Report: 2nd Advanced Talents Days at RWTH Aachen University

  Copyright: RWTH Aachen

Between November 16 and 17, the 2nd Advanced Talents Days took place at RWTH Aachen University. The event, which is targeted at junior researchers, was jointly hosted by the University of Cologne, the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers DHV, and RWTH Aachen. The key aim of the event was to effectively support postdocs and junior professors in attaining their career goal of gaining tenure as a professor.

  Event participants in discussion Copyright: Andreas Schmitter At drop-in advising tables, Dr. Ulrike Preisler and Dr. Hubert Detmer offer advice to young researchers

A Report by Katrin Bardow and Dr. Susanne Berger

A Collaboration of Two Universities of Excellence

"Both Universities of Excellence have set themselves the goal of promoting junior researchers and supporting them in their career planning as best as possible," explained Professor Doris Klee, Vice-Rector for Human Resources Management and Development at RWTH Aachen.

"With our Advanced Talents program, we support our promising researchers in planning, pursuing, and finally achieving their goal of becoming a tenured professor." The Aachen scientist has initiated the event in 2015 together with Professor Gudrun Gersmann, Vice-Rector for International Affairs at the University of Cologne. Gersmann considers the Advanced Talent initiative to be highly important, emphasizing that “the optimization of the future prospects of our outstanding junior researchers requires our full attention.

The aim of the event is to provide postdocs with information on the latest developments and insights regarding career paths, legal matters, and negotiation techniques. Furthermore, the event offers opportunities for the participants to talk to and get to know each other and enhance their networks.

According to Dr. Alan Hansen, head of the Academic Staff Development division at the University of Cologne, it is an important task for universities to support young researchers in their career development: "Apart from policymakers, it is in particular the universities that must offer their ‘advanced talents’ clear and transparent career options and tailored staff development programs. Thus, one of our core tasks at the University of Cologne is to support young researchers at this challenging stage of their careers as well as possible and systematically to promote talent." The rector of RWTH Aachen University, Professor Ernst Schmachtenberg, emphasizes that on the way towards tenure, "not everything can be planned. You need people around you who believe in and have confidence in you."

  Copyright: Andreas Schmitter Dr. Hubert Detmer provides advice to the participating researchers

Negotiation Skills as an Important Asset on the Way to Tenure

In their presentations, Dr. Ulrike Preissler and Dr. Hubert Detmer from the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (DHV) provided valuable information on appointment and salary negotiations. Dr. Preissler introduced the finer points of appointment negotiations, drawing attention to important details in the communication and negotiation processes. The instructors’ final conclusion is worth noting: "You do not get what you deserve – you get what you negotiate." Subsequent to the talks, Dr. Detmer answered questions from the audience. According to one participant, "the presentations by the DHV were excellent."

DHV in Open Conversation

The declared highlights of the participants were the “advising tables” of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers on topics such as “tenure-track process,” “application interviews,” “negotiation situations,” and “WissZeitVG,” the act on temporary employment in academia. Ulrike Preisler and Hubert Detmer, both legal experts, took their time to answer questions from event participants and provide them with “very useful tips,” as researcher Dr. Diana Dimitrova put it. Large crowds of participants gathered around the tables to ask questions, discuss, and exchange information.

  The winssers of the Talent Pitches together with the event organizers Copyright: Andreas Schmitter The winner of the Advanced Talents Pitches, Dr. Diana Dimitrova from the University for Cologne, surrounded by her RWTH competitors Dr. Jan Simon and Dr. Yves-Simon Gloy as well as Vice-Rectors Klee and Gersmann from RWTH and the University of Cologne.

"Advanced Talents Pitches"

The second day focused on possible career paths towards tenure and networking opportunities for young researchers.

Professor Klee opened the "Advanced Talent Pitches," which offered participants the opportunity to introduce themselves and their research activities in a three-minute presentation to the interdisciplinary audience. As Vice-Rector Klee explained, "This gives the ‘advanced talents’ from both universities the chance to give a short and snappy presentation of their research work to an audience of potential partners in collaboration, enhancing their network in the process."

The pitches were informative, entertaining and enjoyable to the presenters and the audience alike. The inspiring presentation by the Cologne linguist Dr. Diana Dimitrova, titled "Language Signals in the Brain," was voted "best advanced talents pitch" by the audience. Dr. Jaan Simon, senior researcher at the at the RWTH Institute of Applied Mechanics, and Dr. Yves-Simon Gloy, member of the board of the RWTH Institute of Textile Technology (ITA), came in second and third. As one of the pitch presenters put it, "the pitches were a great opportunity to present oneself and one’s research activities."

  Participants in conversation Copyright: Andreas Schmitter During the breaks, participants discussed the exciting presentation format and the content of the pitches.

Career Paths Towards Tenure

In her lecture, Dr. Sigrun Nickel, Head of Higher Education Research at the Center of Higher Edcucation (CHE), not only presented various paths to becoming a university professor, but also identified the most promising among them. According to a study presented by Nickel, “with 6.6 years to tenure on average, junior professors are fastest when it comes to obtaining tenure. By contrast, young researchers taking the traditional path of completing their post-doctoral thesis attain this goal after about 10.8 years.”

Professor Ferdinanda Ponci provided interesting insights into the tenure track process at the University of South Carolina, USA. The scientist, who is currently teaching and researching at RWTH Aachen, shared her personal experience and reported on the great pressures researchers are frequently subject to in the American tenure system. Subsequent to the lecture, the participants discussed the differences between the German and US-American tenure systems.

The panel discussion on the topic of “The Way to Tenure: Plannable or Lottery?,” moderated by Professor Doris Klee, Vice-Rector for Human Resources Management and Development at RWTH Aachen, was another highlight of the final day of the Advanced Talents Days. Panelists included Vice-Rector Gudrun Gersmann; Professor Sonja Herres-Pawlis, Chair of Bioinorganic Chemistry at RWTH Aachen; and Professor Christoph Stampfer, Head of the RWTH Institute of Physics 2A.

The panelists shared their personal experience and insights into their career paths. According to Christoph Stampfer, in his own experience, the most important factor is to have a strong network: “Networking, networking, networking – this is essential for becoming a tenured professor.” The experienced panelists agreed that aside from the more formal aspects, such as qualifications and application documents, strong communicative bonds with the research community are decisive for attaining one’s career goal in science and research. And, as Vice-Rector Gersmann emphasized, "one needs to act proactively and be prepared to take full responsibility for one’s career planning.”