Press Release No. 44 | September 1, 2010

20 Years of Research Training Groups

A Successful Model for Doctoral Training

A Successful Model for Doctoral Training

A successful model turns twenty: In September 1990 the first DFG Research Training Groups (RTGs) for the promotion of early career researchers took up their work. The idea behind these new institutions was to move doctoral researchers away from tradi-tional individual training and strengthen their independence, as well as to make doctoral training more structured and integrate it into a research programme. Since then, about 20,000 researchers have successfully completed their doctorates in Research Training Groups, which for many of them became stepping stones to careers within science and the humanities or outside them.

From the very beginning, interest in this new type of doctoral training was enormous. Out of 100 funding proposals submitted by German universities, the DFG Grants Committee on Research Training Groups, at its inaugural session in June 1990, selected 51 projects to be launched in the autumn of the same year. In the following years, the new funding instrument established itself quickly. By 1993, as many as 194 RTGs were granted funding. Total annual RTG funding increased from 23 million deutschmarks in 1991 to approximately 65 million euros in 2001. Currently about 220 RTGs are being funded, accounting for about five percent of the DFG’s annual budget of over two billion euros.

In the course of their two-decade history, Research Training Groups have brought about profound changes in the qualification process for early career researchers. “The DFG has always emphasised research performance in the doctorate, and Research Training Groups have been able to establish research-oriented standards for doctoral training while allowing flexibility to accommodate the specific needs of the various disciplines,” notes DFG President Matthias Kleiner on the occasion of the anniversary.

RTG doctoral researchers receive support not only from their thesis advisors, whose re-sponsibility has been strengthened, but also from other senior researchers as well as from their host university. Thanks to a detailed supervision plan and a collateral qualification programme that teaches comprehensive skills, early career researchers receive support throughout their doctorates and become well prepared for a career within academia or outside it. RTGs allow them to network with other researchers at an international level and pursue their doctorates in a focused and purposeful manner. By taking part in the group’s discourse, often across disciplines, they also gain deeper understanding of their own subjects as well as other disciplines.

Since 1999 the DFG has also funded International Research Training Groups — more than 50 to date. Each group works on a single research programme and is based at two universities, one in Germany and one abroad. Today, RTGs involve universities in over 20 countries.

The forms that RTGs are taking are more diverse than ever in this anniversary year. “Not least because of the Excellence Initiative, universities have been using their experience with Research Training Groups to sharpen their profiles and restructure their doctoral programmes,” notes Annette Schmidtmann, who currently heads the DFG Research Careers Division.

For universities and the DFG, Research Training Groups continue to be an instrument of choice for developing new ways to promote early career researchers. Today almost all RTGs maintain international contacts, collaborate with partners in industry, business or culture, integrate researchers and graduates from universities of applied sciences, in-volve students in research, or even lead selected bachelor-degree holders directly to their doctorates as envisioned under the Bologna Process. And because RTGs have so often become interlinked with topically related Collaborative Research Centres, the DFG brought RTG elements into the Collaborative Research Centre programme in 2006, thus creating Integrated Research Training Groups. Hence, structured qualification programmes are now also available to doctoral researchers in Collaborative Research Centres. In short, Research Training Groups have become a key element in promoting early career researchers in science and the humanities, and are firmly embedded in the structure of Germany’s universities as well as in national and international networks.

The 20-year success story of Research Training Groups is also highlighted in a newly published anniversary brochure in which exemplary projects are presented and various participants share their experience. The brochure is available in German and English, both in print and electronically.