When it comes to research in sciences, it’s all about the data. We conduct experiments, questionnaires, fieldtrips, or models, spend many hours in the lab or in front of the computer, or whatever other way there is to gather data. From high-pressure/high-temperature experiments with just a handful of data points to big data cancer modelling– solid data is always the ground stone for our work.
This is why we, the Helmholtz Juniors, conduct a large, German-wide survey in cooperation with the Max-Planck PhDnet, IPP Mainz PhD Network and the Leibnitz PhD network every two years. This year, the TU Munich is also participating in the survey. Such a database enables us to change the working conditions of every doctoral researcher (DR) within the network or even in Germany in the long run.
Why do we need every single DR to fill out the survey?
The Helmholtz Juniors alone combine about 8,000 DRs under their name (as of 2017). Together with the other three PhD networks we form the network of networks – N², summing up to a total of about 16,000 doctoral researchers.
Last year about 30% of the DRs participated, which means about 4,800 DRs filled out the whole survey. That’s quite good considering the sheer number of DRs, but still like a puzzle that’s not continued with many pieces missing just because you can see the bigger picture; a lot of details get lost in the process.
And that’s why this year, we have the goal of 50% participation rate: to see more detail, to allow statistical outliers become patterns, to make our analysis and interpretations even more underpinned than last surveys. But to achieve this, we need every opinion that there is, every possible outcome of the survey, every piece of information.
What’s the topic?
The last 1 ½ years were especially hard for all of us. No field work, no coffee with the colleagues, no chat about your ideas in the hallway, long waiting lists for analysis time, no networking with international colleagues on conferences, no barbeque with the newcomers, isolating conditions of home office, screwed up work-life-sleep balance, …
Covid-19 did affect all of us, exacerbated worries that already existed and producing a cohort of worried DRs concerned about completion and quality of their work, worried about their career path and options, worried about their future.
This year’s survey will have a bunch of questions about your life and your work during the pandemic, impacts on social environment, navigation of a doctoral thesis, emotional, technological and logistical problems that came up and multiple other factors.
But the thing is, everyone of us had different problems. We do not see or hear everything. There are just too many factors that can change everything, too many variables, too many mutual dependent conditions. And that’s why we want to hear about your life adjustments, your problems, your ideas to amend the situation: to figure out typical phenomena, reoccurring patterns, intersecting sets of problems.
And what’s the use of this effort?
This survey is indeed a huge effort. It takes a long time to prepare it (props to our Survey Team!) as well as to evaluate it – not considering the amount of time summing up all the 30 min of filling out a survey from thousands of participating DRs. So why do we stem all this work? Easy: to make a change!
Past results have been featured in press conferences and published in journals, newspapers, blogs, and radio stations all over Germany and worldwide. Examples are the Tagesspiegel, Deutschlandfunk or the podcast SWR2 Wissen. A summary of the results was even published in Nature. These publications got us an invitation to the Bundestag as experts and meetings with the Federal Ministers of Education and Research (BMBF).
This means the problems of our DRs, your problems, get attention in the highest institutions of Germany and the scientific community in general. This fact is encouraging us to go forward with all the voices we can gather and change the world of young researchers for the better.
But therefore, we need the data, we need all voices, we need your voice.