Must doctoral students TA

A small lance for large projects

January 8, 2020 by Laborjournal

Unfortunately, you experience this more often: A lot of money is pumped into large-scale research initiatives - and in the end you get much less close to the targeted findings than originally announced.

Many papers have since been written that allegedly prove that the "Impact per researcher “on average, the more it sinks, the larger the overall project funded is (for example here and here). And each time the authors also worked out certain structural and conceptual patterns, the such "Underperformance" of Big science-Projects supposedly contributing to the cause. However, we want to leave it to others to speak about them for today ...

Rather, it is supposed to be about the complainers, who by now almost reflexively come out of their holes when they announce an expensive major project and scream outraged: “Argh, so much money for something that will probably only come out comparatively little anyway! How many more productive Small science- You could use it to finance projects instead? "

Geez! As if you always knew exactly in advance what quantity and class of knowledge a certain project, whether large or small, can deliver. And as if you could then precisely calculate the cheapest possible funding for it ...

Doesn't sound like a research project anymore, does it? Because research so just doesn't work. Basic research in particular is ideally a departure into the unknown. You carefully feel your way forward in several directions, always ending up in dead ends, which had seemed so promising and plausible on the first few meters - and maybe at some point you get an idea of ​​the one correct path.

Of course, every management consultant tears his hair up about such shaky “cost-benefit balances”. But wouldn't their methods in particular destroy basic research to its core? And would be this not the worst record of all in the end?

Especially since it is often forgotten: Large project funds in particular are always big investments in training - not least because they are in particular Big science-Networks often attach particular importance to this (see for example here). Lots of doctoral students and co. Learn how science and research actually work - also, maybe even just on the ultimately less successful paths.

And who knows, dear complainers, whether in the end someone who was trained yesterday in such a "poor balance sheet" project might not deliver the next mega-breakthrough tomorrow? If it were up to you, he might not have gotten to that point in the first place.

Ralf Neumann

Keywords: big science, doctoral students, doctoral training, research balance sheet, research funding, large-scale project, basic research, small science, philosophy of science
Posted in Researcher Careers, Science Policy | No comments "

What does the ex-postdoc care about his old chatter?

October 15, 2018 by Laborjournal

Once again a question landed on our editorial desk, between the lines of which you could literally smell a certain anger - and it went like this:

There is something I just don't understand. Twenty years ago I heard doctoral students and postdocs moan again and again about how badly the science system had developed and how much they would suffer from the institute's hierarchies and top dogs. Now most of them are group leaders, institute bosses or even more themselves. But nothing has changed, they behave the same way today as those who criticized them then - maybe even worse. Yet it is they who could actually change things today that they complained about back then - at least in their own environment. You have to ask yourself: maybe you don't want that anymore?


iStock /:Lisa-Blue

We immediately thought of an editorial in which we presented the results of a study on this topic a good three years ago (LJ 4/2015, p. 3) - and from which we want to quote in the following as an attempt to answer:

[...] But the doctoral thesis of the Viennese science researcher Lisa Sigl should give them food for thought, in which she examined how the precarious living and working conditions of young bioscientists affect their research activities. Sigl first examines the various uncertainty factors that shape the lives of young bioscientists. For example, the imponderables of gaining knowledge that are inherent in any research, as well as the existential risks that arise from the chaining of temporary contracts. Then she comes to the really interesting point of her dissertation: How do your test subjects and the working group as a whole deal with this burden and what influence does it have on the direction of your research?

The Viennese woman observed four different strategies for coping with the pressure on the researchers. She describes the first variant, which is very popular among life scientists, as clan behavior: the group subordinates itself to the dominant laboratory or group leader, who is not only responsible for the scientific orientation of the group determined, but also distributed the financial resources. His power is correspondingly great, but also his social responsibility towards the group members. It goes without saying that every member of the working group here tries not to necessarily pee on the boss's leg.

The second coping strategy, the collaborative collective, is certainly the most likeable variant, but it is becoming increasingly rare in the laboratory due to the increasing scientific and economic pressure. In this form with flat hierarchies and a frequent exchange of experiences among the scientists, group work is in the foreground.

And now comes the part that might be the most interesting in answering the above question:

With increasing research experience, in addition to these two joint strategies, two other, individual strategies come to light for doctoral students and postdocs: the managerial and the trickster strategy.

