PhDnet response to the Presidential Junior Scientists Committee

by the Steering Group 2016

May 16, 2016

The PhDnet very much welcomes the effort to improve the conditions for post-doctoral junior researchers within the Max Planck Society. We feel that some additional suggestions could further strengthen the current recommendations, and we also made some point-wise comments on the existing recommendations.

An overview of our main suggestions, which are elaborated below:

  • Employment of postdocs on contracts, not stipends
  • More permanent positions, and the adoption of a tenure-track model
  • A minimum contract duration of three years
  • The creation of a Max Planck Postdocnet
  • Supervision of the implementation of the Junior Scientist Guidelines by the Postdocnet and Scientific Advisory Boards
  • Mentoring and coaching opportunities also available to predoctoral researchers
  • More attention for equal opportunities for all types of minorities, and concrete strategies to accomplish this
  • A more concrete strategy to offer a better work-life balance


In light of the latest changes in the doctoral support guidelines and the compelling arguments that supported this development, we would propose supporting post-doctoral researchers through contracts. In contrast to stipends, contracts offer full access to the social security system, and allow for the payment of child allowances that are of particular importance for young families often founded in the post-doc stage. Moreover, contracts and the participation in the social security system are a first step in offering highly talented and motivated foreign researches career opportunities in Germany given the visa and settlement permit requirements.

Permanent positions and a tenure-track model

Furthermore, to improve the competitive position of the Max Planck Society compared to other international institutes, we would suggest a more courageous approach in offering long-term career perspectives for post-doctoral junior researchers by creating permanent and tenure-track positions at the scientific level. Given the security they offer and the fact that they should solely be awarded based on past scientific performances, they would allow junior researchers to commit to highly innovative research projects that are more long-term and that could not be undertaken in an environment where creating short-term research output is of more importance. A reasonable ratio of tenure-track to non-tenure-track positions as well as fixed to permanent positions, could further secure this development. This ratio could easily be validated by the Scientific Advisory Boards.


Finally, the stimulation by the Max Planck Society of a Postdocnet, similar to the Max Planck PhDnet, would be desirable. This would create a platform for addressing common issues and for suggestions of possible solutions for these issues. A special role of the Postdocnet could also be to keep track of how well the current guidelines are followed, for instance by conducting an annual survey. This helps in identifying institutes were the new guidelines are insufficiently met and where postdoc satisfaction is low. In addition to a Max Planck Postdoc network, the Scientific Advisory Boards of individual institutes could be made responsible for reporting about the implementation of the guidelines for junior scientists.


Point-wise comments:

3.1 Selection of postdocs

We would like to reassure the importance of gender balance and also encourage diversity of postdocs when it comes to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical and psychological challenges, chronic disease etc. A concrete way to strengthen diversity would be to offer workshops about implicit biases and discrimination for the senior scientists involved in the hiring process, and to monitor the presence of biases in the selection process. A structured collection, and open availability, of this data, could increase transparency and help preventing implicit selection biases.

3.2 Research and qualification objectives

Naturally, also the postdoc should keep a copy of the signed written record of the research work and qualification objectives agreement.

3.3 Time limit

Despite the committee´s rationale behind not setting a minimum contract duration, we would still suggest a minimum period of three years to avoid offering unattractive and uncertain short-term employment. To maintain diversity and flexibility, the three-year minimum should only be abolished in the case the postdoc explicitly (and officially) states this desire.

3.4 Status review and career development

The individual institutes, or even a cooperation of several institutes in a region, could be more effective in offering external coaches for alternative career paths (point 3), and for organizing or stimulating the attendance of career fairs, than individual group leaders. It would also be desirable to offer these opportunities to other scientific employees (e.g. predoctoral researchers). To stimulate real implementation, the follow-up of these duties could be an evaluation criterion for the Scientific Advisory Board. The same applies to the advanced training and profession skills mentioned in point 3.8.

3.6 Personnel management skills

It would be advisable to include the potential supervision of students in the initial research work agreement and to set a  maximum number of students. We would advise a maximum of three or four students that are under direct supervision of the postdoc.

3.9 Balancing family and work

It should be recognized that postdocs are highly mobile employees, often moving between countries or cities for their work. From this numerous problems can arise, such as finding housing, a job for partners and schools for children. To increase the attractiveness of postdoc positions, the Max Planck Society should assist in solving some of these issues. For example a one-time moving fee could reduce the costs of mobility. Offering a contract extension for parental leave, even for third-party funded positions, could avoid forcing prospective parents to choose between work and a family. The Max Planck Society should also actively advertise postdoc positions to women, by pointing out the existing infrastructure supporting researchers in finding childcare, and more effort could be taken to improve these infrastructures. Additionally, a network for partners (mirroring some of the American universities) would help to integrate families socially and professionally. These networks could be created in cooperation with other MPIs and universities within the same region.

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