(Source: Constructor University)
Diversity is power; Dr. Julia Bendul, Professor of Network Optimization in Production and Logistics is convinced of that. At the Jacobs University in Bremen, she pools the knowledge of technical experts in transdisciplinary teams. She transfers methods from other disciplines to logistics; her students come from a wide variety of cultures. The diversity helps to describe – and solve – problems.
When Julia Bendul looks back on her own days as university student, one thing stands out: "We were all the same". The 33-year-old from Verden, Germany studied industrial engineering at the University of Bremen. She was surrounded by mechanical engineers and economists who were all more or less on the same wavelength.
Today the professor’s lectures and work groups are attended by young people from places like China, the USA, Romania, India, Columbia, and Germany. They include aspiring biologists, computer scientists, electronic engineers, and industrial engineers. She offers a course together with a Professor of Bioinformatics and, of course, her research also has an interdisciplinary orientation. "This diversity, this variety – that's what I think is so great".
She conveys one insight to her students from the very beginning: the idea that complex problems should not be viewed from just one perspective, that more can be achieved by working together. When the group work concerns an analysis of a logistics chain for enzymes for bioproduction, it is worked on not just by logisticians but also by biologists. Her six-member work group on production and logistics networks at the Jacobs University includes economists, mechanical engineers, statisticians, computer scientists, and logisticians. "Everyone has strengths and weaknesses", she says. "The fascinating thing is the combination; seeing how solutions develop together".
This transdisciplinarity is also continued in her research, for instance in the area of digitalization and the topic of "Industry 4.0". Even psychologists are involved, because she is convinced that people also have to be integrated in technical innovations. "The more decisions are made by IT systems, the more concerns develop. They range from loss of jobs to the discovery of errors to the fear of being ruled by machines".
Since 2013, after sojourns at the University of St. Gallen and as a Business Consultant at Porsche Consulting, Julia Bendul has been teaching and doing research at the Jacobs University. She is one of very few women in the male domain of logistics, an area that has a lot to do with mathematics, physics, and mechanical engineering. That's unfortunate, she feels, but she also observes a turnaround: "I think it is great that half the students in the industrial engineering program are female."
At Jacobs University, she knows each one of her students. She meets with them several times a week to talk, even about private things. The students live on campus. They spend their free time with each other, participate in soccer in one of the numerous clubs, in theater, the rowing team, or sing in the choir. "That is unique in Germany", says Julia Bendul enthusiastically.
In her work, she not only pursues transdisciplinarity, but even applies methods from other disciplines to logistics. In this way, knowledge of metabolic processes in biology contributes to predictions of the susceptibility of machines to risks. A method from physics regarding synchronization makes it possible to better estimate the ability of a company to deliver on time. "We always deal with real problems. We don't research things no one needs."
This solution orientation is also appreciated by her students, for whom a six-month internship is mandatory. Often the final paper is written in cooperation with companies. "When I ask them at the start of their course of study where they would like to work someday, they usually name one of the big names in the industry", says Julia Bendul. That changes over time. Bendul increasingly brings them into contact with mid-sized companies. "They are often very excited about the opportunities they have there". Especially for smaller and mid-sized companies, her international students can be particularly valuable, she thinks, for instance when entering new markets.
In order to develop solutions, the educational system must react to technological innovations, finds Julia Bendul. A good two decades ago, this led to the creation of the profession of mechatronics engineer, which combines mechanical and electronic engineering. In shaping and controlling the digital revolution, other disciplinary boundaries also had to be overcome, for instance through the increasing integration of computer scientists and psychologists. In this respect, says Prof. Julia Bendul, the Jacobs University is on the right path.
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