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Dr. Hwang-Hee Cho, President of STEPI
Date 2018.03.29 Hit 235
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Dr. Hwang-Hee Cho
President of STEPI

  Dr. Hwang-Hee Cho was appointed as the fourteenth President of STEPI last December. He has held various posts previously including policy advisor to the Minister of Science and Technology, expert advisor in the Presidential Advisory Council on Education, Science, and Technology, and vice-president of STEPI. Upon his appointment, Dr. Cho emphasized the importance of management innovation and his will to pursue the governments’ policy agenda including 'Innovation-led growth', 'Human-centered science and technology' and 'Industry 4.0'. Three months since his appointment, I met with Dr. Cho, and spoke about his views on science and technology trends, the development of STEPI, and his personal experience as a researcher.

What are the current points of interest?
First is to create a useful STEPI research report. This will require listening to many views and opinions on-site; and seeking agendas amongst citizens. Another point of interest is organizational management. I am very much interested in how to manage the organization formed by researchers, and I am also reading a book about team organization management these days. Currently, STEPI exists as an individual and I want to create a collaborative culture so that STEPI can operate as a team in the future.

What led you to work at STEPI?
I first worked at the Institute of Space Science and Astronomy (ISSA) in the Space Engineering Laboratory. The laboratory however merged with the Aviation Laboratory at the Institute of Machinery and Materials, and became the Korea Aerospace Research Institute specializing research in rocket engineering, combustion and control. During this merging process, I remained at ISSA because my major was in industrial engineering. In 1990, when the Project Evaluation Office at STEPI was established, I joined as the first member of the office. At the time the role of the Evaluation Office was supporting research and development project management implemented by the Ministry of Science and Technology: since the topic of my doctoral thesis was also research and development project management, it was a good match. 

What was most memorable for your while working at STEPI?
The most rewarding thing for a researcher is to see the policy you developed being implemented. During the Roh Moo-Hyun administration, I began policy research on ‘Science and Technology and the Quality of Life,’ and reported the results to the President. I still remember what he said then – he said that in the past, scientists in our country have only focused on economic and industrial development but taking an interest in citizens’ quality of life is truly remarkable.
I also think that I positively contributed to increasing personnel and financial resources of STEPI: for example, during the financial crisis in 1998 and 1999 KISTEP separated from STEPI, leaving only 30 researchers here. At the time, I proposed projects to the government and in doing so, STEPI was able to recruit seven more researchers and increase the budget as well. I suggested and secured seed money from the Ministry of Science and Technology for Future Research Projects; and I also have experience in planning science and technology development cooperation projects and creating the International Innovation Cooperation Center (Office of ODA Projects).

Nowadays, we focus on human-centered ideas including ‘human-centered’ Industry 4.0 and ‘human-centered’ innovation growth. What does human-centered actually mean?
Since R&D itself is labor intensive, the focus must be on the people. Project management and research management should be conducted based on the behavior patterns of researchers, but how it works currently is the system is created, and then people are put into that framework. Thus, we are going towards system-focused rather than people-focused. Only when people are at the forefront and the system is supporting them can create human-centered research results. Systems and environments that can draw in the behaviors of researchers must be built.

With AI technology development, the role of people in the future is being widely discussed. What do you think about this?
Whether or not AI will downsize the role of people continues to be a hot issue and nobody knows what will happen. However if we look in the past, we believed that when a new technology arises, jobs would disappear; but that has not been true. Indeed some jobs have declined and some jobs were newly created; thus it is probable that new jobs will be created along with AI, and the existing balance will change during the process. Nevertheless, we should not fear the possible consequences from the start.

What do you think the most important ‘innovation’ is in the field of science and technology?
Institutional innovation must occur first. Regulations are continuously increasing: not only they are complicated but are also difficult to understand. South Korea’s science and technology are very much advanced, but institutions do not correspond to the level and are still from latecomers’ point of view. A system suitable for the front-runners is needed when taking a path which other have not yet been on; but current institution is like a barricade.

What advice would you like to give to your junior researchers?
Most researchers just conduct their research projects. It is important to confront tasks and challenges with those on the outside and try to develop various projects. In my case as well, I changed a lot of the ways I think when I was dispatched to the Ministry of Science and Technology. When you gain experience in government agencies yourself, you can understand how ideas become policies, who you need to meet in government departments for policy planning, and how the government operates.

Lastly, what is your motto or slogan if you have one?
“Let’s go together.” As we progress, research will become increasingly more complex. You will be limited on your own. The wisdom of many people will be greater than wisdom of just one person.