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What you should know about postdoctoral scholarships/stipends
Since 2010, the Berlin School of Mind and Brain has granted tie-over funding in the form of shorter-term stipends as well as one-to-three-year postdoctoral scholarships. The aim was to provide interested postdocs with an opportunity to come to Berlin and establish themselves as independent researchers in one of the most important and thriving mind/brain research communities in Europe. Many have used this opportunity to publish extensively, write grant applications, make themselves known and secure salaried employment, or establish strong cooperations for their future research elsewhere.
This is what you should know about scholarships, and about the difference between scholarships/stipends (these two terms are used synonymously in Germany) and salaried (university) positions:
By law and owing to the rules of third-party funding agencies, the entitlements, terms and conditions regarding prolonged illness, pregnancy, Mutterschutz (maternity protection), Kindergeld (child support), and Elternzeit (parental leave) differ significantly for people who are on ...
- salaried (university) positions that include both employers' and employees' statutory monthly contributions to the national income tax, social security, unemployment insurance, pension schemes, and health insurance,
- taxfree third-party-funded research scholarships that demand from scholarship holders neither further financial contributions (apart from obligatory [reduced] health insurance payments) nor statutory duties to their university/research institution or the state.
Scholarship holders are not employees, and the only real obligation they have is to devote their time fully to their research project. However, this freedom also means that they are ...
- not entitled to four to six weeks of statutory paid holidays (as most employees in Germany are), and holiday breaks thus need to be negotiated with heads of labs and/or supervisors and/or the school,
- not entitled to continue to receive their research-related scholarship during long periods of sickness – past six weeks, the school and the DFG or other resp. funding agencies need to be informed,
- not entitled to take parental leave (Elternzeit) while continuing to receive their monthly research-related scholarships. When they pause their scholarship to apply for state-funded parental leave payments, they will only receive the minimum of 300 Euro per child (Elterngeld),
- (usually) not entitled to paid maternal protection leaves (Mutterschutz) of 6 weeks before birth and 8 weeks after birth, though at M&B we had always made funding available for these additional 3.5 months, and some funding agencies now have begun to grant this period as a paid break,
- not entitled to state-financed child support (Kindergeld) payments, though at M&B our scholarship payments to parents had always included child subsidies (Kinderzuschlag) of 400 Euro for the first child and 100 Euro for each further child. Owing to a change in funding, from 2017, M&B will not be able to guarantee these child subsidy payments.
The reason for this non-entitlement is that paid holidays and the right to government-funded sickness payments, parental leave, more comprehensive payments during parental leave, and child support are state-subsidized benefits that are linked to the employment and tax payments of the person in question. These benefits, therefore, do not apply to people who neither pay taxes nor make any other contribution into the public purse.
So why scholarships?
So why are scholarships/stipends used to fund postdoctoral researchers, and not exclusively salaried positions? There are many reason for this: Scholarships are much more flexible regarding duration and distribution (e.g., work permits are not required), they usually grant maximum freedom and time for research (no teaching, little supervision of bachelor or master students, little administrative obligations to the institution, which with salaried positions take up to 50% of postdoctoral researchers' time), and they cost a third of a salaried full-time postdoctoral position. For graduate schools and research group leaders this means that with the sum required to provide the salary for one full-time postdoctoral candidate for three or four years they can support three to four postdoctoral researchers. To be able to give three or four people the chance for research stays in Berlin instead of one is a strong argument. However, the questions whether giving more people a chance is a good enough reason for scholarships, and whether more people in short-term postdoctoral positions is a good or a bad thing, are part of an ongoing public debate about research conditions for junior researchers at German and other universities. You, senior researchers, your group leaders, our graduate school, the universities, the research-funding agencies, politicians, the taxpayer, and future employers are all part of the quest for the best way forward for postdoctoral research in Germany and elsewhere.
At M&B we feel that although many people have profited from this opportunity to start or complete research, receive funding in order to be able to apply for their own longer-term third-party funding, or come to Berlin for prolonged research visits, scholarships are not a good idea for postdoctoral researchers and their life plans. We will, therefore, stop granting postdoctoral scholarships once the scholarships currently awarded by our school have come to an end.
Advice and support
Please see: Children and family
Information about Research in Germany
How to obtain a doctorate in Germany
Special information for postdoctoral researchers
Publications on the topic
The German Research Landscape; Career & Funding; Research in Germany - Neurosciences