Tag Archives: PhD

ZEIT-Interview mit MPG-Präsident Martin Stratmann: “Das ist einmalig”

[DIE ZEIT 13/2015 26. März 2015]

Wie die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft die Stellung ihrer Doktoranden verbessern will, erklärt ihr Präsident Martin Stratmann.

Interview: Martin Spiewak

DIE ZEIT: Die Misere junger Forscher in Deutschland ist bekannt. Jetzt hat die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ein großes Paket zur besseren Betreuung und Finanzierung ihres wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses verabschiedet. Man dachte eigentlich, gerade Ihren Instituten seien die Doktoranden und Postdocs auch früher schon wichtig und teuer gewesen.

Martin Stratmann: Das waren sie auch. Sonst würden nicht so viele Bewerber bei uns promovieren wollen oder eine wissenschaftliche Karriere anstreben. Und wir wären auch nicht so erfolgreich. Max-Planck hat beileibe kein generelles Betreuungsproblem.

ZEIT: Aber ein Vergütungsproblem? Kritiker sprechen von einer Zwei-Klassen-Gesellschaft.

Stratmann: Richtig ist, dass ein Teil der Doktoranden an ihrem Institut mit einem Vertrag beschäftigt ist, während andere ein Stipendium erhalten. International sind Stipendien üblich. Aber die Betroffenen erhalten keine Sozialleistungen, und das wird als ungerecht empfunden, gerade von ausländischen Doktoranden, die oft als Stipendiaten zu uns kommen und mittlerweile über fünfzig Prozent der Promovenden ausmachen. Diese Praxis werden wir deshalb ändern: In Zukunft erhält bei uns jeder Doktorand einen Vertrag.

[…]

[weiter in DIE ZEIT 13/2015 26. März 2015]

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Max-Planck-Gesellschaft verbessert die Ausbildungs- und Karrierebedingungen ihrer Doktoranden und Postdocs

[http://www.mpg.de/9066287/50-Millionen-Euro-fuer-den-wissenschaftlichen-Nachwuchs]

50 Millionen Euro für den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft verbessert die Ausbildungs- und Karrierebedingungen ihrer Doktoranden und Postdocs

26. März 2015

Die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft stellt ihre Nachwuchsförderung neu auf. Das Gesamtpaket besteht nicht nur aus neuen Förderstrukturen und detaillierten Betreuungsrichtlinien, sondern soll darüber hinaus auch künftig für mehr Transparenz bei den Karrierewegen sorgen. Dafür wird die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft die Mittel in der Nachwuchsförderung um fast 40 Prozent anheben. Das entspricht im Endausbau jährlich knapp 50 Millionen Euro. „Wir haben uns entschieden, diese Mittel nicht in das Wachstum unserer Organisation, sondern in die Nachwuchsförderung zu investieren“, erklärt Max-Planck-Präsident Martin Stratmann. Der Entscheidung waren umfassende Diskussionen und Beratungen in den eigenen Gremien vorausgegangen.

Über 3400 Doktoranden forschen in der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Mit 54 Prozent ist der Ausländeranteil unter ihnen deutlich höher als an anderen Forschungseinrichtungen oder Universitäten in Deutschland. Doch der internationale Wettbewerb um junge, kreative Talente nimmt zu: „Es ist deshalb unerlässlich, dass wir unsere Karrierestrukturen fortlaufend weiterentwickeln, um im Vergleich mit den internationalen Top-Einrichtungen konkurrenzfähig zu bleiben“, so Martin Stratmann. Die Forscherlaufbahn hierzulande attraktiver zu machen, ist eines der wichtigsten Ziele von Bund, Ländern und Forschungsorganisationen.

