Support on the way to a professorhsip

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Advising postdocs and receiving support on their way to a ship (from left:) Mari

Advising postdocs and receiving support on their way to a ship (from left:) Maria Homeyer from the International Office, Fabian Dielmann from the Institute of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry, associate Syrinx von Hees from the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies and Helga Soer-Sodmann from the research support and advice service SAFIR. © WWU - Peter Leßmann

“We read every application”

What funding is available for junior researchers’ How should an application be worded so that it is successful? How are costs relating to personnel, materials and travel calculated? What needs to be taken into consideration from a legal point of view? Answers to these and other questions are provided by the team working at the SAFIR research support and advice service at the University of Münster. “The core feature of our work is to provide strategic advice on making applications,” explains Dr. Christine Schmidt from SAFIR. “We read every application and check to see whether it is coherent and consistent from beginning to end, whether the content matches the particular funding format, and whether the documentation is easy to read and understand.” In order to be able to deal with each junior researcher’s particular requirements, the team offers individual appointments for anyone seeking advice. Researchers’ personal career plans also play a role. During the process of applying for third-party funding, the staff at SAFIR provide numerous tips. The services on offer are rounded off by, among other things, a series of events entitled ‘A Compact Guide to Third-Party Funding Competence’ which take place every semester. Anyone taking part in the events SAFIR offers also gets to take a look behind the scenes of the appraisal process. “For example, we invite colleagues at Münster University who are members of Review Boards at the German Research Foundation and who appraise applications for funding for research projects. They talk about their work and provide tips which are extremely valuable - especially for people making their first application,” says Christine Schmidt.

“Building up international networks”

Anyone who wants to give a seminar at a university in another country, or who would like to become acquainted with other centres of academic activity through job-shadowing, has the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond the University of Münster by taking part in the Europe-wide Erasmus+ mobility programme. “Anyone on the academic staff, from PhD students to professors, can benefit from Erasmus+,” says Maria Homeyer, a Coordinator both at the Welcome Centre and for staff mobility at the International Office. “For junior researchers in particular,” she adds, “a stay abroad provides a good opportunity for building up international networks at the beginning of their academic career.” The funding available for each stay abroad is anything up to 1,500 euros.

Erasmus+, the exchange programme run by the European Union, offers two benefits in particular. One is the promotion of mobility on the part of teaching staff. “Many want to improve the teaching they do in English and use their stay abroad with this in mind,” says Homeyer, pointing out one advantage of the format. The other aspect is that of further training. One option is this regard is job-shadowing, looking over someone’s shoulder while they work. It is also possible to take part in language courses, workshops or seminars.

Mobility with a view to further training is popular at Münster University. The number of stays abroad has doubled within the last year. Information on the opportunities provided by Erasmus+ can be had from staff at the International Office on the last Thursday in every month. Responsibility for giving advice on research projects abroad lies with the team at SAFIR.

“Greater scope for projects”

In many of the departments and faculties at Münster University there are programmes on offer to help junior researchers, making the transition easier from the completed PhD to the postdoc phase. One example can be found at the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy. “We introduced our programme to promote junior researchers in 2016, with the aim of providing support for them as regards both independent working and the acquisition of third-party funding,” explains Dr. Mara Hobbold, Coordinator for the Promotion of Junior Researchers in the Dean’s Office of the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy. “There are only very limited budget resources available for junior researchers in particular,” she adds, “which is why we help with financial support.” Researchers can use such financial support for business trips, chemicals, equipment or hiring student assistants.”

One such recipient of funding is Dr. Fabian Dielmann, an assistant professor at the Institute of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry. “The money gave me the opportunity of having greater scope for my projects,” he says. The junior research chemist used it to buy an attenuated total reflection module for infrared spectroscopy, which allows chemical compounds to be characterised. With his team Dielmann is developing molecular systems which are able to activate particularly inert molecules such as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, so that they can subsequently undergo a chemical conversion. One of the objectives of converting them would be to reduce the quantities of them released into the atmosphere.

“I’ve often moved around in my life”

As far as being able to plan a career is concerned, the path to a “professorship for life” is, for many junior academics, characterised by fixed-term contracts and research projects. Tenure-track professorships are designed to provide a greater degree of transparency in the academic system. “Tenure track” is a borrowing from the American education system and is a possible addition to any associate professorship being advertised. After a probationary period has been completed and successfully evaluated, this leads into a professorship for life without the position needing to be advertised again. The Rectorate at the University of Münster wishes to increase the future number of tenure-track professorships. It is for this reason that the University has applied for funding, including from a national and regional government programme to promote junior researchers (“Bund-Länder-Programm zur Förderung des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses”).

There are currently four associate professorships with a tenure-track option. Syrinx von Hees, an historian of the Middle East, has had one of them since 2014. “The option of having my associate professorship become something more permanent was the deciding factor for my family and myself,” she says. Her professorship is attached to the “Arabic Literature and Rhetoric in Later Centuries (11th to 18th Centuries)” research centre, which the Arabist Prof. Thomas Bauer established after he was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, worth 2.5 million euros, in 2013. “I’ve often moved around in my life,” says von Hees, citing Berlin, Cambridge, Bonn and Beirut as some of the places where she has worked. “I’m well integrated at the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies,” she says, “and I get the support I need here.”

: Kathrin Nolte

Translator: Ken Ashton

This article originally appeared in the University newspaper “wissen