Professor Adnane Abdelghani: ‘In Germany, research is multidisciplinary’
Name: Professor Adnane Abdelghani
Lives in: Tunis, Tunisia
Country of origin: Tunisia
Period in Germany: 1997 to 2000 in Munich
Research institution: Technical University of Munich with a post-doctorate scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung
Occupation: Scientist in the field of nanotechnology
Thank you, Professor Abdelghani, for agreeing to this interview for Alumniportal Deutschland. First of all, could you please tell us something about your journey so far: what were the important milestones in your training and how has your time abroad influenced your professional development?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: Thank you very much for inviting me. I began by doing a degree at the Faculty of Science at the University of Monastir, which I completed in 1993. I then went on to do a master’s degree by research in electronic devices at the INSA (National Institute of Applied Science) in Lyon and, after that, I completed my doctoral thesis at the engineering school École Centrale de Lyon in 1994.
In 1997, I began a three-year assignment at the biophysics laboratory of the Technical University of Munich in Germany with an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In September 2000, I became a lecturer at the INSAT (National Institute of Applied Science and Technology of Tunisia). In May 2004, I obtained my habilitation degree from the Faculty of Science in Tunis, and in 2005 I qualified as an associate professor at the INSAT. In 2009, I was accredited to supervise engineering science and technology research at the graduate school École Normale Supérieure in Cachan and finally, in 2011, I was appointed to a professorship at the INSAT.
Video interview with Professor Adnane Abdelghani from Tunisia
You mentioned that you completed a three-year research assignment in Germany thanks to an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. What differences or similarities did you observe between the culture of research in Germany and Tunisia?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: There is a big difference. In Germany, research is multidisciplinary and highly applied, because the country has a very rich industrial fabric, with major companies such as BMW, Mercedes, BASF, Bayer and Siemens. These are big businesses which can finance research. Basic research is therefore linked to industry and relevant to the important industrial fabric. In Germany, you learn to maintain a high level of discipline, to be thorough, to be at the cutting edge of technological innovation and to develop soft skills, which are very useful in the areas of communication, knowledge sharing and team working; language has never been an obstacle for me.
There is therefore a big difference between research in Germany and research in Tunisia. Germany also has many institutions that finance research, such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) through programmes run by collaborative research centres (SFB). As a result, very interesting major research programmes are implemented in Germany.
‘Theory and experimentation go hand in hand’
You are involved in applied research. How do you view the relationship between theory and practice in your research or in your teaching? Has your experience in Germany influenced this in any way?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: Theory and experimentation go hand in hand. You cannot experiment without a basis in theory. In Germany, there are institutes such as those of the Max Planck Society that carry out a great deal of basic and theoretical research, but they also establish contracts with industry. This means that basic research is relevant to industry needs, and theory and practice are linked.
In July you received the Presidential Award for Scientific Research. Congratulations! You won this award for the internationalisation of scientific research in the field of nanotechnology. What plans do you have for continuing your work in this area?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: Yes, I received the Presidential Award for Scientific Research on 22 July 2015. This was a great satisfaction not only for me personally, but also for the research team that I work with. We have a great challenge ahead, because now we must keep up this standard of scientific research. I will strive to maintain this pace of progress and push my team to greater heights. We are currently focusing on innovation projects and company start-up projects based on Tunisian expertise and implemented either in Tunisia or in other countries. I am in contact with computer engineers and academics in countries such as Dubai, Germany and Spain. My goal is to combine their expertise with that of our researchers here for a project involving a company start-up in the field of nanotechnology. The company would carry out research and development and would also have a manufacturing unit.
‘Researchers must learn how to read publications and theses’
As a university professor, you have an important role to play in passing on knowledge to the next generation. What specifically would you like to pass on to your students?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: I try to convey to them how important it is to know how to maintain a high level of discipline, be thorough, remain at the cutting edge of technological innovation, speak and understand English and French well, work as part of a team, express yourself well, answer questions proficiently, keep your audience interested and establish contacts in the industrial and academic spheres, as these are the people who can help you and boost your success.
In addition to academic training and qualifications, what expertise do you think that researchers and scientists need to develop as they pursue their career? How can people develop their skills as scientists or researchers?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: Researchers must learn how to read publications and theses. There is a technique for doing this effectively: an article can either be skimmed or read in detail. They must learn to assess the quality of the journal and the work and be aware of the quality of different laboratories and researchers. A database is required on specialists around the world in each field. They must become proficient in recognising which papers are worthwhile and which are not; they must learn to write and speak well, put forward convincing arguments and take risks with new research projects and company start-ups. As you know, researchers generally try to find a teaching-research post once they have finished their thesis. However, they are not easy to get, and many researchers have to find a different solution. One course of action open to researchers, once they have finished their thesis, is to establish a start-up, a small business that they can gradually build up.
You are very closely involved in Tunisian-German relations. What do you think are the priority areas for strengthening exchanges between the two countries?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: Yes, I am involved with the DAAD. I think the priority areas are biotechnology, mechatronics, mechanics, electromechanics and the environment. These are the key sectors, and I think that Tunisia, with Germany’s help, can implement successful projects in these fields.
Lastly, on a more personal note, could you share an anecdote or memory about your stay in Germany?
Professor Adnane Abdelghani: I don’t have any particular anecdotes, but two things about my stay in Germany always stand out for me: I got married in Germany, and my eldest son, Darek, was born in Munich on 15 July 2000. My three years in Germany were therefore a wonderful experience, and Munich, where we lived, is a very beautiful city. The people I met were great, and I remember in particular my professor, Erich Sackmann, who is now an emeritus professor and very well known in the field of biophysics. I hope that one day he will receive the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Thank you very much. We wish you every success in your upcoming projects!