From ScienceNow / InSCIght, 29 June 1999

While assistant professors in the United States are expected to set up their own research groups immediately, young German academics don't win this kind of autonomy for years. Instead, they spend up to a decade--a period called "habilitation"--in a senior researcher's group before becoming a professor and striking out on their own. "Independence tends to be rather hindered or delayed by the current system of qualification at German universities," DFG president Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker said in announcing the program.

The new program will fund freshly minted Ph.D.s for 2 years of research abroad, followed by 3 years of independent research with a small group as well as teaching at a German university. "We hope that the universities will admit these teams and appoint their heads early," says Winnacker. After a 5-year start-up phase, the program plans to fund 500 ongoing fellowships each year.

The program is named after Emmy Noether, considered to be Germany's most important modern female mathematician, who in 1918 was the first woman awarded the title of professor at the University of Goettingen. Fourteen of the fellows are women. "This is much more than the portion of independently working female researchers at universities on the whole," notes Winnacker. Silke Petzold, a 29-year-old who finished her doctorate in elementary physics, believes that the grant will help her pursue an academic career while raising a family. "The program makes this easier, because you can decide where to work, and who is the most interesting professor, group, and project to work with."

The program should serve as a call to the universities to change the rigid academic career path in Germany, says Winnacker. And the universities, at least at the highest level, have voiced support for the notion. "The program shows that we are directing our attention to promote excellent young scientists," says Klaus Landfried, president of the university rectors' conference.