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Press Release No. 58 | 25 September 2007
A Mood of Optimism in San Francisco

GAIN Annual Meeting Motivates Young Researchers to Return to Germany

"The opportunities for young scientists and academics in Germany have never been better than they are now." This and similar phrases rapidly became the guiding theme of the 2007 annual meeting organised by the German Academic International Network (GAIN), which drew about 230 young academics and researchers to San Francisco last weekend. This was the seventh time that GAIN, a joint initiative by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), had invited young German academics working in the USA and Canada to attend its 3-day annual meeting.

The meeting was also attended by high-ranking representatives from the fields of politics and science, including Thomas Rachel, a Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF); Professor Jürgen Zöllner, the Science Senator from Berlin and this year's President of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK); Professor Matthias Kleiner, President of the DFG; and Professor Margret Wintermantel, President of the German Rector's Conference (HRK). They all shared the common goal of encouraging young academics to return home to Germany. The competition for top talent was more than evident at this impressive line-up from politics, science and business. The young academics, most of them currently postdocs, had every right to feel they were in demand.

The science organisations and politicians had brought attractive opportunities with them, including up to 10,000 job offers for positions in Germany. Between 3,000 and 5,000 of these jobs have been created as a direct result of the Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments, which aims to promote top-level research at German universities. The Higher Education Pact 2020 has also led to new job opportunities in science, and the European Research Council (ERC) will also generate new openings for young scientists and researchers in Germany. The imminent generation change in German academia is another contributing factor. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jena, Professor Klaus Dicke, expressed this most tellingly when he said that "by 2015 we will appoint 125 new professors at our university alone."

The spectrum of brighter prospects for young researchers is rounded off by the improved child care provided by the "dual career" programmes, which also cater for the partner or spouse, and by the more flexible funding models recently introduced by all funding bodies.

Although, in recent years, the general tone among young German academics in the USA has been one of complaint regarding the lack of opportunities, low pay, lack of independence and superfluous bureaucracy in Germany, this meeting was characterised by a much more open-minded and optimistic atmosphere. "The mood of optimism is infectious", said a young engineer from Portland, Oregon. There were hardly any fundamental reservations about the idea of returning to Germany to be heard; the few that there were came from humanities scholars and social scientists, who highlighted the higher teaching load in Germany as compared to the USA. Apart from this, the main arguments to be heard were calls for sustainable networks to be established, for better pay for junior professors and for increased interdisciplinarity.

Thus, in his closing statement at the end of the meeting, Matthias Kleiner could declare that there was a double mood of optimism, not only in Germany, where there has never been such great openness to science, but also in the auditorium. Kleiner predicted that the GAIN annual conference will be transformed in the future from a recruiting fair into a mirror of the German scientific landscape, the credit for which is due in part to the young scientists and academics themselves.