Signup date: 31 Jul 2013 at 12:06pm
Last login: 11 May 2022 at 12:44pm
Post count: 38
While I haven't worked in the US per se, I was postdoc for close to 3 years in Canada, mostly under the supervision of American professors. In a word, my experience there was underwhelming, and I would definitely not repeat the decision. The culture shock for myself, going from being a postdoc in central Europe to the Canadian-American system, could hardly have been larger. Back home I was on the verge of becoming a PI, having already supervised several Master's students of my own and being responsible for an entire lab. Once I stepped off the plane there and talked to my American professor for the first time, it became clear that I had regressed to being a research assistant. I was lumped in with the "grad students", who were not treated much different from the undergrads. Instead of an office I was given a seat in the shared undergrad/grad student lab. I had no say whatsoever in the topics I was going to work on, despite the fact that I was 100% self-funded through a funding agency in my home country. So I spent two years working on non-sensical, failing topics unrelated to by PhD or research interests, which were unilaterally assigned to me. In short, in the North American system you are not taken seriously until you have "a real job", i.e., a professorship of some sort. "Postdoc" over there is essentially synonymous with "loser", and one should not stay in this phase for more than a few months, maybe 1 year max. I could talk about this at great lengths, so just a few highlight experiences: 1) At one point, I - as a self-funded visiting postdoctoral researcher - was ASSIGNED to work in a project HEADED by one of the local UNDERGRADS. That guy spent his whole day playing World-of-Warcraft, while I was doing to the coding for him. 2) I was expected - among other things - to catsit and help paint the house for my "supervisor". Etc. etc.
What are your career goals? Maybe you should define those first. "Love doing research" is not a career goal.
If you want to work in industry, another postdoc would certainly be most unhelpful. Frankly, it is probably already hard to find an employer in industry now after almost 10 years in academia.
If you want to become a professor, frankly, you are also sort of late after 9 years of doctoral/postdoctoral studies. TBH it is kind of late for you to be worrying about your lack of publications now. Your peers with whom you will compete for professorships now probably have their first research group leaderships, churn out papers monthly, accumulate acquired funding, are forging networks etc.
Doing another postdoc "just because" is a terrible, terrible idea. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.
If you want to become a professor, you should define that goal and pour all your energy into it - publish like crazy, apply for funding, attend conferences, forge relationships. Declare the goal expressly to your colleagues, family and friends. Only then will you be taken seriously.
Drifting into another postdoc position to keep working as a glorified research assistent is NOT the way to go.
Virtually impossible IMHO. I have never heard of anybody in Germany being admitted into a PhD without a Master's or equivalent. It's also generally not up to the professor or some committee, but enshrined in state level regulations (Kultusministerium).
I had a DFG postdoc fellowship. (This was, however, about 10 years ago.) Back then the expectation was that one had approx. a 50% chance of obtaining funding for an individual postdoc fellowship. As usual in academia, much of your success will be determined by your literary prowess. If you have a good story to tell in the application and your field is deemed somewhat worthy, you have a good chance of getting funded. At the end of the fellowship, you will be expected to write a final report summarizing your results. Once again, this is primarily a literary exercise - virtually any outome of a research effort can be presented as a useful result, unless all you did was burn down the lab. Of course, the final report will look a lot better if you can cite a few additional publications which were produced during your postdoc. At the end, you get a one-line letter telling you whether your project results were deemed "worthy of funding". Of course, your application and final report will be assessed by external reviewers, i.e., important professors in your field (and/or their grad students).
Evidently you are trying to become a professor (why else would one pursue a postdoc). In this context, there is a lot more that could be said about your approach here for obtaining funding. I can elaborate if you are interested.