The manager manages his research and tries to climb the academic career ladder with the least possible risk. For this type of young researcher, the focus is not on research itself, but on career risk management in research. The trickster, on the other hand, tries to “trick” his precarious situation and hides his own projects behind cryptic applications in order to get hold of money. Tricksters are rarely found among life scientists.

The precarious living situation of young bioscientists is, so Sigl's conclusion, encouraging more clan behavior and scientists who predominantly practice risk management. Young researchers who pursue risky but exciting scientific questions and projects out of pure curiosity, on the other hand, are less and less likely to emerge from the current scientific system.

Well, the conclusion goes in a different, at least as exciting direction. But couldn't Sigl's insights into the change of strategy with increasing "system experience" also provide an answer to the above initial question - at least in part? Or are there other aspects that play a role in ensuring that today's “bosses” do not change anything they once complained about as doctoral students and postdocs?

Ralf Neumann

Keywords: dissertation, doctoral students, research group, institute hierarchy, career strategy, young researchers, postdoc, risk management, scientific system
Posted in Research Career, Science Policy | No comments "

On the death of Benno Müller-Hill

August 22, 2018 by Laborjournal

Benno Müller-Hill, professor emeritus at the Cologne Institute for Genetics and one of them died on August 11 at the age of 85 the Molecular biology pioneers in Germany. In addition to his research work, which is not only, but especially about Lac-Repressor from E. coli turned, he became known to a broader public through his book "Tödliche Wissenschaft", published in 1984, in which he examined the role of research in National Socialism.

In the years 1998 to 2000 Benno Müller-Hill wrote repeatedly for Laboratory journal. Two of his earlier contributions are shown here again below - also as an homage to a meddling, “political” researcher, of whose type we could definitely need more today ...



From our previous series: If I were a postdoc today ...

Why does man speak?

By Benno Müller-Hill, Laborjournal 4/2000, p. 14

What would I do if I was thirty today and looking for a problem as a postdoc? What problem would I like to solve?

Before answering this question, it is appropriate to briefly report what I thought and did forty years ago.

In 1960 I was a doctoral student with the biochemist Karl Wallenfels. I worked out on b-galactosidase E. coli. In the literature seminar, the Comptes-Rendues work from the laboratory of Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod was discussed, in which, for the first time, by Lac-Repressor and from LacOperator was mentioned. An assistant who was trained as a microbiologist said: “These are typically French quibbles. E. coli has no genes because it has no nucleus ”. Wallenfels shook his head. He wasn't sure. Myself and a few others thought the repressor-operator model had to be right. It's so elegant. Continue reading this post »

Keywords: authorship, Benno Müller-Hill, doctoral students, obituary, chimpanzee, chimpanzee genome, language
Posted in General, Researcher Career, Science Policy | 1 Comment »

Sprawling university administration - example time recording

May 11, 2016 by comment via email

(The same university professor - see posting from April 29th - had more to complain about the German universities :)

The administrations of the universities proliferate with autocatalytic feedback, similar to a tumor. In the meantime, structures for the administration of the administration are growing. One example of this is the administration of time recording, because the administration employees (and especially they) are integrated in the electronic time recording system - so that nobody works too much. Unfortunately, such an electronic system also has to be maintained and controlled - for which administration offices were created. The maintenance and control, however, comes to nothing, because there is 'room for maneuver'.

For example, if a vet can only close the internship laboratory at 9:45 p.m. due to the lethargy of some students, then she has a 14-hour day behind her because she started work at 7:00 a.m. The time recording system honors this selfless commitment to the university by simply cutting off four hours of the 14 hours, because more than ten hours a day are 'forbidden'! But that doesn't matter, because every employee can log into the electronic time recording system and correct these shortened hours or credit them elsewhere. However, this must then be made in writing, printed out, countersigned by the supervisor and sent to the central administration, HR department, 'Time recording' department. So there is plenty of room for administrative 'corrections' because the administration is totally overloaded with its varied tasks and cannot control everything. Hence, employees are expected to control themselves (such as in front the introduction of the recording system!) - so record your times yourself and correct them if necessary.

The University of Darmstadt (confidential communication!) Is now planning to extend time recording to include academic staff. This of course causes great resentment, because time recording is seen as a science killer. Why actually? It's all half as bad; it comes as it comes. There will be a lot more bureaucracy, but you can always find a way to 'correct' the system in your own favor, because the administration suffocates from the bureaucracy it has created itself. And is time recording really a science killer? No, not really - because a doctoral student who refers to half of his position and thinks that he should only spend 19.5 hours per week in the laboratory due to the time recording is best thrown out in the first few weeks of the probationary period.

The reading in such a case is the following: The doctoral student GOT TO Work 19.5 hours a week for what he is paid for and the remaining 148.5 hours a week MAY he dedicates himself to his doctoral thesis. It has GOT TO with the MAY for DFG-funded doctoral students there is a 100% thematic overlap, while the overlap for state doctoral students due to auxiliary services to be performed in the courses is only around 99 percent. A good, 'half-good' doctoral student comes at 9:00 a.m. and then clocks out punctually at 2:00 p.m., in order to then return to the laboratory immediately and continue working on his doctoral thesis until 26:00 p.m.

And then it is said that logic and wisdom prevail at the university ...

(Illustr .: Fotolia / TSUNG-LIN WU)

Keywords: working hours, bureaucracy, doctoral students, doctoral thesis, laboratory, TAs, university administration, scientific staff, time recording
Posted in General, Science Policy | No comments "

The universities are abolishing their competence in doctoral supervision

April 29, 2016 by comment via email

(A German university professor recently wrote us the following on the above topic :)

In the past, every doctoral student was supervised by his or her "doctoral advisor" (or "mother"). It goes without saying that they were wholeen passant all of the 'soft skills' that are indispensable for a budding scientist are imparted - such as 'correct scientific practice', 'experimental design', 'ethics in science', 'data evaluation and statistics', 'poster design', 'lecture style', 'manuscript writing' and so on.

Today, however, extra doctoral seminars are required to impart these soft skills, which are often even mandatory within the framework of graduate schools and clusters of excellence. It can happen that a doctoral student drops the pipette two to three times a week in the middle of the day to rush to the doctoral seminar. The fact that this corrupts the experiment that has just started and that he then has to start over because everything has been standing around at room temperature for far too long is not so important at the moment.

When registering for the disputation, the faculty also asks which seminars, colloquia, etc. the doctoral candidate has attended over the past few years. If the number and scope of the courses attended are incorrect, admission to the doctoral examination procedure will be refused by the responsible faculty member. At that moment it is of no use if the doctoral candidate has several Nature- Can submit publications as first author. The matter must then be clarified directly between the doctoral supervisor and the dean.

In order to deal with the concerns of the doctoral students, university-internal graduate centers are set up in which former doctoral students and postdocs take on the badly paid and hopeless job of "influencing the improvement of the framework conditions for doctoral students within the university". Because of the graduate schools that have grown within the framework of the Excellence Initiative, doctoral supervisors are therefore able to withdraw further and further from the supervisory business, but still reap their merits, including authorship, in the case of a good doctoral student.

Anyone who has given up care duties in this way naturally has time to attend seminars. For example, seminars in which you can learn how to supervise doctoral students. They actually exist: Courses especially for professionals… .— who should actually know it themselves. The lecturers who lead these events are didacticians, educators, psychologists, alternative practitioners and self-appointed expert trainers. Preferably traveled from far and paid well.

It has now gone so far that universities are even promoting non-university research institutions such as the Max Planck Society as role models for how well they supervise their doctoral students. These institutions do not even have a license to do a doctorate.This closes a truly paradoxical circle: The university, as the only doctoral training institution in the country, is supposed to learn how to deal with doctoral students from an external, purely research-oriented institution without a teaching assignment. An indictment!

Keywords: supervision, doctoral candidates, competence, right to award doctorates, seminars, soft skills
Posted in General, Science Policy | 8 Comments »

Men prefer to take men

July 29, 2014 by comment via email

(In the following text, our author Leonid Schneider reports on a new study according to which top male researchers in the life sciences in particular prefer to bring more men into their groups.)

Unfortunately, women are still severely underrepresented in the upper echelons of the research hierarchy. At the same time, at least in the life sciences, the gender ratio among undergraduate and graduate students has been well balanced for a long time. At the latest, however, among young scientists, and especially among professors, the dominance of men becomes abundantly clear. The universities and other research institutions are doing their best to establish more women in management positions. For example, they offer on-site childcare and indicate the preference for female applicants in every job advertisement. Why do so few women make it to professorship? One recently in PNAS published study has now uncovered the following: "In the life sciences, male faculty leaders hire fewer women". The authors are Joan Smith, software developer at Twitter, and Jason Sheltzer, PhD student with the highly successful cell biologist Angelika Amon at MIT in Boston.

