Who confers your PhD?

A workshop on cooperation with German universities

On September 6th, our Officer for Section A Saskia and our Spokesperson Jan-Lucas co-organized a workshop on “Doctorates in graduate schools at non-university organizations” (Promotionen in Graduiertenprogrammen an außeruniversitären  Forschungseinrichtungen) at the UniWiND/GUAT 2018 conference, together with Christine Vogler from the International Leibniz Research School for Microbial and Biomolecular Interactions – ILRS Jena. The conference „Vielfalt durch Kooperation – Promotionsverfahren mit Partnereinrichtungen“ (Diversity through cooperation – Doctorates with associated organizations“) at the Technical University Munich dealt with challenges and chances when it comes to cooperation concerning doctorate programs between universities and non-university research institutions.

Participants of the conference were mainly employed at various German universities, Universities of Applied Sciences, or non-university research institutes. In our workshop we had the chance to introduce the Leibniz Association as a partner for universities and the Leibniz PhD Network, present challenges and opportunities from our network’s point of view and learn more about the perspectives of German universities. In three different discussion groups every participant had the chance to talk about specifics, chances, challenges and suggestions for improvement for the cooperation between universities and non-university institutions.

According to our participants, non-university institutions enjoy an excellent reputation and offer better career opportunities for many doctoral researchers. This is due to a different research mission with a stronger focus on application and interdisciplinarity, internationality, a more open cooperation structure, good research infrastructure and the opportunity to realize project ideas more easily than at universities.

However, a number of issues and challenges were mentioned as well in the discussion groups. Participants from universities criticized that many doctoral researchers at non-university research institutes are not aware of the decisive role universities play in granting a PhD. The uncertainty of affiliation sometimes leads to problems for individual doctoral researchers who find out too late about regulations by their university and run into serious problems while aiming to finish their PhD. Moreover, participants of our workshop pointed out the existence of colliding parallel structures, for instance when it comes to conflicts about supervision or good scientific practice. In a nutshell, non-university research institutions and their doctoral researchers should not perceive universities as simple service providers but rather participate actively in the university environment.

This is also one idea for improvements that came up in the workshop. Doctoral researchers of non-university institutions should be included into university life earlier. Moreover, programs and requirements should be communicated more often and made more transparent, for example by developing a “starter-kit” for beginners with all relevant information. Our cooperation should be characterized by mutual appreciation and the willingness to learn from each other. The workshop just proved this lesson and our network will use the new input for its future projects.

Text: Saskia Ripp, Jan-Lucas Schanze
Picture: Discussion groups during the workshop. © Fabian Vogl / UniWiND

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