Call for Participation: PhD Survey 2019

The Leibniz PhD Network is currently running a survey on the working conditions of doctoral researchers in the Leibniz Association. Here, we highlight why it is important for you to participate and how your contribution helps to improve the overall situation.

Why should I participate in the survey?
The Leibniz PhD Network represents all doctoral researchers of the Leibniz Association. With your participation you have the chance to inform anonymously about your local situation. The more information is collected in the survey, the more precise are the evidence-based measures we propose. This information further serves as a strong base for any improvements.

How can I participate?
The link to the questionnaire has been distributed via the doctoral researchers’ representatives at your institute. If you have not received this information, please contact your representative. Alternatively, do not hesitate to contact the members of the steering committee directly, or the survey working group (

Who should participate?
We consider all doctoral researchers who spend or spent most of their project-related work at a Leibniz Institute as the target group for the survey. This group of doctoral researchers includes stipend holders, externally funded (DFG, or EU funding, university-employed, or affiliated to other organizations), and of course Leibniz employed doctoral researchers. The location of scientific and administrative supervision is part of the questionnaire.

I gave my name and email address. How do you manage data protection?

The Leibniz PhD Network rent a package offered by LimeSurvey. When you click on the link provided, you will be lead to a website of LimeSurvey and asked to provide an email address. This address is used to generate a so-called token, which you use to participate in the survey but is not linked to your name or email address. The data are stored on the LimeSurvey server and can only be accessed by a constrained number of people of the WG Survey, as well as the spokespersons of the network. The data will be moved to a secure server for analysis after the survey closes and data for the generation of tokens are deleted. Formal data protection measures were confirmed by the Leibniz Head Office’s data protection officer and analysis will only be performed by members of the working group, who will not be able to identify individuals participating in the survey. Results will then be published in the form of a report, which will only show accumulated data that do not allow identification of individual institutes of small groups of participants.

What is the aim of the Leibniz PhD Network Survey?

At the time when the Leibniz PhD Network decided to conduct a survey among the Leibniz doctoral researchers, few data on the general situation of doctoral researchers in Germany were available. Those, which are available either contain demographic information or investigate a selected group of doctoral researchers of distinct disciplines (For data sources see below). Within the Leibniz Association a survey with quantitative and qualitative aspects has not been conducted before. This data-gap made it very difficult to draw general conclusions from existing studies to the doctoral researchers of the Leibniz Association.

The aims of the 2017 and 2019 surveys are to close the data-gap in the Leibniz Association, identify the biggest challenges, develop measures for change, and implement measures in order to improve the situation of doctoral researchers in the Leibniz Association. Further survey will also be able to track the effectiveness of those measures. By this, we want to provide a clear picture of the current payment and working conditions, the quality of the supervision and scientific practice, and the work-life balance of doctoral researchers.
The 2019 questionnaire has been developed in collaboration with the survey groups of the N2, which will allow a meta-analysis among the member organizations in accordance with the data protection regulations.

How did we communicate the results within the Leibniz Association?

The network can raise awareness about the situation of doctoral researchers. The results of the report and the measures we suggest were presented in the bodies and committees of the Leibniz Association. These include the Präsidum, the presidium, the Sektionssitzungen, the meetings of the section-specific institute’s managements, attended by the scientific directors of each section, and the Jahrestagung des Verwaltungsausschusses, the administrative committee annual meeting. A good example for a result that was surprising for many committee members is that doctoral researchers spend roughly equal amounts of time on their project and other responsibilities, independent of funding. This means that stipend holders do not experience the often-repeated benefit of working independent of their supervisors or institute. This is a strong argument against the often-claimed position that stipend holders strongly benefit from their independence. Apparently, within Leibniz Institutes this is not the case and we conclude that stipends should be abolished, or the stipend holders should be integrated into the institutes as employees and receive social security. Another interesting observation is that a significant number of doctoral researchers is not satisfied with their supervision and that satisfaction decreases over time. Better supervision can be promoted via e.g. the implementation of supervision agreements across all disciplines. You can read more about the findings of the survey in the survey report and the executive summary.

What are the most commonly heard counterarguments against our demands?

For simplicity an example on fair payment and contract duration is provided here. The survey shows great differences in payment and contract duration across all sections. It also shows, in line with previous studies, that completing a doctoral thesis is estimated to take on average 3.8 years. One should mention this estimate most likely underestimate the actual duration as projects typically take longer than anticipated. The reality that only a very small fraction finishes the doctorate within three years must be acknowledged and the inequality in payment indicates that the work of doctoral researchers is valued differently, depending on the discipline. The networks position is that the payment of all doctoral researchers should be at least 65 % TVöD/TV-L, the tariffs for the public sectior, in order to decrease this inequality and working contracts of four year are realistic. Within the N2 – Network of Networks we demand full payment for all working hours, respective 100 % TVöD/TV-L. In conversation with administrations the following positions are often brought up against this demand: A) Only working hours on the project should be paid. This excludes the so-called qualification time, the time a doctoral researcher spends in order to master working scientifically. B) It should be possible to get rid of doctoral researchers if they are not performing well, which is why contracts should not be too long. Short contracts further increase motivation to finish the thesis. C) Increasing payment for individual doctoral researchers results in a total decrease of positions for doctoral researchers. The institutes, however, need the working force in order to achieve their goals.
Concerning A and B): It is the position of the network that, independent of the discipline, doctoral researchers are qualified for their work. All doctoral researchers graduated with a Masters’ degree or equivalent from a university and have been selected for their position. All occupations in all work environments require further education and supervision at entry level. This is also true for postdoctoral researchers. In our opinion, especially in a scientific work environment qualification and working time can neither be separated nor distinguished. Additionally, institutes have measures to control suitability of the applicant during transparent interview processes. Suitability can further be evaluated during Probezeit, the probation perioid and work performance can be controlled via thesis advisory committees (TAC), and good supervision. Concerning B): The highest goal of all improvements is to guarantee good scientific work. It should be the aim of the scientific strategy to increase scientific quality and not quantity. Fair payment, good supervision, and an attractive work environment is the prerequisite for that goal. We know that fair payment and suitable contract duration can increase the satisfaction and insecurities thereof promote mental health issues (read more in the articles of members of N2 on mental health here and here, as well as supervision here). In this light we question that short working contracts stimulate motivation and the quality of work.

What are relevant, existing data sources for information on doctoral researchers?

For the Leibniz Association, the 2017 survey report offers the most detailed description of the situation of doctoral researchers therein. Beyond that, similar data are available of the N2 member networks Helmholtz Juniors and the Max Planck PhDnet.
On the federal level a comprehensive summary is the Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs (BuWiN), the National Report on Junior Scholars. The report is published once in every election period and contains scientific data on career perspectives, working conditions, and perspectives of early career scientists in Germany. Beyond that the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF), the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, recognizes the data gap and funded a large-scale longitudinal study amongst the German Universities, the National Academics Panel Study (nacaps) conducted by the Deutsches Zentrum für Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung (DZHW), the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies. General information on the Außeruniversitäre Forschungseinrichtungen (AUF), the Research Performing Organizations in Germany, which include the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association, and Max Planck Society, are listed in the Pakt für Forschung und Innovation Monitoring, the monitoring report on the Pact of Research and Innovation between the AUF and the Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz (GWK), the Joint Science Conference.

Text: Jonathan Stefanowski, Anja Jahn
Picture: Isabel Kilian, Isabel Schober

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