Die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft wird zukünftig alle Doktorandinnen und Doktoranden, die für ihre Promotion an einem Max-Planck-Institut forschen, mit einem Fördervertrag ausstatten. Bisher hatte die Mehrheit vor allem auch der ausländischen Doktoranden ein Stipendium. „International ist das durchaus üblich“, erklärt Martin Stratmann. „Aber die Dualität von Vertrag und Stipendium wurde zunehmend nicht mehr akzeptiert, weil sie sich nicht hinreichend unterschieden haben.“ Der Max-Planck-Fördervertrag ermöglicht es, die wissenschaftliche Freiheit des Stipendiums mit der sozialen Sicherheit eines Arbeitsvertrages zu kombinieren. Der Fördervertrag wird vor Beginn der Promotion über eine Laufzeit von drei Jahren geschlossen und kann um weitere zwölf Monate verlängert werden. „Damit haben Doktoranden eine klare Perspektive für ihr Promotionsvorhaben“, betont Stratmann.
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Max-Planck-Gesellschaft: Im Zweifel hat der Direktor recht

[FAZ, 23.10.2014]

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Im Zweifel hat der Direktor recht

Wie geht die angesehene Max-Planck-Gesellschaft mit ihrem wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs um? Es mehren sich die Fälle, in denen Direktorenherrlichkeit unwidersprochen bleibt.

22.10.2014, von Sven Grünewald

„Wir leben nicht mehr in den fünfziger Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts, wo ein Direktor wie ein kleiner König herrschen konnte“, betonte Peter Gruss, bis Juni 2014 Präsident der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), in seiner Abschiedsrede vor dem Wissenschaftlichen Rat der MPG. Dass er so deutliche Kritik übte, hatte seinen Grund. Anfang des Jahres bekam er von Doktorandenvertretern eine schwarze Liste mit seit Jahren bestehenden und verschleppten Problemen in der Nachwuchsförderung überreicht. „Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs bedeutet nicht billige Arbeitskräfte“, ergänzte Gruss und betonte die Verantwortung, die seitens der Direktoren gegenüber Nachwuchs bestehe.

Mit Martin Stratmann ist seit einigen Monaten ein neuer Präsident im Amt, der vor denselben tiefgehenden Problemen steht. Nach außen bemüht sich die Generalverwaltung der MPG zwar um Aufklärung, übt bei Fehlverhalten auch Druck auf Direktoren aus und betont, wie wichtig ihr der Input des eigenen Nachwuchses ist. Hinter den Kulissen geschieht jedoch das Gegenteil. Die Generalverwaltung der MPG gibt sich jede Mühe, Kritik zu unterbinden und wenn es darauf ankommt im Interesse der Direktoren zu handeln.

[…]

[weiter auf faz.net]

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Prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse: Max Planck setzt auf Billigforscher

[from taz.de 23.05.20121]

Max Planck setzt auf Billigforscher

Auch gestandene Wissenschaftler bekommen bei Max-Planck-Instituten keine Arbeitsverträge. Das zeigt eine Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Anfrage der Linkspartei.

von Anna Lehmann

BERLIN taz | Dass Doktoranden der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft gegen prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse mobilmachen, ist ziemlich einmalig. Schließlich versteht sich die von Bund und Ländern finanzierte Gesellschaft als eine der führenden deutschen Forschungsinstitutionen. Hier zu arbeiten fördert Ruf und Karriere. Doch nun zeigt eine aktuelle Anfrage der Linkspartei: das Stipendienunwesen betrifft längst auch promovierte Wissenschaftler.

Rund 1.350 Postdoktoranden an den 80 Max-Planck-Instituten werden derzeit aus Stipendien finanziert, so die Antwort des Bundeswissenschaftsministeriums, die der taz vorliegt. Sie bekommen also einen monatlichen Grundbetrag von bis zu 1.621 Euro plus Zuschlägen und müssen sich davon freiwillig gegen Krankheit, Alter und Arbeitslosigkeit versichern.

„Dass der Trend auch bei Promovierten zu Stipendien geht, wirft ein bezeichnendes Licht auf die überkommenen Personalstrukturen in der deutschen Wissenschaftslandschaft“, meint die forschungspolitische Sprecherin der Linken, Petra Sitte. In Deutschland würden selbst 45-jährige Habilitierte noch als „Nachwuchs“ bezeichnet.

Die Sprecherin der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Christina Beck, sagte der taz, die Bezahlung der Postdocs sei innerhalb der Gesellschaft bisher kein Thema: „Der weitaus größte Teil der Stipendiaten sind EU-Ausländer. Die Frage der Sozialversicherung stellt sich für diese Gruppe nicht, da sie Deutschland sowieso wieder verlassen.“ Laut Statistik kommen 1.223 der über Stipendien finanzierten Postdocs aus dem Ausland, 126 sind Deutsche.

