Wil van der Aalst receives the highest German award for academics

TU/e professor Wil van der Aalst has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt professorship in Germany, the highest German award for academics, with a value of five million euros. Van der Aalst, who is among the world’s most cited data scientists, is being given a Process & Data Science chair specially created for him at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) in Aachen.

German competitiveness

Humboldt professorships are aimed at attracting top academics to Germany for a longer period and thus giving the country’s academic and scientific position a competitive boost. German research institutions are able to make a proposal twice a year to the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung. On the basis of these proposals, the foundation then selects up to eight academics annually and makes a maximum of five million euros available to each for creating a department and for the research over the first five years.

The appointment of Van der Aalst in Aachen is scheduled to take effect on 1 January 2018. After the award is announced, the winners and research institutions have until the end of the year to make the relevant specific arrangements.

Most cited European computer scientist

Wil van der Aalst is sixth in the list of most cited computer scientists worldwide, and the most cited European. His h-index is 132, which means that 132 of his publications have been cited 132 times or more, which is very high. Internationally he is regarded as the expert in the field of Business Process Management and Process Mining, with over 700 academic and scientific publications.

Wonderful opportunities

The data scientist himself has ‘mixed feelings’ about moving to Germany. “TU/e is and remains my alma mater. Since my early days TU/e has given me wonderful opportunities. I really appreciate my appointment as university professor and the creation for me of the Data Science Center Eindhoven. However, the RWTH is one of the few universities with an ‘Exzellenz’ status, which gives it extra funding and possibilities. In terms of Computer Science, the RWTH is one of the top three in Germany and it is keen to invest a lot in ‘data science’. So my Humboldt professorship is a wonderful opportunity.”

Flipside

“We are very proud of this exceptional award and academic recognition for our professor Wil van der Aalst,” says TU/e rector Frank Baaijens in a reaction to the announcement of the award. “He has been working here since 1988 and became a professor in 2000, at the age of 34. For years he has been one of the very top data scientists in the world, and now he is the recipient of the very highest German award for academics.” But there is also a flipside. “Accepting this award, however, means that Wil van der Aalst’s primary appointment will have to be at the RWTH in Aachen. We are in discussion with him at the moment to determine how involved he will remain at TU/e. We very much regret that yet another top academic should be leaving for a foreign country.”