My background is both in the natural sciences as well as business administration, where I specialized in Information Technology. During the 1990s, I spent several years as a research associate at the Institute of Applied Informatics of the University of Economics in Vienna. The World Wide Web was in its infancy, Google was yet to be founded and the dot-com bubble was happily inflating. We programmed intelligent internet agents crawling through cyberspace, thought up new ways for archiving and accessing digital data, and prototyped optimization techniques like genetic algorithms. Then, the professor who I had been working for left to take up a position at a university in Germany and I found myself looking around for a position in industry.
At the time, I had offers to head the IT department of a company or work as a management consultant. While I was contemplating my options, I suddenly came across a job-posting in Bioinformatics from a place called the Institute of Molecular Pathology. I would be working in a cramped room with six other people and the hours would be long - but, I loved it! I was surrounded by people from all over the world who were passionate about science. The things they were working on had a pretty good chance of ending up in textbooks, and they knew when it was time to celebrate. In the end, I spent more than six years at the IMP developing methods and software for in-silico characterization of proteins. I am thankful to Frank Eisenhaber, who led the Bioinformatics Group at the time, for giving me the opportunity, not only to work on some deeply interesting problems, but also to experience the buzz and vibe of a truly international research institute.
In 2007, the opportunity arose to join the Bioinformatics Institute A*Star in Singapore where I continued my work on sequence analysis while taking on additional responsibilities in the management of a large research organization as its deputy director. The focus of the Bioinformatics Institute is on developing computational methods to solve fundamental problems in biology and uncover unknown bio-molecular mechanisms. The five years I lived and worked in South-East Asia were an extremely exciting time. Singapore is a vibrant city in one of the most dynamic regions of the world with hands down the best food on this planet!
Last year, I returned to Austria to take on the position of Managing Director of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria). My main goal is to make sure that scientists from all over the world find the best possible conditions to pursue research driven solely by their scientific curiosity. Within just a few years, IST Austria has proven to be a fantastic place for research, and being able to participate in shaping this institution is a wonderful challenge. The institute has a broader scientific scope than the IMP, covering both the natural and mathematical sciences. It will also be much bigger, with around 1000 scientists expected to be on campus in a little over a decade. But, in their basic philosophy the two places are remarkably similar: Providing an international environment for enthusiastic and motivated people to work on solving some of the most interesting and basic scientific questions. The IMP was the first place where I experienced this combination, and I will certainly never forget that.
Portrait by Heidemarie Hurtl, first published in 2013
Alumni Stories: quick links
Angelika Amon - Jörg Betschinger - Sarah Bowman - Martin Breuss - Rafal Ciosk - Greg Emery - Giorgio Gilestro - Silke Hauf - Christian Häring - Konrad Hochedlinger - Andreas Hochwagen - Andrea Hutterer - Claudine Kraft - Christoph Lengauer - Marieke von Lindern - Stephen L. Nutt - Snezhka Oliferenko - Bernhard Payer - Mark Petronczki - Walter Schmidt - Georg Schneider - Frank Schnorrer - Philipp Selenko - Camilla Sjögren - Andrew Straw - Giulio Superti-Furga - Attila Toth - Tomyuki Tanaka - Frank Uhlmann - Hartmut Vodermaier