Your post is somewhat confusing. I do not understand what you mean by a "fixed amount contract" instead of an "employment contract". Are the 1500 EUR before or after taxes and social insurance? Because if they pay you 1500 EUR net instead of 2800 EUR gross as a regular employment contract, this pretty much amounts to same thing in many European countries. Either way, the pay isn't that bad for pursuing a PhD. Also, you won a prestigious fellowship, which is a great start for an academic career. Maybe you shouldn't focus on the money so much.
Unfortunately, having worked in academia for 10 years at 4 different universities on 2 continents, I have to say that incompetent supervisors are a very, very common phenomenon. Frankly, it is the rule rather than the exception. It is important to understand that academic careers everywhere are built on 1.) networking,networking,networking, 2.) politics, 3.) acquiring funding, 4.) forcing one's way onto authors' lists by all means, 5.) overselling oneself, and at a very distant 6.) actual research and teaching.
In short, for every competent academic out there you will find at least one other who got to where they are based on hot air and taking credit for the work of others. I cannot count the number of times I witnessed even tenured professors who had to be constantly corrected by their own students in undergraduate lectures on the most basic subject-matter. For some "senior" scientists I worked with I genuinely wondered how they even managed to get a high school degree in the first place, including one tenured professor who constantly struggled to correctly spell simple words in their own native language.
Unfortunately, the correlation between having genuine original ideas and sound research methodology on the one hand and succeeding professionally in academia on the other hand is close to zero, and at many universities seemingly negative.
The problem is: If you change supervisors, how will you know your next one is not even worse? If they fooled their hiring committee and colleagues, will they not fool you? I switched research groups several times hunting the big names with great publication lists and reputations. However, when I arrived, I understood within weeks that there, too, it was all show and no substance at all. Frankly, it got worse the "higher up" I aimed. Ending with the guy who couldn't spell and didn't have the faintest idea about their alleged area of expertise, but who was so well-connected and powerful that he willfully destroyed my career in the end.
Another remark that might be helpful for you: At least in the classical structure of German academia, a Masters degree and a Ph.D. are completely different. For a Masters (former "Diplom"), you essentially go to school and take courses and seminars, complemented by a relatively compact thesis period at the very end. As Ph.D. "student", you essentially work 100% and open-ended as independent researcher and teaching assistant, without receiving structured instruction or (sadly often) much meaningful supervision yourself. (Admittedly, this strict duality has been softened a little in recent years by the introduction of Anglo-American-style "graduate schools", but these are still a very small minority AFAIK.) As a matter of fact, Ph.D. "students" are not referred to as "Studenten" at all in German, but rather as "Doktoranden" and are rather considered to be university employees (and technically they usually are), as opposed to the "Studenten" up to Masters level.
I am a little surprised you applied for a Ph.D., as you cannot generally pursue a Ph.D. in Germany without obtaining a Masters-level university degree first.
Technical University of Munich is one of the best universities in the STEM fields in Germany and has officially been designated a "University of Excellence". However, take into consideration that Munich has the highest cost of living of any city in Germany, and finding affordable accommodation can be almost impossible, in particular for students.
Other good universities in the south are Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, as well as Tübingen and Heidelberg. RWTH Aachen and TU Clausthal also have good reputations in STEM. Some of the universities in the east (Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar) are also really good and generally offer much lower costs of living.
As a general remark: At least within Germany, there really is no big difference in "reputation" between universities. Degrees from all public "Universitäten" are considered more or less equivalent. Only the Universities of Applied Science ("Fachhochschule", "Hochschule", "Technische Hochschule") are generally considered second class. The perception may be a little different abroad, of course. As a general rule of thumb, larger universities in larger cities and older "historic" universities are considered better. However, in my experience the variation between professors has a much greater impact on the learning experience than the "reputation" of the university as a whole.
If you want to specialize into one particular research topic, however, certain research groups at certain universities may be much more famous and helpful for your career than others. Obviously, you would have to pick a topic first...
A good starting point for international students who want to pursue a degree in Germany is the website of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which also offers advice on scholarships, visa and the like:
Masters DegreesSearch For Masters Degrees
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