Where will the scientists of tomorrow come from?

IMPRS – a 10-year success story

December 12, 2011

For ten years International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) have been successfully tempting young talented students from all over the world to come to Germany. The IMPRS cooperate with their German partner universities to provide a structured framework for doctoral studies and create excellent research conditions for young researchers.

“It is not just the available funding which safeguards innovation and the scientific and technical competitiveness of a society. What is more decisive is whether the individuals are available who can use these funds to best effect,” wrote the President of the Max Planck Society, Hubert Markl, in 1999 in view of the already stagnating and decreasing population numbers in the leading scientific countries of the world. And his conclusion: “Where shortage rules, there is competition.”

In science and research this competition for talent is not played out on a national level. Thus, in 1999, the German Rectors' Conference joined forces with the Max Planck Society and jointly started an initiative to support junior scientists which centred on the International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS). Ten years ago the first two institutions of their kind were launched in Göttingen as a cooperation between the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the local university: the IMPRS for Molecular Biology and the IMPRS for Neurosciences. There are meanwhile 62 IMPRS – a success story in the German science system. “The International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) are an example for the successful and tried and tested practical cooperation between universities and non-university institutions,” emphasises Margret Wintermantel, President of the German Rectors' Conference.

The IMPRS are not only renowned in Germany: just under half of the almost 3000 IMPRS doctoral students are now from abroad; around 30 percent of them are assigned to the universities. “It is of central importance for me to provide the doctoral students with excellent working conditions. I am therefore delighted that we are successfully recruiting young talent from abroad for Germany, and at the same time keeping excellent German students in the country,” says Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society.

To celebrate the tenth birthday of the first International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS), the Max Planck Society and the German Rectors' Conference are planning to develop their collaboration further: given that twice as many pupils will be leaving school at the same time over the next few years, the President of the Max Planck Society is campaigning for the greater integration of junior researchers from the Max Planck institutes into university teaching and is urging that Max Planck Research Group Leaders be put on an equal footing with junior professors for the supervision and evaluation of doctoral studies: “We should not waste this potential.”

Both Presidents agree that the number of positions for post-docs must be increased in the future to keep the post-docs in Germany in the long term. “We should also support young people more when they change to career paths outside of science, however,” stresses Margret Wintermantel. And with a view to the discussion on migration, Peter Gruss adds: “Many foreign researchers who have worked with us in Germany for several years would like to continue to use their abilities in Germany – if we would only let them.”

Entering into an IMPRS has a number of advantages: the doctoral students receive a doctoral fellowship or an employment contract. In addition to the Max Planck institutes and the German partner universities, foreign universities and research institutions also contribute to the first-class and interdisciplinary education and training opportunities. The universities are responsible for the concluding process of the doctoral examination. It is also possible for this to be undertaken at the student’s home university. Moreover, the partners fund the research schools. In addition to the very good supervision, the doctoral students also appreciate, above all, the special range of courses – from scientific writing and presentations through to soft skills. The talented young researchers also benefit from the regular discussions in workshops. The language of instruction is English.


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