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Editor's note: Interested in working in Germany but not sure where to look for information? The Researchers' Mobility Portal and National Mobility Centres have been recently set up by the European Union to assist researchers who would like to move to a member state. Next Wave's Anne Forde, who worked as a postdoc for many years in Germany, takes a look at the German version of the portal and offers a user's guide.

Despite its current frail economy, Germany is still a major player on the European research map and attracts a substantial number of foreign researchers from across the globe. Undoubtedly, most German universities and research centres have experience with international researchers and offer a reasonable level of information for their guest scientists.

However, the thought of dealing with a new language and a country with an infamous bureaucracy can be more than off-putting. And although English is the language of science in the majority of German labs, at some stage you may be faced with administrative paperwork, from an employment contract to a TV licence form, that exists only in German. By European standards, the country itself is large, and laws can vary from one federal state to another. Thus, a comprehensive information source that was specifically tailored to the needs of foreign researchers in Germany was much desired and needed.

A Push to Help Researcher Mobility

Of course, the issue of mobility is in no way specific to Germany and is one that has been on the European Commission's (EC's) agenda for several years. A milestone was reached with the publication in 2001 of the EC Communication " Towards a European Research Area (ERA)," which spelled out the need for a legal backbone to improve the coherence of European science policy. A central aspect was making research opportunities in Europe more attractive for the researchers themselves.

The following year, the commission embarked on tackling obstacles to mobility and sowed the seeds for mobility centres in Europe ( ERAMORE) that would offer expert national information to facilitate researchers' needs in entering, working in, and leaving the country. This year, the Researcher's Mobility Portal Germany was launched along with 11 others from various European countries as a practical tool to support international research career opportunities.

The German Mobility Portal and Centre

The Researcher's Mobility Portal Germany comes online just 1 year after the pan-European version. The Researcher's Mobility Portal Germany is modelled on its parent portal but, in addition to the online information (and like all the ERAMORE centres), a national centre offering personal assistance on specific queries (answers will usually be returned by email) was also established. In Germany, both are fittingly housed in the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, an organisation that has a specific international remit: funding both German researchers working abroad and researchers of all nationalities working in Germany. The portal naturally has as an English- and a German-language version, and any link that is available only in German is tagged with the symbol "[de]".

How Can It Help Me?

Having started a postdoc myself in Germany in early 1998, I have jumped over the organisational hurdles that apply to moving to another country and now have first-hand knowledge of what is important to know as a foreign researcher. The portal has several angles. First, links to overview information relevant to researchers is presented on the left side of the screen--for example, "The German Research Landscape," "Women in Science", and "Job Search." Additionally, categories labelled "Incoming" and "Outgoing" are indicated as arrows on the map of Germany. To get an impression of how the portal can help you, let's consider different scenarios in which you will need specific information.

Looking for a Job

If you already know of a research lab that you would be interested in joining but need to obtain your own funding, check out "fellowships and funding resources" under the "Incoming" sections. The very broad academic field categories of "humanities," "natural sciences," and "engineering sciences" are given. Then, you can narrow your search by specifying your "country of origin" and "career stage." This search yields general funding options rather than specific grants, but it provides a starting point. The mobility centre itself offer a help desk function at the end of the page, "Who can advise me", for researchers who haven't found relevant funding options. Thus on request, the centre will do a personalised search, in addition to providing other relevant information for individual cases.

The funding section also contains a link to the scholarship and fellowship database of the German Academic Exchange Service. A link to information on European Union (EU) funding resources is also present.

On the left-hand side of the home page is an entire category called " Job Search," listing the most likely Web sites and publications in which job vacancies are likely to be posted.

Help With Administration

You have a job offer and are ready to move. Now, you need to tackle the administration. The "Incoming" section also offers a wealth of practical information, from the "visa and entry" requirements to "taxation," "social security," and "schools," among others. Each subsection gives a clear overview on what to watch out for and provides links to national organisations and companies that offer further advice.

The final subsection here, entitled "Other Tips," gives information on a host of options, from emergency numbers to the postal service. A very useful checklist of what you will need to have prior to your arrival is also listed. The entire "Incoming" section is a MUST read for anyone who is considering taking a position in Germany.

Getting More Familiar

If you are already working in Germany but would like to learn more about the research scene, check out "The German Research Landscape" and "Women in Science" listed on the left. Under the first heading, look for "research facilities, disciplines, and research in Germany," which is a portal in itself run by the German Ministry for Education and Research. It gives an overview of the major universities and research institutes. You can also search for a discipline or a technique, so this would also be useful at the job-hunting stage.

If you would like to get a feel for industrial options, check out the " Research highlights" section to see existing science and technology regional networks and the details of various companies operating in these networks.

Star ratings

Design

5 stars

Very clean and attractive. Almost identical to the pan-European version, which gives continuity.

Ease of Navigation

4 stars

Pretty good and self-explanatory, but some categories are slightly overlapping and confusing.

Quality of Information

4 stars

Up-to-date and accurate. In some places, e.g., funding, searches give very general leads.

Farewells

If you are leaving or have left your home country, definitely take a look at the "Outgoing" section. It contains extremely valuable information about fellowships and funding opportunities, to help you plan your next position within or outside Europe. Other very useful information can be found in "Visa and Exit Formalities." Under "Social security," an explanation of how your pension will be handled is given. In my experience, this type of information is rather difficult to gather, so having a resource that puts it all together is invaluable.

Like any portal, this site is quite dependent on the quality of the off-site resources to which it directs you. Some links are very general and will require some surfing before finding the answer to your question. However, the Researcher's Mobility Portal Germany is definitely worth bookmarking as a solid starting point to help organise a smooth transition, stay, and research experience in Germany.

Future Directions for the Mobility Centre

Feedback from researchers and further intense collaboration with national organisations will help fine-tune the information available to researchers in the future. According to Barbara Sheldon, who heads the German Mobility Centre, this should result in a "national mobility network." She explains, "We want to get the people who counsel researchers at universities and institutions in Germany on board, in order to be able to put researchers in contact with the local level." The long-term vision is that the German Mobility Centre will eventually serve "as a central platform."

"Ideally, one day we would have a very convenient structure for mobile researchers throughout Europe: Researchers could travel from the European Researchers' Mobility Portal to the national portals to the local level and at all levels meet with people who are in the project and are committed to helping them," says Sheldon.

If you have any direct enquiries or suggestions for the portal, please e-mail the mobility centre directly.