Press Release No. 38 | 20 July 2012
The Value of a Doctoral Degree – Emmy Noether Recipients Discuss Issues Relating to Working Conditions in Science
DFG President Kleiner Calls for a Deceleration in Science / Emmy Noether Meeting 2012 Brings Together 160 Early Career Researchers
The 11th annual Emmy Noether Meeting, which was held from 13 to 15 July 2012 in Potsdam, Germany, once again brought together current and former participants in the Emmy Noether Programme of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). More than 160 researchers travelled to the city to discuss specific issues in their daily work, as well as topics relating to science policy. Through the Emmy Noether Programme, the DFG supports the early scientific independence of outstanding young researchers. In addition to DFG funding recipients, this year’s meeting again included recipients of starting grants from the European Research Council (ERC).
The “science policy evening” was held on 13 July and covered the topic “Abschreiben – Fälschen – Anmaßen. Ist der Doktortitel seinen Preis wert?” [“Plagiarism – Falsification – Arrogation. Is a Doctoral Degree Worth its Price?”]. The agenda focused on questions of ethics, as well as of scientific quality and its assurance. The podium panel comprised five renowned speakers from science and the humanities, the economy, HR and the media, who discussed both individual and institutional reasons for scientific misconduct, as well as possible strategies and avenues of recourse in such situations.
Dr. Bettina Duval, Head of Academic Staff Development at the University of Constance, suggested that motives for plagiarism included laziness, lack of motivation and lack of awareness of wrongdoing. Psychologist Professor Fritz Strack from the University of Würzburg added that “fraud” takes different forms in different subject areas. In the humanities, he noted, plagiarism tended to be more of a problem, while in the natural sciences, it was more falsification of data. Legal expert and DFG Research Ombudsman Professor Wolfgang Löwer emphasised that awareness of falsification has changed drastically in recent times. He cited recent prominent plagiarism cases and pointed out that Vroniplag and others have set increasingly stringent rules, going beyond the simple “Thou shalt not falsify”. He underscored that quality assurance involved more than just plagiarism cases, stating that: “The quality of several of the works reviewed was almost more embarrassing than their falsification.” Falsification in otherwise sophisticated works was equally inexcusable, he said: “Fraud cannot be offset by quality.” Löwer also pointed out that poor quality and fraudulent works by no means comprised the majority.
Hans Stratmann, Human Resources at Boehringer Ingelheim, said that the “title debate” did not receive much attention in industry. He pointed out that, while a doctorate is currently essential for those seeking research and innovation positions, no difference in salary was discernible after 5 years. Strack called for a rethink on the overt use of titles. He also suggested that the time and effort spent obtaining doctoral degrees in different disciplines should be re-examined. Are the conditions truly comparable, he asked, or would a graduated, subject-specific system of qualifications and titles be fairer?
The audience raised numerous questions and comments about the different values of doctoral degrees in different fields. The mentoring relationships at German universities provoked a lively discussion, as did the issue of separating the mentoring and evaluation of doctoral dissertations. Incentive systems and their potential negative effects were discussed.
In his closing address, DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner emphasised the pioneering role of the DFG in advocating good scientific practice. The DFG considers structured doctoral training and practical context important factors in enabling doctorates to constitute independent scientific research, rather than being perceived as the third stage of a course of study. Kleiner also stated that “doctorates can be obtained only in active research fields” and in areas where mentoring was appropriate. After all, he said, these were the deciding factors in a doctoral researcher’s success, “which requires time, trust and proximity.” Kleiner also took the opportunity to call for a deceleration in science and research. The DFG, he said, supports this process through, among other things, its revision of publication guidelines for funding proposals.
In addition to the science policy evening, the event also included the traditional Emmy Noether Lecture, which was very well received. This year, psychologist and anthropologist Dr. Bernhard Fink addressed the topic of human attraction. He explained the evolutionary basis for human affection, stating that attraction is the result of an under-researched interplay of physical characteristics and signals. These range from body and face shape to movement, smell, skin and voice. Although several triggers for the sensation of being “in love” are known, Fink was unwilling to formulate a concrete “formula of love”.
The meeting also provided a variety of opportunities for field-specific and interdisciplinary networking, with early career researchers exchanging ideas and information in subject-specific workshops. DFG Head Office staff also provided information on the latest DFG developments and provided advice on specific issues. The thematic workshops, which were prepared and chosen by the participants themselves, covered such topics as setting up an independent junior research group, work and family life, public relations and new media, and issues relating to mentoring and networking.
Further Information on funding through the Emmy Noether Programme can be found online at:
A detailed report on this year’s Emmy Noether Meeting and further information in the DFG Magazine can be found online (in German only) at: