The Leibniz PostDoc Survey

As many of you might already know, the Leibniz PostDoc Survey is currently open for participation and we urge all of you current (and incoming) postdoctoral researchers at all Leibniz Institutes to fill the online form, which you got via our email listserv, if you haven’t already. In this short blog post we want to give you a little background on how the survey came about, our motivation to do it, and what we are hoping to achieve with it.

Why: Postdoctoral researchers (a.k.a. postdocs) make up an integral part of the scientific workforce in universities and research institutes around the world, and this is also true for the majority of research institutes under the roof of the Leibniz Association in Germany. Due to inherent constraints like high mobility and short-term contracts, postdocs are often less connected and organized within their institutions and countries compared to doctoral students, technical and administrative staff or tenured scientists. To improve this situation, the Leibniz PostDoc Network as an initiative of postdocs from various Leibniz Institutes was founded in 2017. While the group of postdocs is distinct from others with regard to, for example, career stage and positions, they are a heterogeneous group with diverse personal backgrounds, interests, career plans, and training needs. While there are a couple of recent studies from other countries (e.g. in the US [1,2]) and at least one institution in Germany [3] shining light on the situation of postdocs, as well as data from surveys among the doctoral students at Leibniz Institutes [4, 5], there are no systematically collected data on the working situation, career plans and needs for training opportunities of postdocs within the Leibniz Association.

What: Over the last two years, a dedicated group of natural and social scientists who are active in the Leibniz PostDoc Network (The Leibniz PostDoc Survey working group, see below for a list of all members) has prepared a survey to assess demographics, employment histories as well as future career plans and training needs for all postdocs in the Leibniz Association. Some of the questions in this survey are included to specifically address the situation of postdocs with an international background at Leibniz Institutes.

Target audience: The survey is aimed at all postdoctoral researchers working at Leibniz Institutes. While there is no universally agreed upon definition of a postdoctoral researcher, a common understanding is that they have completed their PhD but do not yet hold a professorship or already hold a postdoctoral position at their institute but are about to complete their PhD (e.g., because they did not yet defend or publish their thesis).

Goals: As the definition of the postdoc phase is somewhat fuzzy and this group is quite heterogeneous with regard to their backgrounds, working conditions, and career goals, the first objective of this survey is to gain an understanding of who the postdocs at the Leibniz Institutes are and what their needs are for their future career development. This is especially relevant for the Leibniz PostDoc Network, as we want to get a clearer picture of the people we are representing and to be able to promote appropriate support measures within the Leibniz PostDoc Network and the Leibniz Association.

Moreover, the survey will help us to assess how certain measures of the Leibniz Association are implemented on the institute level, such as which parts of the Leibniz career guidelines are now common practice for the postdocs. As Leibniz PostDoc Network, the obtained data will also help us to identify key challenges the postdocs are facing and, moving forward, also to formulate recommendations on how to address some of these challenges. In a more general outlook, the analyses of the results from the survey will likely complement recent attempts to learn more about the demographics and career paths of postdocs, thus enabling comparisons between the situation of postdocs in the Leibniz Association and those at universities in Germany [3], between postdocs in Germany and the US [1,2], and doctoral and postdoctoral researchers within the  Leibniz Association [4, 5].

The Leibniz PostDoc Survey working group consists of: Gundula Zoch (LIfBi), Johannes Breuer (GESIS), Gitta Heinz (DRFZ), Tamara Heck (DIPF), Verónica Díez Díaz (MfN), and Lydia Repke (GESIS).


[1] McConnell et al (2018): United States National Postdoc Survey results and the interaction of gender, career choice and mentor impact. eLife

[2] Grinstein & Treister (2018): The unhappy postdoc: a survey based study. F1000 Research

[3] Wagner-Baier et al (2012). Analysen und Empfehlungen zur Situation von Postdoktorandinnen und Postdoktoranden an deutschen Universitäten und insbesondere an der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena. Report der Graduierten-Akademie, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.

[4] Arcudi, A., Cumurovic, A., Gotter, C., Graeber, D., Joly, P., Ott, V., … Yenikent, S. (2019). Doctoral Researchers in the Leibniz Association: Final Report of the 2017 Leibniz PhD Survey.

[5] Beadle, B., Do, S., El Youssoufi, D., Felder, D., Gorenflos López, J., Jahn, A., … Weltin, M. (2020). Being a Doctoral Researcher in the Leibniz Association: 2019 Leibniz PhD Network Survey Report.

Update on COVID-19 Actions of the Leibniz PostDoc Network

Today, we want to provide you with a brief update on the recent efforts the Leibniz PostDoc Network is working on to promote the needs of postdoctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association.

A few weeks ago, our two spokespersons—Drs. Gitta Heinz and Lydia Repke—had the opportunity to speak with Leibniz Association President Prof. Mattias Kleiner and Secretary-General Dr. Bettina Böhm about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on postdoctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association. We thank the 14 researchers that answered our questions regarding their current situation and thereby helped us to prepare for the meeting. Among the main topics expressed to Prof. Kleiner and Dr. Böhm were concerns about how these unstable times would impact the feasibility of completing scheduled projects and evaluation standards for employment/ funding/ awards. We also discussed with them possible measures to address the insufficient degree of digitization at some institutes and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the research system.

Prof. Kleiner and Dr. Böhm were grateful for the open and honest conversation and wanted to highlight their support for postdoctoral researchers. Currently, they are addressing many of the concerns brought up through discussions among the Leibniz Präsidium on how to navigate this situation best. Prof. Kleiner emphasized that the continuation of research projects is not only in the interest of the individual researcher but also in the interest of the Leibniz Institutes. Therefore Prof. Kleiner is confident that most ongoing research projects can be completed and he trusts that the institutes will do their utmost to support their research staff accordingly.

As the Leibniz PostDoc Network, we intend to follow up on these topics in future discussions with Prof. Kleiner and Dr. Böhm. We always welcome input of any additional concerns that you as Leibniz PostDocs feel need to be addressed.

Communication of Leibniz President Prof. Kleiner concerning the situation of early career scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic

Leibniz President Prof. Kleiner addressed a constructive statement to all Leibniz Institutes’ directors on 30 May 2020:

Betreff: Zur Situation junger Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler

Liebe Kolleginnen und Kollegen aus den Leitungen der Leibniz-Einrichtungen,

die Covid19-Pandemie und die Maßnahmen zu ihrer Eindämmung stellen uns alle vor ungewohnte Herausforderungen. Für junge Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler – und vor allem diejenigen mit Kindern und Pflegeaufgaben – stellt die Situation eine besonders große Belastung dar, die zum Teil ihre wissenschaftlichen Karrieren massiv behindert. Die erheblichen Einschränkungen treffen offenbar mit besonderer Härte Frauen, wie nicht nur in der öffentlichen Diskussion, sondern auch anhand wissenschaftlicher Debattenbeiträge – u.a. aus Leibniz-Instituten wie dem WZB, SOEP oder DIW – deutlich wird.

Jüngere Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler mit befristeten Verträgen haben es unter Pandemie-Bedingungen sehr viel schwerer, ihre Qualifizierungsphasen fristgerecht abzuschließen, sich zusätzlich in der Lehre zu engagieren und – dies vor allem – zu publizieren. Die wissenschaftlichen Leistungen von Eltern, gemessen in Veröffentlichungen, Konferenzbeiträgen und Lehre, wird daher mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit deutlich zurückgehen.

In vielen Leibniz-Instituten werden die besonderen Schwierigkeiten der jüngeren Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler und insbesondere derjenigen mit Betreuungspflichten ernst genommen; es gibt sehr gute Beispiele konkreter Unterstützung, auch der Sprecher/innenrat des Verwaltungsausschusses hat sich bereits zu diesem Thema ausgetauscht. In besonderer Weise fühlt sich das Präsidium der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft in der Verantwortung, für Sensibilität gegenüber diesen Umständen zu werben.

Deshalb bitte ich Sie herzlich, ein besonderes Augenmerk auf die schwierige Situation der jüngeren Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler an Ihren Instituten zu richten und mögliche Unterstützungsmaßnahmen wohlwollend zu prüfen und kontinuierlich zu gewährleisten, solange sowohl die einschlägigen Verordnungen als auch mögliche individuelle Einschränkungen Bestand haben. Insbesondere sollten die Möglichkeiten in den Blick genommen werden, die die in der Übergangsregelung zum WissZeitVG vom 22.04.2020 formulierte Verlängerung der Höchstbefristungsdauer von wissenschaftlichem Personal bietet.

Außerdem sollten die besonderen Bedingungen im Zeitraum der Covid19-Pandemie – analog zu Elternzeiten – in Auswahlverfahren, bei Evaluierungen, Tenure-Entscheidungen etc. berücksichtigt werden. Dies gilt insbesondere im Hinblick auf Publikationen, Forschungsaufenthalte und Lehre.

Mit der nötigen Achtsamkeit kann es uns gemeinsam gelingen, alle unsere exzellenten jungen Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler, die in ihrer Karriereentwicklung von der Covid19-Pandemie besonders betroffen sind, zu unterstützen und ihre Kreativität und Schaffenskraft für Forschung und Wissenschaft – die in höchster Qualität gerade jetzt so wichtig sind – zu erhalten!

