The New Year 2015 is already a couple of days old. Let’s have a look back on the work of Helmholtz-Juniors (HeJu) in 2014 and take a look ahead to what’s to expect for 2015. Yuan (see authors) compiled our current HeJu-Newsletter2014 which gives you an overview about the work of 2014 and our contacts.
From January 22 to 24, 2014 the HeJus were kindly hosted by the Helmholtz Centre Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Dresden for their annual meeting. During that meeting the working groups presented their achievements of the previous term, and new goals where set for the next HeJu, namely us (most members are only active for one year, a list of currently active members you can find here). The most important goals being set the realization of the Helmholtz PhD survey 2014 (survey group), the active participation in the formulation of an updated version of the official Helmholtz doctoral training guidelines (working conditions group), the finalization of “the PhD booklet” (communication group) and coming up with a new concept for an interdisciplinary event for PhDs of the Helmholtz Association (HA) (events group). We also spoke with a Helmholtz official about financial support for our plans and the function and position of the HeJu within the HA. Additionally, we welcomed a representative of PhDnet, the PhD network of the Max Planck Society (MPG). Although being an official part of the MPG, they are known to be very critical towards their mother organization and fight for just working conditions and appropriate remuneration. They shared valuable information about their experience within the MPG and how they are organizing themselves. Vice versa Sripriya, one of our spokespersons last year, attended the annual meeting of PhDnet in Heidelberg later in 2014 and brought back interesting ideas for funding new events.
We also discussed current problems. For instance only 14 of the 18 Helmholtz centres were represented at the HeJu annual meeting, despite the centres agreeing to cover travel expenses for the meeting. Some representatives complained that the general will of students to engage for a representative function (meaning the DokTeams or PhD initiatives) at the individual centres was rather low among PhD students. It was also pointed out that there were difficulties in reaching all the PhD students working at one centre due to size, structural organization and the lack of networking possibilities. Other problems included the identification of the basic needs of PhD students of different subjects and at different centres (for instance: significantly lower salaries for PhDs in life science than for PhDs in engineering or similar subjects, not to mention PhDs in social science or the ones living on stipends).
From July 21 to 22 the HeJu met again at a mid-term meeting at the HA’s headquarters in Berlin thanks to the efforts of the events team who managed to get us comfortable in Berlin, and in touch with the headquarters for 2 days. This time 16 out of 18 centres were represented. A more detailed report about this event you can find here. This gave us the possibility to check up on the progress of single projects and to rethink others. Just before the meeting the survey group put their questionnaire online and was able to show first figures (I hope you all took part!). The fully analysed results will soon follow (see below). Also a new working group was formed: the embodiment group. Inspired by the organization of PhDnet, its members were to evaluate if becoming an official body of the HA (including a fixed annual budget) was worth giving up our current independence. The working conditions group was actually able to leave their critical mark on the new doctoral training guidelines (to be released this year) and the communication group was invited to take a look behind the HA public relation department in order to increase HeJu’s visibility at the Helmholtz centres and beyond. As a result, we have this blog online since September 2014 and we hope you enjoy reading it. We will use it to keep you all updated about our work and also hope to get some discussions going about PhD life (or after life) in general. Feel free to leave your comments and ideas and have a look on our website and our new facebook page as well.
So, what’s to come in 2015? Big milestone ahead of course: the annual HeJu meeting at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven this week from January 14 to 16! There we will see how happy YOU are and at which centre you are happiest according to the results of the Helmholtz PhD survey. Information, each individual centre is also very interested in. We will present an online version of the PhD booklet (due to difficulties with the layout, a print version will only be available at a later time point but, we wanted to make sure that you can access this information asap). We hope that many of new and old PhD students in Germany will find it very useful. We will discuss our impact on the new Helmholtz doctoral training guidelines and the pros and cons of an official embodiment within the HA. We will see what concept the event group came up with and if we will again get support for an additional mid-term meeting. One of the more difficult topics is the question if PhD students should get stipends or contracts. There is a will of the HA to provide each PhD student with a contract rather than a stipend but, this is, of course, not yet reality. Given the tight financial situation for personnel money in science in general and at certain centres in particular, this will still be an issue in the future. An issue that probably has to be discussed with Otmar Wiestler, now head of the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), who will replace Jürgen Mlynek after 10 years as HA’s new president in September this year.
A very important point will be the handing over of our work to the ones of you that will take over our tasks. Due to the short HeJu terms, a thorough transfer of information is crucial for an efficient continuation. Thus, let’s look forward to what the next HeJu generation will have in store for us. I will surely keep checking up on the news here. Good luck! :)