How postdocs perceive the German academic system: New survey published by Jena Graduate Academy

Although the postdoctoral phase is regarded as an essential and crucial phase of a scientific career, it has so far been little researched. A new study of the Graduate Academy of Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU Jena) is now trying to shed more light on the postdoc phase and clarify how postdocs themselves assess their working situation and their future career.

More than 400 postdocs from FSU Jena and other non-university research institutes in Jena answered the questionnaire. They provided information about their career goals within and outside of the academic system, about their assessment of future career opportunities, the support they received from their supervisors, and last but not least about the compatibility of family and career.

Changed risk perception

"The current study continues our survey from 2010," explains Dr. Hanna Kauhaus, Managing Director of the Graduate Academy and co-author of the study. In a first postdoc survey published in 2011, the Graduate Academy of the University of Jena had already provided initial data on the situation of postdoctoral researchers. "The snapshot from 2010 and the study now published also reveal changes in the situation of postdocs," said Kauhaus.

As in 2010, the Jena postdocs see themselves in a rather ambivalent situation: the majority of them are satisfied with the working conditions, but take a critical view of their own career prospects. Above all, the chances of becoming a professor are estimated to be significantly lower than nine years ago: While in 2010 only about half of the surveyed postdocs thought it unlikely that they would be able to obtain a professorship, this number rose to almost three-quarters in the current survey. Particularly young postdocs do not believe that they can plan their career in academia - instead, they feel rushed and driven. "One reason for this change in risk perception could be the increased media coverage of temporary employment contracts for doctoral candidates and postdocs," Kauhaus suspects. The study also shows that the need for job security among postdocs has grown in recent years.

New career paths open new pathways

"The problem of uncertain future prospects for postdocs was already recognised throughout Germany a few years ago," says Prof. Dr. Uwe Cantner, Vice President for Young Researchers and Diversity Management at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, who was responsible for the study. But it will take time for the changes in policies to come into effect and make academic careers easier to plan. "In 2012, we were one of the first universities to develop recommendations for improving the professional situation of postdocs and set up a working area focussing on the needs of postdocs at the central Graduate Academy," said Cantner. One result is that the duration of fixed-term contracts for postdocs has increased in the past years.

A further starting point for opening up more attractive and predictable career paths is the tenure-track model, which is strongly promoted at Friedrich Schiller University. The tenure-track professorship offers the opportunity to prove oneself within the framework of a professorship just a few years after the doctorate while having the certainty that an unlimited position depends solely on one's own performance.

The complete study "Hanna Kauhaus / Elisabeth Franzmann / Norbert Krause: Zweite Jenaer Postdoc-Studie. Analysen zu Arbeitssituation, Qualifizierungsbedingungen und Karrierewegen von Jenaer Postdoktorandinnen und Postdoktoranden" is available here (in German).

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