On January 21, 2011, 130 students from Würzburg and Bayreuth universities visited the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen and were informed about current research topics and projects. During this visit, Prof. Dech gave us an impression of his field of work:
Prof. Dech: It means a great deal to me. First of all, it’s really enjoyable to work with young people and to do what I can to help them. And secondly, it’s easy to do that, because our field is so fascinating. Remote sensing has meanwhile become one of the most important subdisciplines of geography for obtaining parameters to describe System Earth. And, it is all the more important to motivate committed young people and acquaint them at an early date with DLR—and of course also with DFD.
Today you gave your guests an impression of the activities being undertaken at your institute. What particularly interested the students?
Satellite map of the Mekong Delta
Prof. Dech: In the lecture course, the fundamentals of remote sensing are taught: the physical laws, technologies, and applications of optical and radar systems, data processing methodologies and other such topics. For the visit to Oberpfaffenhofen I put the emphasis on projects where this basic knowledge is applied. This time, for example, they were shown how we are setting up a geoinformation system in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, and they got acquainted with our projects to monitor urban areas and investigate climate issues. They were especially interested in the discussions about the melting of inland ice fields, the question of global climate warming, and future energy supplies.
How many diploma and doctoral candidates are now at work either at DFD or in your group at the university?
Prof. Dech: There are about 30 in Würzburg who work closely with DFD in projects. Most of them write their dissertations based on this project work, but they are also engaged in teaching. And at DFD there are over 20 scientists working on their doctoral dissertations. In addition, we have about 30-40 diploma candidates and trainees. That’s quite a number to take care of, but we’re glad to invest our time and energy in the next generation. For one thing, it keeps the older staff on their toes
Do your students also contribute to ongoing project in the course of their studies?
Prof. Dech: Yes, either at the university as assistants or as trainees at DFD "on the job." In this way they gain an early impression of the tasks and challenges connected with the job of a scientist working in the field of remote sensing.
Does this make you aware of talents and potentials you would like to recruit and retain at your institute?
Prof. Stefan Dech
Prof. Dech: For sure. That is one of the goals. One soon finds out which students are especially interested and talented. We observe them closely and speak with the best of them, motivating them, while they are still busy with their diploma or master’s theses, to think about continuing their studies in order to earn a doctorate, or to continue working in a project. And a few of them do go on to get a doctorate and launch their professional careers at DFD or elsewhere in DLR.
How many of the students who completed their studies in remote sensing at Wurzburg have been employed at DFD?
Prof. Dech: About 20 scientists. Three of them are already today successful team leaders at DFD with responsibilities for projects and staff. And that’s a development I’m very happy about, of course.
You enthuse your students about the academic subject of remote sensing. Are they also particularly motivated by the humanitarian topics dealt with in your institute (for example, using satellites to provide assistance with environmental and natural hazards) to work in remote sensing and perhaps even become DFD staff members?
Prof. Dech: That is certainly the case. That we can also help people in need with our methodologies is a big recruiting asset —for example at ZKI (Center for Satellite-based Crisis Information) by providing emergency mapping after natural disasters—or by developing environmental and disaster information systems. But research on the consequences of Global Change also fascinates young people.
You are not only a scientist and the director of an institute, you also teach. What do you want to convey to your students, both as to specialist knowledge as well as beyond?
Remote sensing: valuable information about the surface of the earth
Prof. Dech: As far as the academic subject is concerned, I want to convey the knowledge that remote sensing as a quantitative geoinformation technology is an essential tool for monitoring the earth, either as a whole, or on a regional scale. And also for determining what happens, what the causes are, and the consequences, if no appropriate countermeasures are taken. Only because of remote sensing have people become aware of our Earth as one system. And now we have to manage to transfer the insights gained from individual science pilot projects to sustainable applications which respond to specific needs. As to what else beyond that: Be open, curious and critical. Take a good look at what is all around you and then start doing something you really care about. Then you will not only have a successful career, you will also have a lot of fun, and inspire others at the same time.
Professor Dech, thank you very much for this conversation!
The excursion to Oberpfaffenhofen was part of a course of instruction in the current winter semester. There has been institutional cooperation between the Endowed Chair in Remote Sensing at the Department of Geography and Geology of Würzburg University and DFD since 2001. Students of geography at Würzburg University and students in the "Global Change Ecology" course of study which is part of the Bavarian Elite Network at Bayreuth University have an opportunity to have an early look at the methodologies, technologies and working procedures of remote sensing at DFD.