Q&A with the outgoing steering committee

Did your experience as a member of the Steering Group differ from your expectations? If yes, how?

Jonathan Stefanowski
2018/2019 Spokesperson

Yes. I have been a coordinator of the WG Communication before I have been elected as a spokesperson. Therefore, I was informed about the general activities of the network and basic science policy in Germany. In my opinion, informing the doctoral researchers about these activities is very important, which is why I stated the following in my profile at the beginning of my term:
“It is obvious that without active support of the doctoral researchers the Network’s work would disintegrate. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to communicate motivation and reasoning to the very people this work is done for – every member of our network.”
Since then, we have produced high quality content for our blog, in which we are reporting about our work. However, less than I expected. Experience taught me, that the majority of the steering committee’s tasks involve ongoing and evolving discussions with the Leibniz Association, numerous stakeholders, and active members of the network. This makes it challenging to communicate every step of the process to every doctoral researcher. Additionally, even as a member of the network, gaining an overview about the topics of science policy in Germany takes time but is necessary in order to act responsibly. These are the reasons why the online platform can only reflect a fraction of these discussions and activities. I believe that getting involved in the network, through the direct interaction with the section representatives, steering committee, and other networks the barrier of information is broken down effectively. In this interest, I will continue to provide information to any interested doctoral researcher in the future.

Furthermore, as a member of the steering committee, especially as a spokesperson, I experienced and was amazed by how well the Leibniz PhD Network is already established in the discussions on the progression of doctoral education. Examples are the N2 position paper on Conflict Resolution and Power Abuse, on which I commented on in this blog post, or the data gap-filling Leibniz PhD Network Survey among doctoral researchers. (Read more about the media attention on the survey here.) Here, it should be stated that it is evident that the network is still growing – as you can acknowledge by the mere number of current working groups (11) – and clearly has a lot of potential to increase and improve its collaborative activities inside the Leibniz Association.
Being a part of this network is exciting, educating, effective, and most of all fun. Information is the key and networking is essential in order to establish the working force of the academic system, the doctoral researchers, as a visible and acknowledged member thereof.

What is something you would like to tell a PhD representative who is considering standing for election to the Steering Group at next year’s General Assembly?

Bastian Sommerfeld
2018/2019 Treasurer

You should definitely do it. As a member of the steering committee, you will gain insight in and have impact on steering the topics that the Leibniz PhD Network addresses during your year in office. It is as much a position of responsibility as it is a learning experience. To put it in Jonathan’s words: it is 5 soft skill courses in one plus exercises! You will learn a lot, about working in groups, working politically and about yourself in the course of a year.
Probably you are unsure whether or not you can handle the work next to your dissertation. Yes, you most likely can. Being part of the steering committee will mean you’ll have to organize yourself and set priorities – a valuable exercise – and you can always decide to how much you can commit. Taking over fewer responsibilities in times of high workload in your dissertation is not a problem; it is merely a matter of communication.
Step up, and become a member of the next steering committee!

What was your biggest eye opener for you to realize how important the Leibniz PhD Network is/could become?

Anja Jahn
2018/2019 Section A Spokesperson

After presenting the results of the 1st survey with Christa Gotter at the Annual Meeting of the Administrations in Jena in May 2019, one head of administration approached me and asked if would have any ideas or best practices to share on how a 4-year working contract for doctoral researchers could be implemented. In that moment I realized that the survey (that was published in February 2019) already started to raise awareness and made people think about change. This change might be slowly, institute by institute, but I hope that within the next 5 years we will be able to observe significant improvements of the working conditions. This was only the beginning.

What motivated you to stand for election to the Steering Group? Is there a specific goal you had, that could be realized during the last year or will be realized soon?

Tim Rottleb
2018/2019 Section B spokesperson

Although the working conditions for doctoral researchers are quite good at my own institute – at least in comparison to some other non-university institutes and definitely in comparison to university departments  –  I think you can say that in the whole German academia they are not. As such structures usually do not improve by themselves but because enough people actively organize and work towards changing them, I found it important to contribute to such a form of self-organization that the Leibniz PhD Network represents. I had no specific goal in mind when joining the Steering Group other than contributing to strengthening the still young Network and increase its visibility among both the Leibniz doctoral researchers and the Leibniz Association in general.

What kind of advice do you have for your successors?

Pablo Fook
2018/2019 Section D spokesperson

As we know, the Leibniz Association consists of 95 institutes in 5 sections. It means that across the Leibniz Association we have a wide range of working areas as well as a variety in the size of the institutes and number of Doctoral Researchers (DRs) in each unit., i.e. from less than 5 to over 200 DRs. Therefore, this diversity shows the importance of keeping the Leibniz PhD representatives and, respectively, all DRs informed about the Leibniz PhD Network initiatives and policies to improve the working conditions of the DRs and strength our network.

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