[…]

continue at taz.de

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Don’t Become a Scientist!

[from: http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html%5D

Don’t Become a Scientist!

Jonathan I. Katz
Professor of Physics
Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.
[my last name]@wuphys.wustl.edu

Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it!

Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

American universities train roughly twice as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs for them. When something, or someone, is a glut on the market, the price drops. In the case of Ph.D. scientists, the reduction in price takes the form of many years spent in “holding pattern” postdoctoral jobs. Permanent jobs don’t pay much less than they used to, but instead of obtaining a real job two years after the Ph.D. (as was typical 25 years ago) most young scientists spend five, ten, or more years as postdocs. They have no prospect of permanent employment and often must obtain a new postdoctoral position and move every two years. For many more details consult the Young Scientists’ Network or read the account in the May, 2001 issue of the Washington Monthly.

As examples, consider two of the leading candidates for a recent Assistant Professorship in my department. One was 37, ten years out of graduate school (he didn’t get the job). The leading candidate, whom everyone thinks is brilliant, was 35, seven years out of graduate school. Only then was he offered his first permanent job (that’s not tenure, just the possibility of it six years later, and a step off the treadmill of looking for a new job every two years). The latest example is a 39 year old candidate for another Assistant Professorship; he has published 35 papers. In contrast, a doctor typically enters private practice at 29, a lawyer at 25 and makes partner at 31, and a computer scientist with a Ph.D. has a very good job at 27 (computer science and engineering are the few fields in which industrial demand makes it sensible to get a Ph.D.). Anyone with the intelligence, ambition and willingness to work hard to succeed in science can also succeed in any of these other professions.

Typical postdoctoral salaries begin at $27,000 annually in the biological sciences and about $35,000 in the physical sciences (graduate student stipends are less than half these figures). Can you support a family on that income? It suffices for a young couple in a small apartment, though I know of one physicist whose wife left him because she was tired of repeatedly moving with little prospect of settling down. When you are in your thirties you will need more: a house in a good school district and all the other necessities of ordinary middle class life. Science is a profession, not a religious vocation, and does not justify an oath of poverty or celibacy.

Of course, you don’t go into science to get rich. So you choose not to go to medical or law school, even though a doctor or lawyer typically earns two to three times as much as a scientist (one lucky enough to have a good senior-level job). I made that choice too. I became a scientist in order to have the freedom to work on problems which interest me. But you probably won’t get that freedom. As a postdoc you will work on someone else’s ideas, and may be treated as a technician rather than as an independent collaborator. Eventually, you will probably be squeezed out of science entirely. You can get a fine job as a computer programmer, but why not do this at 22, rather than putting up with a decade of misery in the scientific job market first? The longer you spend in science the harder you will find it to leave, and the less attractive you will be to prospective employers in other fields.

Perhaps you are so talented that you can beat the postdoc trap; some university (there are hardly any industrial jobs in the physical sciences) will be so impressed with you that you will be hired into a tenure track position two years out of graduate school. Maybe. But the general cheapening of scientific labor means that even the most talented stay on the postdoctoral treadmill for a very long time; consider the job candidates described above. And many who appear to be very talented, with grades and recommendations to match, later find that the competition of research is more difficult, or at least different, and that they must struggle with the rest.

Suppose you do eventually obtain a permanent job, perhaps a tenured professorship. The struggle for a job is now replaced by a struggle for grant support, and again there is a glut of scientists. Now you spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. They’re not the same thing: you cannot put your past successes in a proposal, because they are finished work, and your new ideas, however original and clever, are still unproven. It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal; because they have not yet been proved to work (after all, that is what you are proposing to do) they can be, and will be, rated poorly. Having achieved the promised land, you find that it is not what you wanted after all.

What can be done? The first thing for any young person (which means anyone who does not have a permanent job in science) to do is to pursue another career. This will spare you the misery of disappointed expectations. Young Americans have generally woken up to the bad prospects and absence of a reasonable middle class career path in science and are deserting it. If you haven’t yet, then join them. Leave graduate school to people from India and China, for whom the prospects at home are even worse. I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs.

If you are in a position of leadership in science then you should try to persuade the funding agencies to train fewer Ph.D.s. The glut of scientists is entirely the consequence of funding policies (almost all graduate education is paid for by federal grants). The funding agencies are bemoaning the scarcity of young people interested in science when they themselves caused this scarcity by destroying science as a career. They could reverse this situation by matching the number trained to the demand, but they refuse to do so, or even to discuss the problem seriously (for many years the NSF propagated a dishonest prediction of a coming shortage of scientists, and most funding agencies still act as if this were true). The result is that the best young people, who should go into science, sensibly refuse to do so, and the graduate schools are filled with weak American students and with foreigners lured by the American student visa.

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Scholarships are also a sign of quality

[from http://www.mpg.de/5724370/scholarships and http://www.mpg.de/5723126/Promotionsstipendien]

Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, on PhD scholarships:

Scholarships are also a sign of quality

What is a doctoral thesis all about?

April 20, 2011

“Obtaining a doctoral degree is a confirmation of the intellect”, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg once wrote, capturing the essence of a PhD: a doctoral thesis is something you spend years working on, deeply immersed in “your” subject, which requires you to muster a great deal of motivation and develop a lot of intellectual creativity; it also teaches you the fundamentals of scientific working. A PhD is rightly considered the most authentic of all academic qualifications. As you embark on a PhD, you are still anything but a “proper” scientist; it’s during the process itself that you become a “proper” scientist. In this sense, a PhD is “an apprenticeship in the lab”, and as such it is usually not paid like a “proper” job – and this is, by and large, the practice at all research institutions and universities.

There is no denying that only some doctoral students enjoy the benefit of a contract to fund their studies and others do their doctoral degree on a scholarship. The pressure of internationalisation has changed the PhD system in Germany in many respects in recent years. For instance, the number of students from other countries doing their PhD in Germany has doubled over the past ten years. Of the 5,300 doctoral students at Max Planck Institutes, half are from abroad. Scholarships are nothing unusual for the foreign PhD students – even at the elite institutions of the US and UK, such as Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford, young scientists generally do not do their PhD while in receipt of a full-time salary; they do it on a scholarship or a grant, with which they have to pay their tuition fees too (there are no tuition fees in Germany). The scholarships and grants made available under PhD programs are awarded in a strict selection process.

And the same is true for the 4,000 doctoral students each year in Germany who receive a scholarship from one of the twelve organisations for the promotion of young talent. What these organisations look for are not only “bright minds” who have performed exceptionally well at school and university, they also look for social engagement. Less than 20 per cent of applicants make it into the sponsorship programs. They are each rightly proud of their scholarship, given that it singles them out as highly-motivated, qualified and socially involved in areas outside their own field of study. In this respect, the accusation that the world of PhD funding is a “two-tier society” is simply off the mark – Germany’s entire system of sponsorship for the intellectually gifted is based on scholarships!

Of the 3,300 doctoral students at the Max Planck Society who are in receipt of a scholarship, 2,200 of them receive a Max Planck scholarship and the remaining third receive their scholarships from one of the organisations for the promotion of young talent, or from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, DAAD, the EU (Marie Curie Fellowship), etc. The scholarship allowances differ only marginally: they are all between 1,000 and 1,365 euros plus benefits. In other words, scholarships are the instruments of choice in scientific funding – not only nationally, but also internationally; doing away with them would be absolutely absurd and would damage the whole system of young scientist sponsorship.

The PhDnet, which represents the interests of doctoral students in the Max Planck Society, has in recent years predominantly campaigned for doctoral students at the Max Planck Institutes to receive similar levels of net income regardless of financing model. In negotiations with its funding providers, the Max Planck Society has therefore campaigned to increase its scholarship rates by being allowed to add health insurance benefits, an attractive child allowance and additional financial contributions for families. That we managed to achieve these improvements is also regarded as a success by our scholarship holders.

