International researchers and female doctoral researchers need more support and integration at their institute (part II)

In our previous article we have introduced cultural diversity and some of the challenges faced by international doctoral researchers in Germany and within Leibniz. Among the challenges faced by doctoral researchers that were detected by the Leibniz survey, the most important categories were language barriers, especially at work, and bureaucracy. Doctoral researchers in the same institute may have a very different experience according to their background and the interaction in the workplace. International researchers feel slightly less integrated than German ones (70% against 86% feel integrated).Why is it so challenging for international doctoral researchers and what kind of support is being expected?
The internationals do not receive enough formal support with bureaucratic tasks, such as finding health insurance, clarifying residence permits, or going to the registration office. They feel much less supported in finding childcare, finding a medical doctor who speaks a language in which they feel comfortable, or translating documents.

Figure 1: Formal and informal support offered by Leibniz institutes in different areas [1]


Nevertheless, slightly less lack of support is observed across all areas, when a contact person is present at their institute. It is important to take a look at their specific needs. Respondents voiced a need for proactive and welcoming staff in order not to be exclusively dependent on informal help, or the need for a contact person was underlined.

Figure 2: International doctoral researchers who have contact person within Leibniz Association and Leibniz Sections (A – Humanities and Educational Research, B – Economics, Social Sciences, Spatial Research, C – Life Sciences, D – Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Engineering, E – Environmental Sciences) [1]

“The internationals do not receive enough formal support with bureaucratic tasks, such as finding health insurance, clarifying residence permits, or going to the registration office. They feel much less supported in finding childcare, finding a medical doctor who speaks a language in which they feel comfortable, or translating documents. Having presence of a contact person […] it leads to a […] reduction in the desire for more support.”

Having presence of a contact person as an additional predictor to the model shows that it leads to a statistically significant reduction in the desire for more support. For example, for the registration process, only 14% of formal support has been received by international doctoral researchers from their institute without a contact person, in contrast to 54% when a contact person is present. This underlines the important role of an institutionalized point of contact for international doctoral researchers.
Regarding language, some respondents highlight the mismatch between their expectations of working in an international context and the reality that the German language is implicitly required.
Support is needed in the following areas: 1) living and bureaucracy in Germany; 2) finding a flat and city registration; 3) arranging health insurance; 4) finding a medical doctor who speaks a language, the researcher (and their family) understands; 5) translation of documents; 6) opening a bank account; 7) obtaining a residence permit; and 8) finding a childcare place. Other additionally suggested areas were: 1) more English-speaking staff at the institute; 2) academic mentoring to support career development of young researchers and networking; 3) information on other required insurances (liability, household); and 3) tax related issues. More social and cultural events were also requested.
Respondents also raised problems related to contractual situations, e.g. regarding the different health-insurance status between stipend holders and people employed on a working contract or being offered extremely short contracts, which causes problems for
their visa status.

Unpaid work is the rule, and the more so for international researchers

“89% of the German doctoral researchers have a working contract, against only 62% of the international doctoral researchers”

Not only language barriers and cultural background tell apart German doctoral researchers from non-Germans. When it comes to income, as many as 89% of the German doctoral researchers have a working contract, against only 62% of the international doctoral researchers. The disparity is also true for contract specificities: 69% of the German researchers hold a higher than 50% full contract, whereas only 57% of the international researchers fall under that same category.
Making general statements about contract conditions and scholarships is hard. While contracts tend to pay more per month and grant the possibility of applying for unemployment support after the contract is due, there are also perks of having a scholarship. These include dealing with less bureaucracy (no tax declarations) and the possibility of having longer periods of payment (many scholarships run for four years, while most doctoral contracts only run for three, with a chance of extension).

