The compatibility of family and a career in science took centre stage at the sixth annual meeting of young researchers who are funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) as part of the Emmy Noether Programme. At the three-day meeting in Potsdam, from 13 to 15 July, approximately 150 participants discussed together, and with representatives from the DFG and other scientific institutions, how the often conflicting spheres of career and family can be better combined. Participants were at least free from such worries during the meetings and the traditional evening of science policy, because for the first time at an Emmy Noether Meeting, a childcare service was offered - which was well received by both the children and the parents.
"As scientists and parents, we are actually quite lucky - because a family serves as a good balance to a job that incites us and requires us to go beyond the 40-hour week, but which is quite flexible at the same time," explains a father of four and Emmy Noether funding recipient. This is an opinion that is shared by many others. "Children are part of life and they enrich us," adds a mother and funding recipient. However, it remains the case that children and career are not easily compatible in the German research system, and there are no doubts about where there is room for improvement.
According to Professor Jutta Allmendinger, President of the Social Science Research Centre Berlin (WZB): "At present, I do not see any push for progress on the issue of compatibility." In her address, she emphasised that the maxim "As much and as fast as possible" puts relationships under a lot of stress, particularly for people with children. Singled out for her special praise were the equal opportunity measures in the Excellence Initiative and the comparably high proportion (about 30%) of women in junior professor positions. She also mentioned that women with children do not take longer for individual career stages and that they do not rank behind childless women in terms of presentations, publications and third-party funding. Nevertheless, consideration for their careers prevents many women from starting a family.
Some very practical solutions for the compatibility of family and career were discussed; for example, that children must become more visible in the everyday research environment. Various family-friendly measures were also suggested, such as establishing a parent-child room and kindergarten places supported by the higher education institution. In this spirit, the DFG offered childcare for the first time in the framework of the meeting. Finally, podium speakers and funding recipients debated the pros and cons of a women's quota. Babette Simon, medical scientist and Vice President of the Philipps University of Marburg, commented: "Personally, I used to be against the idea of a quota, but now I'm in favour. Without a women's quota nothing will change and there are certainly enough qualified women." At the meeting, the Emmy Noether funding recipients resolved to provide the good example that was not available to them.
In keeping with the meeting's tradition, a number of presentations were given, providing an overview of the DFG's activities. In addition, the spokesperson for the DFG Ombudsman, Professor Ulrike Beisiegel, spoke about the rules of good scientific practice. The EU Liaison Office of German Research Organisations (KoWi) pointed out some European funding opportunities. The funding recipients organised the traditional Emmy Noether lecture, this time on the topic "The Audibility of Silent Music. Musica Mundana and the Music of the Angels," and with a presentation on how text analysis and mathematics fit together. The latter was part of an event arranged by the funding recipients, "The Emmy Noether Identity," in which scientific, university policy-related and social components took centre stage, together with possible future activities of the funding recipients.
The DFG programme, which is named after the mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935), makes early scientific autonomy possible for young scientists and academics. Since the programme's establishment in 1999, a total of 441 scientists and academics have been funded.
The next annual Emmy Noether Meeting will take place from 25 to 27 July 2008 in Potsdam.
Further information on the programme can be found at www.dfg.de/emmy_noether/en. To access a detailed report of the conference, available only in German, please use the following link www.dfg.de/emmy_noether.