The 2019/2020 Steering Committee answers questions about their experiences during the last year.
What are you most proud of in your time in the Leibniz PhD Network Steering Committee?
We can look back to a quite successful term of the Leibniz PhD Network full of many achievements that I’m proud of. First of all, I’m proud of the great and focused work of the working groups. We all know, that every publication or preparation of online seminars requires a long process of drafting, proofreading, e-mailing and negotiating that involves many people. In this term we can proudly say, that all groups successfully launched their results and now the Leibniz doctoral community can benefit from the 2019 Survey Report, the PhD Agreement Template, the Welcome Package, a guide on Who to Contact in Case of Conflict, a series on essays on diversity matters and two online seminars on Mental Health and Leadership.
To coordinate this actions and keep in touch with the PhD representatives it needs a creative, flexible and highly motivated Steering Committee. I had the chance to meet and work in this committee with wonderful peers and I’m very proud on what we achieved as a group and the way each of us could develop their personal skills and realize their own projects. Two of our highlights are certainly the online General Assembly that, after a long time of uncertainty, turned out as a very inspiring online meeting with many good conversations. Secondly, our term ended with the Leibniz Präsidium calling in a task force to tackle the most burning issues in doctoral research based on the Survey Report. Events like this only work out with a motivated group that can strongly rely on each other.
After the Future-Workshop and physical General Assembly were canceled, there was no chance for the network members to meet in person. Keeping this in mind, the commitment we encountered from all active members of the PhD Network was exceptional – and we all can be proud to have this year again improved together a little bit the situation of all doctoral researchers.
Did your experience as a member of the Steering Committee differ from your expectations? If yes, how?
Many things panned out quite differently from what I had expected. Though, the thing that surprised me the most is, how different the situation of the doctoral researchers across the Leibniz association really is. You can see this in the data we collected in our 2019 survey, e.g. the distribution of payment systems and degrees of payment is truly staggering. This notion was reinforced for me when talking to doctoral researchers from all over the Leibniz Association. Though we all work in the service of science and society we are not treated equally. I finds the thought, that the market governs these questions hard to digest. What I am ultimately talking about, is that I got a glance at an extremely complicated system or to put it more positively, a far differentiated system and I am not yet sure whether this is good or bad, which leads me to the question if we really want to continue this way or if this is hindering the development of a better future – Germany is poor in basically all resources but brains. Hence, the perspective on the doctoral researchers will always be a key question.
What is something you would like to tell a PhD representative who is considering standing for election to the Steering Committee at next year’s General Assembly?
Just do it. Yes, it is a bit of work. Yes, things do not always go your way. But in the end, the experience you will get out of this is immeasurable, and your accomplishments will have lasting effects far beyond your research bubble. This is a unique opportunity to meet and work with incredible people, to create a better work environment in academia, to make durable changes to the way science works in Germany, and ultimately to improve the lives of your peers. If any of this matters to you, as it should, do not hesitate and step up!
What motivated you to stand for election to the Steering Committee? Is there a specific goal you had, that could be realized during the last year or will be realized soon?
2019/2020 Section B Spokesperson
The 2019 General Assembly in Potsdam was actually my first glimpse of the Leibniz PhD Network, as our institute had only recently joined the Leibniz Association. In those two days, I was inspired by seeing all those PhD researchers from entirely different backgrounds united together. It became clear to me that, even though we might be working on completely different subjects, we are often in similar situations, have similar concerns and want similar solutions. The spirit was hopeful and – best of all – constructive. I was in awe of what this self-organized network had managed to achieve so far, ranging from the survey and the PhD agreement to the international welcome package. I decided to run for office because I wanted to help create real, tangible improvements in the working conditions of PhDs. I also joined the newly established Working Group “Mental Health” which wants to increase awareness for mental health issues among PhDs. In April 2020, we organised the first ever online seminar of the Leibniz PhD Network on coping strategies for dealing with the Covid-19 crisis – it gained a lot of attention and did its part to ensure those PhDs suffering from insecurity, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that they are not alone. In the future, I will keep working on this topic, as well as on fair and equal payment for all PhDs regardless of discipline.
What was your biggest challenge during your time as a Steering Committee member of the Leibniz PhD Network?
2019/2020 Section C Spokesperson
Recently, I had the opportunity to present the results of the 2019 Survey of the Leibniz PhD Network to directors of Section B & C in their respective section meetings. For me this was a true challenge because I am usually afraid of talking in front of crowds, especially a crowd of directors. However, the following discussions were actually some of the most gratifying moments from my time as a steering committee member. Contrary to my expectations, everyone was very interested in our work and compassionate about our suggested fields of action. As a result, we felt really appreciated for our efforts of the last year and hopeful that our mentioned problems were acknowledged so that steps will be taken to solve them in the near future. It again made one thing very clear: The survey is one of our most important tools to identify common issues and unify our demands to develop new long-term standards for doctoral researchers in the Leibniz Association.
Finally, as I was merely the messenger, I want to pass on this support & appreciation to the people that took on the massive workload of analyzing the data and writing the report. THANKS A LOT, to working group Survey and everyone else involved, for making this possible!
What kind of advice do you have for your successors?
2019/2020 Section D Spokesperson
As a PhD research who is working in one of the Leibniz institute, I’m quite enjoying the interdisciplinary working environment. It enables me to recognize different horizon, think critically, and address ambiguity better. Across the Leibniz Association we have a wide range of working areas within 96 institutes. And the Leibniz PhD Network is a wonderful platform to share experiences. Working here together is great! While a brilliant young mind meets a beating passion heart, their can always achieve something great. When I look fondly through this year, I’m always feeling grateful and proud of what we’ve achieved during the pandemic year! For the successors, well, it’s your turn now. One thousand people, one thousand Hamlet, but I’m very sure that you will have a lot of fun.
What is something you took away from your experience as a member of the Leibniz PhD Network Steering Committee?
2019/2020 Section E Spokesperson
First of all, being a member of the SC opened my eyes to the fact that there are layers and layers of objectives and regulations between an idea and its execution. It was really interesting to see how and why some ideas come intro fruition and others don’t. Most of all, what I took away from this experience was the great feeling of working in such a brilliant group of people in which I was lucky enough to be in. Working with that team was a real joy, showing that professionalism can be compatible with empathy and warmth.
Read about the experiences of previous Steering Committees:
Q&A with the 2018/2019 Steering Committee