“We want to attract excellent foreign postdocs for research fellowships”

Karl Ulrich Mayer has been President of the Leibniz Association since 2010. A sociologist, he was director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin from 1983 to 2005 and has been a Professor of Sociology at Yale University since 2003. Professor Mayer also became a member of the governing board of the European scientific organisation “Science Europe” in 2011.

Professor Dr. Karl Ulrich Mayer
President of the Leibniz Association: Professor Dr. Karl Ulrich Mayer

In March 2011, the Leibniz Association as the research organisation and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as the funding institution announced their Leibniz-DAAD Research Fellowship programme for foreign postdocs for the first time. Who does the programme address?
Our target group is young postdocs who completed their PhD no more than two years ago. These talented and highly qualified junior scientists are especially interesting for us in the longer term. They will be the scientific leaders of the future and have much of their careers ahead of them. They will also be potential partners for future cooperation, having got to know and appreciate us during their period as postdocs.

The programme is open to all disciplines. What conditions do the applicants have to meet?
The selection process focuses exclusively on the excellence of the applicants and the project; there are no quotas of any kind. All postdocs with the appropriate qualifications can apply. We expect our future fellows to show a high degree of personal commitment. That is why they must clarify beforehand whether the project they offer fits in with the Leibniz Institute of their choice.

What is the programme’s objective?
The collaboration’s immediate aim is very clear: we want to attract excellent foreign postdocs to do research fellowships at Leibniz institutes. Beyond this, the Leibniz Association and the DAAD also want to contribute to the further internationalisation of German science. In this context – to use a common buzzword – the aim is a brain gain for Germany. I have already mentioned the development of future foreign researcher personalities who retain links with Germany as partners and friends.

A researcher from India

How did you choose the most suitable candidates?
The Leibniz Institutes alone take the first decision on rating the quality of the candidates and their research project. The DAAD provides them with background knowledge about the respective universities, their rankings, etc. The final choice is made by a jury consisting of the President and Scientific Vice-President of the Leibniz Association and the Secretary General of the DAAD. When making its choice the jury concentrates on the applications designated as excellent by the Leibniz institutions. In 2011, the jury placed a lot of importance on an efficient PhD career, a high-quality list of publications and the ability to fit in with the relevant Leibniz facility.

How would you sum up your impressions of the first round of the programme, which ended in August 2011?
First of all, we were absolutely delighted with the response to our first invitation to apply, which we had published in late March 2011. The DAAD received a total of 164 applications, which were directed to 53 of the 87 Leibniz institutions. Of the 115 applications that were considered formally eligible for selection, 46 were rated by the Leibniz institutes as excellent and suitable. In August, the selection commission then named the final choice of fellows. We had funding for 18 fellowships. And although there were absolutely no quotas, the distribution across countries and continents was quite something: our fellows come from France, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, China, India, Japan, Ghana and the United States. We have also decided to extend the programme because it has gone so well.

What is distinctive about the cooperation between the Leibniz Association and the DAAD, and where does the added value lie?
Leibniz and the DAAD complement each other perfectly in what they offer and what they need, so it really makes sense for them to work together. The Leibniz Association has exciting research facilities to offer at institutions with a high international reputation, but the Leibniz brand is not yet as well-known internationally as it could be, given our institutes’ degree of excellence. We are therefore working on raising our international profile. The DAAD, for its part, has an excellent international network through which we can publicise our services all over the world. The DAAD has the infrastructure and the systems for looking after scholarship holders well, and all our “Leibniz-DAAD research fellows” benefit fully from the DAAD’s support services for fellows and alumni. The Leibniz Institutes then take care of the people and what is most important to them: the research.

What are the programme’s future prospects?
Initially it will continue in 2012. If we can secure the funding, both the Leibniz Association and the DAAD agree that they would like to put the programme on a permanent footing.