Postdocs coming to Germany from abroad will initially find a lot that is new. What is the research scene like, and what differences are there between universities and institutes? And what precisely is the qualification known as a habilitation? How are employment contracts for academics at universities and research institutions designed? The 200 or so postdoctoral students at Osnabrück University find answers to questions such as these at the PhD/Postdoc Career Center. It is a good example of how German universities support postdocs in their career advancement.
Postdocs in Osnabrück can seek advice relating not only to issues such as third-party funding or career planning. The PhD/Postdoc Career Center also supports doctoral candidates from all subject areas in structuring their PhD, and offers further training of postdocs. For example, the Center offers a programme of events each semester that is designed to equip participants with key academic and vocational skills in different areas.
Support through networks and clear practical relevance
The seminars may for example address interdisciplinary issues concerning research methods, or questions of how to further develop one’s own teaching concept. In addition, the seminar lecturers help improve the participants’ leadership skills – in readiness for careers both within and outside the university. Career planning events provide answers to questions such as the following: Where am I now, and where do I want to end up? How much time abroad will I later be expected to have spent? How can I fund my position? "We also look at career paths that take people out of the academic world", explains Dr Barbara Schwerdtfeger, a research expert at Osnabrück University.
Practical relevance plays an important role. Participants benefit for instance from former postdocs who report on their experiences in their professional careers. Barbara Schwerdtfeger believes that one helpful aspect of the free service provided in Osnabrück is that it is not geared solely to postdocs but is also open to doctoral candidates. "This allows for even more networking between participants, and makes for a wider range of seminars", she explains. The young researchers meet regularly at a pub or café to share experiences and opinions, and also to develop new ideas for future services. One such idea for example led to the creation of a lecture on the German academic system which now provides new participants with information about research funding options.
Mentoring and wide-ranging insights into the world of work
The PhD/Postdoc Career Center additionally puts PhD candidates and postdocs in contact with companies and non-academic institutions such as authorities or associations. "This allows them to discover whether they might be interested in working in the field in question", says Schwerdtfeger. In all, the Center cooperates with more than 50 local businesses and institutions.
Furthermore, a mentoring programme is on offer for young female scholars. Mentees each select a mentor – perhaps a professor, or a representative of an association or a company. This helps prepare them for assuming future leadership roles in academia or industry.
Contact points at many German universities
Career centres and special programmes for postdocs are available at numerous universities in Germany. The following is merely a selection: