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Connecting Academia & Industry

Prof. Dr. Sonja Zillner

Since my studies, the idea of intelligently linking theory and practice has been a common thread running through my professional and private career. How is it possible to combine insight and effect in such a way that the two worlds do not get in each other’s way, but rather complement and cross-fertilize each other? How can we build a bridge between thinking and doing that benefits both sides?

For me, the proverbial ivory tower is the spectre of a science that loses itself in the preoccupation with itself: Glass bead games that self-assuredly miss the questions of our time. On the other hand, the blind actionism of an unreflective doing is often enough exhausted in the mechanics of an unimaginative “business as usual”. Neither of these are attractive perspectives – especially in view of the pressing challenges of our time.

So how do you create connections, transcend boundaries, produce short circuits that lead out of the speechlessness of the confined? Without appropriate translation work, this is an impossibility.

As with any good translation, for me this first requires knowledge of both worlds. Only those who know and respect the customs and traditions of the other side can make themselves heard here. As important as respect for the rules of the game on both sides is – in order to travel successfully between these worlds, curiosity and a certain form of distance are also indispensable for me. Taking sides calms one’s own vanity; the tendency to talk to oneself does not diminish as a result …

Of course, this attitude also has its price: it is more difficult to position oneself, such border crossings are not always warmly welcomed, and often enough the respective stable odor is more important than the encounter on unfamiliar terrain. But all this does not make the lifelong experiment of translation attempts and changes of perspective any less exciting: “There’s no free lunch in life,” as the saying goes.

For me, this narrative has now moved beyond the professional context to a question of personal attitude. If one wants to use the potential of theory and practice to work on the larger questions of our time, then it makes sense to do so from the position of a “positive deviant”: a wanderer between worlds who creates connections in order to escape the tunnel vision of self-assurance, asks questions instead of underpinning answers – and thus opens up new perspectives wherever the reference to the familiar is no longer sufficient to find one’s way in a radically changing world.

If you are working on similar topics, or also think that our world in its current state would benefit from more lateral thinkers and pattern breakers than optimizers of the present, then I cordially invite you to network with me. You will find the appropriate channels below. Looking forward to your ping …

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My journey so far


Member of Scientific Advisory Board

Technical TIB Leibniz Information Center for Science & Technology


Chief-Editor of the Strategic Research, Innovation and Deployment Agenda (SRIDA)

European Public-Private Partnership in Artificial Intelligence


Visiting Professorship

Technische Universität Berlin Fakultät VII


AI Expert

Siemens Technology Innovation Council (STIC)


Editor-in-Chief of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda

European Public-Private Partnership “Big Data Value Association”


Key Senior Expert for Semantics and AI Technologies

Siemens Corporate Technology


Junior Professorship

Steinbeis University Berlin


Cooperation partner

Osb-i Consultancy


Project Manager in the domain of Knowledge Management, Corporate Technology

Siemens AG


PhD studies in Computer Science

Technical University of Vienna


Research associate at the Department for Computer Science and Business Informatics

University of Vienna


Research Assistant at the Department of Computer Science and Society

University of Freiburg


Diploma Mathematics and Psychology

University of Freiburg