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Everyone wants to go to Germany!

MIT European Career Fair 2013

(02/28/13) It was at 9:30am, the first visitors were entering the Johnson Athletic Center at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to attend the 17. European Career Fair (ECF), when suddenly security started going from booth to booth informing attendees and exhibitors that no one was to enter or exit the building due to an armed person allegedly on the property. Thankfully the alarm was lifted about an hour later. Through this false alarm, many of the European exhibitors were for the first time confronted with a difficult problem the USA faces. Everyone was quite relieved as the visitors entered the hall and dispersed to various booths. Some 5000 people were in attendance.

Germany’s presence dominated the 2013 ECF. About two thirds of the 100 exhibitors were from Germany; many of which were universities, research and funding organizations such as the DFG, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Max Planck Society, and various German companies including BASF, Boehringer Ingleheim, Continental, and Siemens. The DFG’s information booth was continually busy and in demand. Our statistics indicate that approximately 120 in-depth consultations took place at the booth. The young scientists were interested in funding options for postdocs, job opportunities, and potential cooperation with German colleagues. Questions regarding internships were a first. Also surprising was the fact that many participants seemed to have travelled quite a distance to participate in the fair. The interest in German opportunities displayed by an extremely high percentage of both American and foreign nationals was expected based on the previous year. This interest continues to shift away from German citizens working in the Boston area looking for opportunities to return to Germany.

Germany has gained international awareness thanks in part to the diverse funding possibilities for junior scientists, the flexibility mostly through Excellence Initiative, and the increasing internationalization of the universities. An example: a young couple of Turkish origin, both working in the life sciences at MIT, are looking to move to Germany as postdocs with their one-year-old son; a challenging and enriching opportunity for the enrolling university.

Funding opportunities for doctoral candidates and postdocs in Germany was again the focus of two parallel sessions organized by the German Academic International Network (GAIN). The postdoc session was sold out with 150 participants. This session even created some political interest and Dr. Philipp Murmann, CDU Member of the Bundestag and member of the Bundestag Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment, was in attendance to assess the situation of young scientists. During the session, which was moderated by the director of the DFG North America Office in New York, Dr. Anjana Buckow, Program Director for Research Careers at the DFG’s head office in Bonn and Dr. Sonja Ochsenfeld-Repp, Director of European Liaison Office of the German Research Organisations (KoWi) Bonn gave a detailed overview of the German research landscape.

A few presentations and testimonials followed on junior professorships, funding opportunities at non-university research institutions and positions at universities for applied sciences. Opportunities for scientists working in industry and alternative career paths were also discussed. Victoria Bertics, marine scientist at Harvard, gave an outstanding testimonial. After receiving her doctoral degree from the University of Southern California, she went to GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel for two years on an Alexander von Humboldt research grant for postdocs. Her presentation, a quasi-love letter to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, discussed the speed with which her application was approved, the support she received and the acceptance the young scientist felt in the Humboldt network. “Germany has wonderful conditions and resources for research. Even if you return afterwards, you will always have a home away from home.” She further gave recognition and thanks for the comprehensive information and diverse funding opportunities in Germany.

Eva-Maria Streier