Huge rise in funding for junior scientists

In line with government policy to make careers in research more attractive for foreigners, the Max Planck Society will increase funding for young researchers by almost 40%, resulting in overall spending in this area of just over €50 million, or US$54 million a year.

This follows a revamp by the society of its support for junior scientists. New funding structures and supervision guidelines as well as employment terms are to be introduced.

More than 3,400 doctoral students are undertaking research at the 82 institutes of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft or MPG, one of Germany’s leading basic research organisations. The MPG covers the natural and life sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

At 54%, the proportion of foreigners among the MPG’s doctoral students is significantly higher than at other research institutions or universities in Germany. Nevertheless, given stiff international competition for talented young scientists, the organisation wants to boost its attractiveness.

“This is why it is essential for us to continuously develop our career structures in order to be able to compete with international top-level institutions,” says MPG President Martin Stratmann. “We have decided to invest this money in promoting junior scientists instead of in the growth of our organisation.”

Funding contracts not grants

In future, all doctoral students at the Max Planck institutes will receive funding contracts, as opposed to the grants that most are currently supported by. The new contracts offer the benefits of a grant combined with the social security that an employment contract provides.

There will be a new supervision structure for doctoral students too. In future, the chief responsible advisor will be supported by a second independent scientist, and the total number of students per supervisor is to be kept at a level guaranteeing good support.

“With these guidelines, we want to set a standard for the German higher education and research system,” Stratmann explains. However, he stresses that students also need more support in working out their career strategy, especially with more than 90% of the postdocs not staying in academic research.

“These changes are going to further improve the situation of young researchers in the MPG,” says Prateek Mahalwar, a spokesman for PhDnet, a representative group of MPG doctoral students. “Young researchers play an essential role in every research organisation, and I therefore look forward to working on developing the framework for them with the MPG committees.”

The new structure has also been welcomed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which, together with the state governments, is responsible for funding the measures. “The new MPG guidelines on doctoral training set an example for improving support for junior scientists that facilitates planning and offers more reliability,” says State Secretary Cornelia Quennet-Thielen.

In future, all postdocs are to hold contracts in accordance with the rates for German civil service employees. And fellowships will be awarded to visiting scientists working on specific projects at Max Planck Institutes for a limited period.

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