Figure 3: Distribution of Contract duration, conditioned on contractual situation [1]

Overall, contracts offer more benefits, including the fact that they are usually embedded in a larger research project, which provides the researchers with funding to attend conferences and to pay for expenses related to the research itself. It is not rare that scholarship holders have to pay such expenses from their own pockets or have to turn to third-party funding, e.g., at the university where they are registered to get the degree.
Regardless of up and downsides of scholarships and contracts, the truth is that there is enormous variation in income to perform a pretty similar job: a doctoral research. This difference is especially relevant between Germans and non-Germans, although even among Germans it can be quite expressive.
That disparity is also reflected in the amount of unpaid working hours. According to the latest Leibniz PhD Network survey, the mean number of average hours worked during the doctoral research is of 42 per week. The survey also shows that there is no statistical correlation between the average working hours and the contractual level of payment. Given that 39 working hours per week correspond to a full-time position, most respondents work full time or extra, despite the fact that only 9% are paid full time. Clearly, this points towards a non-trivial share of unpaid working time. This is more true for international doctoral researchers, considering the fact that 12% less international doctoral researchers when compared to German doctoral researchers hold a higher than 50% full contract.

Figure 4: Distribution of level of payment as a percentage of full time working contract [1]
Table 1: Average weekly working hours corresponding to level of payment [1]

In terms of net income per month, about 7% of international doctoral researchers earn at most 950 euros net per month in contrast to 2% of German doctoral researchers. More international doctoral researchers prefer higher payments to improve their financial situation (58% vs. 54%) and also prefer more positions when compared to German doctoral researchers (43% vs. 38%).
The Leibniz PhD Network survey also suggests that international doctoral researchers seem to be more motivated than their German counterparts in continuing work in academia. Despite the income disparity, international researchers are less prone to
discontinue their doctoral research when compared to Germans (36% vs. 47%). Those who would prefer to take another path, mention limited working contracts and payment as prime reasons for leaving academia. Looking at the five most important reasons for not staying in the field, German respondents appear to be more concerned about contractual factors such as limited contracts, changes of residence, competitiveness, and family responsibilities.
Overall, the survey concludes that there is room to improve the current support structures offered to international doctoral researchers by the institutes. An exchange of best practices between institutes would be promising.

Gender Diversity: Female doctoral researchers need more support

Germany is the most advanced country in scientific research with largest economy in the European Union and yet lags behind when it comes to providing equal opportunities for women in sciences. According to European statistics, the country has the second least number of women scientists with only 28% in the EU.
Now if we consider the statistics from the Leibniz PhD Network survey, among 5 sections within Leibniz Association the least gender-balanced sections were Humanities & Educational research (section A) with 70% women, and Mathematics, Natural Sciences & Engineering (section D) with only 40% women of all respondents from the corresponding sections.

Figure 5: Distribution of male and female doctoral researchers within Leibniz Association and Leibniz Sections (A – Humanities and Educational Research, B – Economics, Social Sciences, Spatial Research, C – Life Sciences, D – Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Engineering, E – Environmental Sciences) [1]

Female doctoral researchers asked for more positions and hardship grants (42%) comparing to male doctoral researchers (36%). Nevertheless, male doctoral researchers indicate this issue more often (19%) than their female counterparts (9%). Female doctoral researchers are more likely to state that they have a clear career path and that they enjoy scientific work. At the same time, they have more work related (31% vs. 27%) and personal (17% vs. 13%) difficulties with their supervisor and do not feel qualified enough to continue in an academic path (33% vs. 25%). The number of female doctoral researchers facing language barrier (47%) is also larger than the male doctoral researchers (34%).

Figure 2: Doubts about continuing PhD based on gender and parental status [1]

“Only 23% of female doctoral researchers agree that wokring in academia and childcare responsabilities are compatible, compared to 33% of their counterparts”

When considering doctoral researchers who are parents, mothers are less confident in continuing their doctoral research than fathers (64% vs 46%). Also, only 23% of female doctoral researchers agree that both areas are compatible, compared to 33% of their counterparts.

Figure 3: Compatibility of working in academia and childcare responsabilities based on gender and parental status [1]

Thus, the decision of continuing the doctoral research after becoming a parent is much harder for mothers, who are more likely to feel uncertain as to whether the research is compatible with parenthood than fathers (42% vs 34%). Gender-specific parental norms could be one of the reasons why fathers in academia feel more confident than mothers.
More attention to female needs may help us in leveling the odds for both genders, thus facilitating female contribution in science and academia.

By Rebecca Borges, Viviana G. Pinzon, Navaneetha C. Manjappa, Guilherme M. O. Abuchahla and WG Diversity

The working group Diversity is looking for new members! So if you are intersted in diversity related topics, get in contact with Navaneetha (manjappa@ihp-microelectronics.com).

Leave a Reply