CASA Retreat 2022: Taking a Panoramic Perspective on Joint Research

How discussions, poster sessions, and a joint hiking tour strengthened the team during a stay in Königswinter.

Group photo of the participants of the retreat

Copyright: CASA, Björn Schreiber

Copyright: CASA, Björn Schreiber

Copyright: CASA, Björn Schreiber

Copyright: CASA, Björn Schreiber

Copyright: CASA, Björn Schreiber

The annual CASA Retreat is an integral part of the strategy of the Cluster of Excellence CASA. At the three-day event, members find the time to discuss their scientific work, new ideas, and organizational matters far away from their daily research routine. This year's meeting at the Maritim Hotel in Königswinter from September 26-28 was another productive opportunity allowing the 85 participants a chance for better acquaintance and personal exchange. The program included a presentation of the cluster's work to date, lightning talks and poster sessions by the PhDs, and a joint hike up the Drachenfelsen.

Advisory Board members Capkun and Yung visit the retreat
The attendance of Advisory Board members Srdjan Capkun (ETH Zurich) and Moti Yung (Google) marked a special highlight. In addition to the Distinguished Lecture Capkun gave at the retreat (watch online here), he and Yung were able to make a valuable contribution to the further development of the cluster through numerous face-to-face conversations with PhDs and PIs. “As a member of the Advisory Board, I try to help my colleagues here at CASA by bringing a different perspective and a different experience“, Capkun reflects on his position in the interview (Read the full interview here). For Moti Yung, the retreat is also a welcome opportunity to share overflow projects: “At my work within Google, I was involved to initiate the Corona Contact Tracing, which Google and Apple developed. I found a project here at CASA that looked at it and I engaged in a brief discussion about it“, he explains in the interview (Read the full interview here).

Since the project's launch, CASA has welcomed many new doctoral students. To provide them - and of course the other members - insight into the organization of the cluster, ongoing projects, and measures, we focused on this topic on the first day of the meeting. After the welcoming speech by Eike Kiltz, Managing Director Patrick Schulte presented a short overview of the project management.

Positive progress report
Following this, Christof Paar presented the current status of scientific achievements in the Cluster of Excellence and drew a first positive balance: “We are pleased to have already launched 39 so-called Fundamental Research Projects within the framework of CASA, to be able to welcome 15 new PIs and 58 New Early Career Researchers“, said Paar. In its fourth year, CASA can also report positive progress in the area of publications. Since 2019, the scientists have already won 7 Best Paper Awards at leading conferences. Among them, a notable milestone was the great success of NIST's Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization Process. CASA scientists were involved in the design of 3 of the 4 algorithms selected.

During further presentations, the responsible persons from the Head Office and the various Boards informed the audience about the progress achieved in the areas of Graduate School, Equal Opportunities, and PR and Marketing during the past year.

Poster sessions and lively discussions
On the second day, PhDs presented their current research projects in the format of Lightning Talks. Subsequent poster sessions featured all CASA PhDs on hand to discuss and answer questions about their current research. “It's always nice to get to talk to people. This way, you can ask specific questions and afterward, you may understand even very technical or challenging topics“, says Ph.D. Marco Gutfleisch from HUB D.

CASA PI Veelasha Moonsamy strongly believes in the relevance of the poster sessions as well. “The CASA retreat provides a valuable opportunity to network with the other PIs and ECRs since not everyone is located in Bochum. In particular, I enjoy the poster sessions where the ECRs present their latest projects. The in-person gathering also fosters discussions for (cross-hub) research collaborations“, she sums up. This year, numerous ideas were generated for interdisciplinary collaboration among young scientists, which is part of the Graduate School Program.

Besides the technical presentations, the event also included various internal sessions: CASA PIs met in separate groups to discuss strategic considerations and the Advisory Board Meeting brought input and an exchange of ideas.

Great panoramic views during joint hike
The PhDs and postdocs used the last day of the retreat for their ERC session. Here, the attendees mainly discussed topics related to their training at CASA, suggested ideas for further workshops, and evaluated their experiences of the last years. At the same time, the PIs met in their HUB meetings to exchange ideas on research topics from the departments.

The joint hike to the Drachenfelsen was a great way to actively balance out the intensive program: the hikers braved the bad weather and kept their chins up against the rain. What they got in return was a panoramic view of the region and lively discussions during the excursion.

These personal opportunities to meet outside of the everyday context are precisely what turn the CASA Retreat into such an outstanding event in the Cluster of Excellence. To learn more about the strategy and organization of our cluster, please check out this website.

General note: In case of using gender-assigning attributes we include all those who consider themselves in this gender regardless of their own biological sex.