Press Release No. 35 | 24 July 2009
Recognising Potential and Creating Sustainable Perspectives
Eighth Emmy Noether Annual Meeting in Potsdam - young researchers discuss criteria for selecting the best and academic career pathways
Career perspectives in a competitive environment, the complex criteria for selecting elite students and universities, and the constant progress in the internationalisation of science and research funding were the key topics at this year's Emmy Noether Annual Meeting, which took place from 17 - 19 July in Potsdam. This was the eighth such meeting and was attended by 160 leaders of Emmy Noether independent junior research groups as well as a number of holders of Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) who discussed current and strategic issues relating to the promotion of young researchers in Germany with each other and with representatives from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and other scientific institutions. The DFG's Emmy Noether Programme, which is named after the mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935), enables young scientists and researchers to gain early scientific independence.
In his opening speech to mark the tenth anniversary of this programme of excellence, the President of the DFG, Professor Matthias Kleiner, highlighted the DFG's overarching goal of "keeping the entire career ladder in sight", through from the first involvement in project work for pupils to "Temporary Positions for Principal Investigators", Emmy Noether funding during the postdoc phase, and right up to professorships in the Heisenberg Programme. In spite of visible success and more flexible funding opportunities, there is still a lack of tenure track options for young researchers at universities and research institutions, he said. The President of the DFG therefore said that "if we want to open the door to science for young people, we also need to hold it open for subsequent stages of their life and career", a conviction which he shares with many in the arena of research policy.
The key focus of this year's meeting, in terms of science and research policy, was on the topic of "Selecting the Right Ones - How are Young Researchers Recruited?". The professor of tax law from Cologne, Johanna Hey, who is also vice president of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (Deutscher Hochschulverband, DHV) highlighted the value and benefit of the university appointment procedure as a tool of choice. The universities should, however, adhere more closely to best practice standards, while at the same time moving from the quantitative methods they tend to employ at present to a qualitative process. Professor Margit Osterloh, a member of the German Science Council, then called for the centralised selection and control mechanisms of the German science system, first and foremost the peer review process and ranking, to be reviewed. This provocative proposal, put forward by the holder of the Chair for Organisation, Technology and Innovation Management at the University of Zurich, is that if "many scientific blossoms are to bloom" then researchers and scientists should be granted "greater independence from life-long peer review processes".
Both of these keynote statements and the involved discussion from the floor made it clear that there is no such thing as "the ideal scientist". This makes review and selection processes that are able to identify and promote the subject-specific ability in research and teaching as well as the personal (creative) potential and, not least, the intrinsic motivation to do research all the more important, in the quest for the best minds.
Numerous workshops, organised by the funding recipients, gave the young researchers the opportunity to contribute to the programme as well as to the technical and personal exchange of experience themselves. There was also, once again, an emphasis on the discussion of specific personnel, financial and organisational issues, and thus on self-management and the management of independent junior research groups, at this year's meeting. Lectures, workshops and consultations provided an information overview, for instance of the DFG's programme portfolio, of funding opportunities from the ERC and of new DFG ventures such as Science TV. In the light of the increasingly global nature of the scientific community, the discussion on international challenges, regarding the review process for research funding proposals, for example, was of particular significance.
In the Emmy Noether Lecture, which has already established quite a tradition, Philipp Richter, a former leader of an Emmy Noether independent junior research group who is now a professor of astrophysics at the University of Potsdam, spoke on "The Milky Way - Our Cosmic Home". To mark the international year of astronomy in 2009, Richter embarked on a colourful journey through our galaxy, to its stars, into interstellar gas and to "dark matter". He showed the audience that the Milky Way is "not a finished product, but is actually 'under construction'". One day, far off in the dim and distant future - so astronomers predict - the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy will collide to form a single galaxy, according to the logic of "galactic neighbours" in the universe and their physical driving forces.