Chances and Challenges of Academic Careers

People on a stage in the Aula Copyright: © Thilo Vogel

Staff development of junior researchers was the focus of the symposium "Creating Perspectives – The Future for Junior Researchers." Lectures and panel discussions with experts discussed what chances universities and the industry offer doctoral candidates.


Approximately 150 representatives from university administration, staff development, and the equal opportunities sector came to Aachen from all over Germany at the invitation of Professor Doris Klee, vice-rector for human resources management and development at RWTH Aachen. The symposium was organized by Division 4.3 – and the staff unit Integration Team – Human Resources, Gender and Diversity Management, IGaD.

Ideal Framework Conditions for Careers

Professor Klee began her talk with an overview of the different career paths for scientists at the university. She emphasized that the renewal rate for professorships is only four percent, making it impossible for all to attain a professorship. For this reason, RWTH is developing new career paths, for example for science managers and lecturers. The aim is to accompany and support career paths aside from and below a professorship but also in science management with suitable qualification measures.

Professor Claudia Peus presented research results from management development at universities in her lecture, pleading for clear prospects and arrangements in employee management. Here, the strengths of individuals would need to be taken into consideration in order to achieve the best performance. During a dialogue with Manfred Nettekoven, chancellor of RWTH; Professor Peus; Professor Horst Hippler, president of the German Rectors' Conference; and Professor Jeffrey Peck, European director of AKA Strategy and former dean of Baruch College in New York, the differences between the German and American academic systems were highlighted and the transferability of successful approaches for shaping careers in science was critically discussed.

Women at the Top – What Can Science and Industry Contribute?

This question opened the second day of the symposium. Professor Gabriele Griffin, Uppsala University in Sweden, presented stimuli from FESTA, the EU-project. FESTA is short for Female Empowerment in Science and Technology Academia and aims to accompany the change towards an organizational culture of equal opportunities at universities. The project is coordinated by RWTH's IGAD staff unit.

This perspective was expanded by Esther Berg from the Chair of Gender and Diversity in Engineering at RWTH in a report on the research results of a project on careers in science. Short contributions from Dr. Stephanie Dittmer, Helmholtz Association; Dr. Georg Barzel, berufundfamilie gGmbh; and Marc Althoff, P3 Group, described a complex picture of the shape of equal opportunity and diverse careers. During a moderated discussion all of the participants agreed that a development in equal opportunities and treatment among employees at all levels should be strived for. However fields of action and difficulties were also noted.

Optimal Career Paths

Inspired by presentations by Dr. Christian Burg of the RWTH Institute of Psychology on research about scientists' career decisions and by Christoph Welz, Porsche AG, on equal opportunities in industry, a follow-up panel discussion discussed the optimization of career paths. All participants frankly admitted that not all high-earning scientists felt secure in their decisions. The rector of RWTH, Professor Ernst Schmachtenberg, agreed. However volition, passion for one's topic, and keeping the goal of the next career level in sight helped everyone. Attractive set-ups and possibilities that always opened up were also helpful, as professor Christine Roll, historian and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, proved with exampled from her own career. A brief digression into industry, which signifanclty influenced their careers and still plays a role, was also a career step for professors Lutz Eckstein and Armin Schnettler and Dr. Christian Burg.

This was the second Staff Development Symposium and enjoyed increased participation and interest in the professional field. To summarize this year: career paths of scientists are diverse and do not have to lead to professorship. Staff development at universities is responsible for actively shaping and supporting different careers. The history and framework conditions of the German science system have shown that this development is linked to great challenges.