For their analysis, the two of them collected data from over 2,000 doctoral students, postdocs and other faculty members in 24 of the most prestigious US research institutions - all of them from working groups that primarily conduct molecular biology research. Continue reading this post »

Keywords: discrimination, doctoral students, elite, excellence, career, laboratory, young scientists, postocs
Posted in General | 1 Comment »

"Gag contracts will soon no longer work"

May 6, 2014 by Laborjournal

At the end of 2012, the Max Planck Society set up a presidential commission for promoting young talent. We haven't heard of any (interim) results since then. At the universities and other non-university research institutions, too, the problem is currently being delayed rather than discussed.

Meanwhile, it continues to grow unimpressed. Because one thing is clear - and in the end it was the reason for the formation of the MPG and other commissions on the topic: In view of the current development, something must change in the near future with regard to the funding of doctoral students and postdocs, otherwise academic research will face competition to be qualified or even excellent The offspring will soon be falling behind.

A director of a bio-institute, who is very committed to young talent, summed up the dilemma in an interview last week as follows: “In ten years, natural science students will have significantly more alternatives. Gag contracts like those in today's academic system will no longer work. And we have to be prepared for that. "

Good for the students, bad for research. Unless you actually start making appropriate preparations soon.

Opinions about it?

(Photo: mapoli-photo /

Keywords: academic research, doctoral candidates, funding, postdocs, students, contracts, young scientists
Posted in Science Policy | 2 Comments »

When I grow up, I'll be a risk assessor ...

February 11, 2014 by comment via email

(Is there a trend that is in the advertisements for life science jobsthe requirements for potential applicantsalways get "tighter"? Our author Leonid Schneider is convinced of this - and is dissecting the latest job advertisements from the Federal Office for Risk Assessment BfR as an indication of this.)


There are jobs for which only a few are suitable. Astronaut, for example. Or Federal Chancellor. Or also: Professional risk assessor at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin (

Since the task of this institute - the risk assessment of chemicals, food, particles, etc. - is very important, potential job candidates are selected accordingly. Especially since these people are also supposed to be civil servants later on. The institute therefore attaches great importance to the fact that scientists are very familiar with their potential field of work - ideally, yes before they are even considered as candidates.

Of course, not every random life scientist or chemist can just come along and ask the BfR to be admitted to a career. Such lateral entrants should please look elsewhere for their alternative careers. How do I get there? What has struck me for some time is the following: For practically every job advertisement, the BfR requires under the "requirements" that the verifiable previous knowledge and professional experience must match the intended area of ​​responsibility almost exactly.

In the meantime, this is often the case with many postdoc tenders in academic research, but mostly it is more about specific technical methods and less about precisely defined research fields. The BfR, however, goes one step further with its job advertisements for post-doctoral researchers. Continue reading this post »

Keywords: requirements, applicants, doctoral candidates, specialist group, job, career, specialization, job posting, toxicology
Posted in General | 12 Comments »

Quote of the month (6)

November 22, 2011 by Laborjournal

One of the nicest, most honest and perhaps also most responsible tenders for 'Graduate Students' that you can think of:

(Click on the picture for a larger PDF file)

From Söhnke Johnsen Lab, Duke University.



Keywords: announcement, supervisors, doctoral candidates, graduates, laboratory, employees
Posted in General, Laboratory | 1 Comment »

Unloved rebuttals

December 3, 2010 by Laborjournal

From theSeries “Spontaneous interviews that never existed - but which could have happened just like that”. Today: Professor G.U.T. Glaub, Veritological Institute, University of Wahrenstadt.

LJ: Hello, Herr Glaub. One of your employees just rushed out of your office crying. What happened?

Believe: A disaster has happened. She can start from scratch with her doctoral thesis. The previous year and a half were totally for the cat - even if it has only made difficult progress. At least now we know why.

LJ: Uh ... yes, ... and why?

Believe: In short, we had a really nice hypothesis for your work based on the results and conclusions of a very specific paper on chromatin structure. And now it has been found that his conclusions are wrong and that the structures in question do not appear in the form. And with that our hypothesis is gone.

Continue reading this post »

Keywords: PhD students, editor, hypothesis, interview, paper, publication ethics, refutation
Posted in General, Publications | No comments "