Sehr herzlichen Dank für Ihr hohes und umfassendes Engagement und beste Grüße sendet Ihnen

Ihr Matthias Kleiner

In summary, Prof Kleiner points out the considerable restrictions which early career scientists are confronted with during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those with (child-)care obligations. He asks that all Leibniz Institutes take the resulting hardships seriously and offer support measures as far as possible. In particular, he suggests considering the possibility to extend the maximum duration of scientific qualification periods which is offered by a recent amendment to the WissZeitVG (the German law on fixed-term employment contracts in science). Furthermore, the special conditions in the period of the Covid-19 pandemic should be taken into account in future selection procedures, evaluations, tenure decisions etc.

We welcome this proactive communication from the President of the Leibniz Association. It is a signal not only to the institutes’ directors, but also to all early career researchers.

Your Leibniz PostDoc Network Steering Group

COVID-19 Actions of the Leibniz PostDoc Network

As in other fields of work, the COVID-19 pandemic also has a strong impact on science and research. Especially early career researchers and those with (child-)care obligations are severely affected by this unprecedented situation. We addressed this topic among the Steering Group of the Leibniz PostDoc Network and developed an open letter to raise awareness for these struggles and initiate an open discussion. In the name of the Leibniz PostDoc Network, its spokeswomen sent the following letter to Leibniz President Prof. Kleiner and Secretary General Dr. Böhm on May 20, 2020:

Dear President Prof. Dr.-Ing. Kleiner,

Dear Secretary General Dr. Böhm,

We write on behalf of the Leibniz PostDoc Network to enquire about possible contingency plans for Postdoctoral Researchers within Leibniz Institutes across Germany.

As we all face increasing uncertainties due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic, the already tenuous nature of Postdoctoral Research short-term contracts and uncertainty facing researchers in these positions has been amplified. We have heard of varied impacts amongst the Postdoctoral Researchers within the Leibniz PostDoc Network. While some researchers are able to do most of their work primarily at home, others within our network have had essential fieldwork activities canceled or major experiments halted. This is particularly concerning as Postdoctoral Research projects are usually planned with a tight timeline, and the respective working contracts are often relatively short. Any delay in progression will have a significant impact on career prospects. Similarly, many Postdoctoral Researchers with children and other dependents have been heavily affected by closed schools and daycare facilities, and work from home has been severely affected.

Currently, the major third-party funding agencies are all in the process of developing a plan to support Postdoctoral Researchers through this pandemic. On May 7, the German Bundestag passed a law that extended the maximum duration of scientific qualification periods as defined by the WissZeitVG by six months. Within the Leibniz PostDoc Network, we have been brainstorming how to best stand in solidarity with Postdoctoral Researchers during this time. Specifically, we are writing to request that the Leibniz Association helps with the application for hardship funds by providing a support letter for affected Postdoctoral Researchers.

We would be especially eager to continue discussions on how to best support Postdoctoral Researchers within the Leibniz Institutes and aid in developing rough guidelines. In particular, we would like to work together with the Leibniz Association Head Office to advocate so that no individual Postdoctoral Researcher is disadvantaged in their career paths by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Gitta Heinz & Lydia Repke

Spokeswomen of the Leibniz PostDoc Network

In response to this letter, the spokeswomen of the Leibniz PostDoc Network, Dr. Gitta Heinz and Dr. Lydia Repke, have been kindly invited to a video conference with Prof. Kleiner and Dr. Böhm to discuss the concerns of early career researchers in more detail. We really appreciate the attention the topic receives by the Leibniz Association, and we will report on the outcome of this meeting and the current developments in this blog and via our mailing list

If you would like to share your experiences in how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your postdoctoral research, please do not hesitate to send us your perspective at:

Your Leibniz PostDoc Network Steering Group

Starting a new decade with a kick-off!

At the end of last month, after two days of very productive sessions where the main topics were outreach and visibility, we left the Leibniz headquarters in Berlin with a feeling of content as we were able to start an active campaign to get you, the Leibniz PostDoc community, more engaged in this network. Our aim is to be a way for you to feel included in a community of scientist which share similar life and work situations and to learn and support each other. 

Our goals were met by:

  • Developing and distributing an email-based service which each network member can be included in by just subscribing to the email list. At the moment we have over 350 subscribers and we are certain that this number will increase.
  • To produce a communique to all institutes informing you about our outreach attempts. 
  • Creating a webpage, which as you can see is alive and kicking! Here we invite you all to follow the networks activities. 
  • Review the draft of the upcoming PostDoc survey. This over 2-year project is our attempt to understand your needs as PostDoc researchers at Leibniz. It’s due to become public this Spring and we are looking forward to your collaboration and later presenting you the results.

Additionally, and mainly aiming at our international members, our career development group put efforts to reach out with important information about what to consider when getting a PostDoc position here in Germany. Their final work will be available on this webpage soon. 

We feel confident that starting from this year we can build a diverse network where your participation and opinions are the key to its success. 

Let’s keep in touch!

Your Leibniz PostDoc Network team!