together and actively shaping the dormitory. Where I live, in the Scholl dormitory, the assignments are distributed to various committees. For example there's the admissions committee which reads all the applications every month from people who would like to move into our dormitory. Then there's the network committee which takes care of the internet and WIFI coverage. Then, as in many other dormitories, there are also the tutors: They handle the events held in the dormitory, whether political evenings or joint city tours. And volunteering to help run the dormitory often pays off. With us for example, our volunteer work is linked with extensions of how long we can still live here. As a rule you're entitled to a residency term of three years and as soon as you want to stay longer than that, you need a certain point score. And in order to reach the desired number of points, you can participate in the committees and then simply stay a couple of years longer while you study.
My fifth and last tip is that living in student housing is not just convenient accommodations and sharing space to save money, it's really a whole lot more. It's like being accepted into a second family. It's definitely a very, very formative chapter in life which is a lot more than just inexpensive rent. It's a whole different way of life and it eases the sometimes trying phases of university studies. And often the time you spend living in a dormitory impacts what comes afterwards. You'll make a lot of lifelong friends, many, many close connections and sometimes you even see one or the other romantic couple come together…
[Dilger:] OK, Ms. Ziegler, thank you very much for your insights and tips on living in a student housing facility.
[Kirsch:] And that's it for this episode of "We are TUM". In the next episode we'll once again be showcasing TUM's cutting-edge research, student life and we'll be speaking with all those who make TU Munich the unique place that it is. This has been "We are TUM". This episode was produced by Fabian Dilger, Clarissa Ruge and by me, Matthias Kirsch. Sound design and post-production by Marco Meister at Edition Meister in Berlin. That's all until the next episode. Make sure to join us and discover the big and little secrets of the Technical University of Munich!