Many of our foreign doctoral students consider a scholarship from the Max Planck Society a special distinction that enables them to work on their dissertation freely and independently in an internationally stimulating research environment. Our young scientists come to us from 100 different countries around the globe, attracted by the renown of the Max Planck Society and the outstanding working conditions they find in our Institutes. They have the opportunity to complete a crucial stage of their career in a creative world in which the interdisciplinary and intercultural views and mindsets of bright minds really have an effect.

And that brings us back to the very essence of PhDs: the intensive support of young scientists is above all intellectual and not financial in nature. More than ten years ago, the Max Planck Society, in cooperation with the universities, got a successful model of internationally-oriented graduate education off the ground in Germany in the form of the International Max Planck Research Schools: in addition to the Max Planck Institutes and the German partner universities, foreign universities and research institutions also contribute to the study programs. The doctoral students value the very good support they receive, as well as the training in soft skills. After all – and this is something we must recognise – only some of them will stay in academia. That’s no bad thing: the most successful form of knowledge transfer is the training of outstandingly qualified young people who can go on to play leading roles not just in science, but in business and society too.

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PhD changes at Max Planck

Another oldie, but ‘goldie’… Find a short history of the neverending story of research grants vs contracts in the MPG at wikipedia.

[from: The Scientist 2005, 6(1):20050309-01]

PhD changes at Max Planck

by Jane Burgermeister
published 9 March 2005

Overseas PhD students applying this year to work at Germany’s Max Planck Society (MPG) are set to be the first to benefit from changes to a controversial employment rule that had prevented foreign students from getting full employment contracts.

The MPG is an independent basic research organization that funds 80 different institutes with more than 12,000 staff members and 9000 PhD students, postdocs, visiting researchers, and student assistants.

Last year, PhD student Andrea Raccanelli, now at the University of Bonn, conducted a survey showing that 99% of German PhD students at the MPG had regular contracts with health, unemployment, and pension benefits, while 84% of the non-German PhD students had scholarships without such benefits.

Raccanelli, who organized a network of PhD students at the MPG, took the case to Germany’s Court of Labour, accusing MPG of discrimination. The case was passed on to the European Court of Justice, which is expected to rule in 18 months.

Meanwhile, in October last year, MPG distributed a letter to the heads of its centers stating that the rules would change. Nicola von Hammerstein, from the general management of the MPG, told The Scientist on Monday (March 7) that the change took effect at the beginning of this year.

Von Hammerstein said she expected at least some non-German students who applied for a PhD early this year to be awarded regular employment contracts in autumn. However, she said it was impossible to predict at this stage how many would eventually benefit.

“Institutes now have the freedom to decide whether to offer foreign students a regular contract or a scholarship, unlike before,” von Hammerstein told The Scientist. “Some institutes might offer only scholarships, others only regular contracts.”

“I expect a mixed system could evolve, though it is too early to tell,” von Hammerstein said. “For example, PhD students could start with a scholarship in their first year and then move onto a regular contract in their second year.”

Von Hammerstein rejected the idea that the MPG had been discriminating against non-German PhD students. “In the world of science, nationality should never count, as it should not count anywhere,” she said. “What is important today is more cooperation between scientific disciplines and between researchers around the world.”

Von Hammerstein conceded, however, that regular employment contracts were much more expensive for institutions, many of which were operating under tight budgetary constraints. She also said that not all students wanted regular contracts. “Many students do not want to pay into the German pension and unemployment insurance system if they are in Germany for only a relatively short time.”

The change comes as the MPG steps up efforts to create more opportunities for young international researchers in Germany by expanding its network of International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS).

There are now 37 such schools, following the addition of eight new schools earlier this year. Altogether, there are about 1200 students currently doing their PhDs in the IMPRS, with 60% coming from outside Germany.

“This international model of the IMPRS has been extremely successful,” von Hammerstein said. “Young researchers can work in interdisciplinary teams and benefit from much more intensive supervision from scientists at the MPG and universities. The PhDs so far have been very good in terms of quality.”

Now is a difficult time for young scientists in Germany who are struggling to establish their careers in an environment of low government funding and changing employment legislation.

Peter Burkert, from the Thesis Network, a German network of PhD students and postdocs, told The Scientist that the future for PhD students looked grim as research organizations strive to save money and because of recent changes in employment laws setting a 12-year limit to temporary contracts for scientists.

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