Rector of the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Wien)

Prof. Markus Müller’s children often ask him, “Daddy, what exactly does a ‘rector’ do?” For him, running a university whose students are active medical residents at Europe’s largest hospital, it’s not such a simple answer.

As a child, Müller was also inquisitive. In high school, he met Nobel laureate Max Perutz, who became a mentor. Head of the School of Biological Sciences at Cambridge at the time when Watson and Crick discovered the double helix, Perutz inspired him to pursue a career in science and to study and work abroad.

“I got exposed to the international flavor of science and medicine,” he recalled, “and learned that it’s very important to have international exposure.”

International visibility has been a major priority for Müller since taking on his new post in 2015, finding opportunities for projects abroad and building a more international faculty. And on the advice of a colleague at Stanford, he has worked to bring international attention to an area of specialization unique to Austria.

“Perutz recommended that I set up an ‘obelisk,’ a tower project that is visible everywhere. For us, it’s precision medicine, which brings the fruits and results of basic research to the patient for the good of the patient.”

In doing this, Müller tightened the cooperation between the university and the AKH, which now allows the university to have more say in new construction projects on site. So the “obelisk” will take shape as a new preclinical campus that will specialize in translational medicine.

But such projects still never move as quickly as one would like, and Müller sometimes equates his job to standing at the helm of a huge oil tanker: “You turn the steering wheel but nothing happens, it just keeps going straight ahead. But gradually, slowly, we will change course.”

Maybe that’s what he should tell his kids.

We are living in difficult times, but I think we could be a model for Austria’s future: international, future-oriented, high-tech and economically efficient.

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