Research: Many young university researchers migrate to the IT industry

Young scientists in Germany are exposed to various pressures. Many prospective university professors therefore move into business at an early stage where they expect better conditions. In the field of computer science in particular, there is a risk that research will lag behind industrial research. This is the result of a mid-level study by the Gesellschaft für Informatik (GI) Advisory Council for Young Scientists.

At the beginning of the year, the commission conducted a survey among 378 young specialists from German university institutes. The aim was to learn about the specific challenges faced by PhD students, PhD students, junior research group leaders and junior professors in their daily work. Among them were participants in mathematics, computer science, science and technology (MINT) and other scientific fields.

According to previously published results, 42 percent. respondents in the MINT sector, where the shortage of skilled workers is particularly high and an obstacle to rapid digitization, believe their employment relationship is precarious. They are therefore exposed to structural and financial problems. The rate seems high, but among non-MINT academics it is actually 64 percent.

As a challenge, participants most often mention multiple teaching, research and administrative burdens. 69 percent has difficulty mastering research, teaching and other tasks at the same time. For two-thirds of those surveyed (66 percent), heavy workload also leads to overtime. The reconciliation of work and family life is often mentioned as a problem – especially female scientists complain about this. This became especially true during the krone pandemic: 76 percent of those polled were not at all satisfied with their university’s support for childcare.

Lack of financial resources is considered to be a relatively big challenge, with mentions ranging from 40% to 46%. When it comes to subjects, conflicts with supervisors are least often cited as a difficulty: Nevertheless, roughly one in four people encounter this problem: 22 percent for STEM subjects, 26 percent for other scientific fields.

In both sectoral groups, the median applications for a research career for academic positions range from two to five (29 and 32 percent, respectively), regardless of the level of qualifications. About half of those who have already submitted research applications during a fixed-term academic career do so two to five times. About a quarter of them submitted as many as six to ten applications. The authors conclude that at least over a third of young scientists write more than twice as many relevant applications as necessary.

The organizers of the study also asked participants to propose a solution: 97 percent opted for the expansion of permanent positions after the doctorate. In the text poll that followed, some of those interviewed also suggested abolishing departments and instead creating a “faculty structure” that goes hand in hand with a flatter and more flexible university organization. It was also suggested to separate research and teaching from each other and to hire more permanent teaching-only staff. It was also said that additional expenses should be rewarded in cash and that the core funding of universities and colleges should be increased.

According to GI, the economy has long recognized that it is worth offering young scientists better conditions. In IT in particular, universities and companies are fighting for young scientists: “If a research career in German universities no longer seems attractive, the brightest minds will look for alternatives,” warns Mario Gleirscher, the study’s first author, against emigration. The industry has long known that exciting research is being conducted not only in academia but also in Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

For many, technology companies “have already become synonymous with privatized cutting-edge research,” says Gleirscher. The consequences of another “brain drain” would be fatal: “The freedom to research and teach – far from direct economic profit – has been a decisive factor in the success of the computer science department’s rapid growth in recent decades.”

On the way to professorship, young scientists “have to go through the bottleneck,” complains Kerstin Lenk, spokeswoman for the GI’s responsible advisory board, “This leads to extremely difficult working conditions.” The Commission has already presented a position for a debate in 2020 with the aim of improving the situation of PhD students and postdocs in computer science and other technical subjects. He says: “There is a need to think on the political and social level that the postdoctoral phase in particular is not seen as a further qualification phase but as the professional phase of a fully fledged researcher.” All victims should urgently organize themselves into “sustainable structures”.


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