„Science is not just about research“
Today, excellent research is embedded in professional management structures. Projects have to be coordinated, funds raised, and complex issues have to be transferred and communicated in a way that is understandable to the general public. Accordingly, the demand for qualified managers with a background in academia is therefore increasing. Dr. Anne Schreiter reveals in the Brain City interview what alternative career opportunities the field offers and why the transition to management is still associated with the bitter taste of failure for many young scientists.
Dr. Schreiter, who holds a doctorate in social sciences, is managing director of the German Scholars Organization (GSO) and board member of the Network Science Management.
Ms. Schreiter, we all have an idea of what science involves. But what are science managers actually?
Science management includes all management, project management, and communication tasks that contribute to making science and research work well. Research projects have to be coordinated, funds raised, and personnel managed. The structures that support research are quite broad, ranging nowadays from the management of a university department to a research funding department and strategic communication management at universities. There are differences in how the profession is classified. For example, professors are also science managers. But that is not their primary job description.
As a career option, this field is still quite young. Not too many young scientists have, to date, been drawn to this field. Why is that?
In science, the narrative that doing research and getting a professorship are the crown and sceptre of scientists still exists. But that's a very outdated image. Especially when you consider that, according to a report by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, only 19% of all people holding a doctorate under the age of 45 work at a university. And only barely one per cent of them hold a professorship. This reveals just how unlikely this path actually is.
Would you rather discourage young scientists from pursuing a career in academia?
Definitely not! The scientific environment has very positive aspects. In order to be successful, however, you need to be passionate about research and your own topic. This was not the case with me, for example. A career advisor asked me a crucial question during my post-doc at UC Berkeley: "How much are you willing to suffer for science?" I realized then that I preferred organizing workshops for doctoral students rather than working alone. Back in Germany, I applied for jobs in science-related fields and finally found what I was looking for. In short, if you really want to take the path to an academic career, then you should take it. But for many it's a short-term solution that can end in a dead end. It would be important for scientists to be better informed about alternative career options.
But most universities and colleges do have good career advice centres.
That's true. However, the scope of what they offer varies from university to university. In addition, it is extremely difficult for many young scientists to give up their previous career goals. If you want to pursue a different career path other than academia, colleagues and professors often react with a lack of understanding. They give you the feeling that you have not made it. In recent years, however, a lot has happened in this regard.
Is this feeling of “downgrading” tied to certain disciplines?
I think it's less about certain disciplines than about how long you've been in academia. After the master's degree, it isn't any problem for most young scientists to reorient themselves. Even during their doctorates, many can still imagine, for example, working for a publishing house as a humanities scholar or going into industry as a chemist. The feeling of "downgrading" is more likely to affect scientists who have already completed the postdoc, had wanted to become junior research group leaders, or were aiming to become professors. Once you have defined such goals for yourself, it is much more difficult to let go of a career path in academia.
What skills should future science managers have?
Trained scientists already bring a lot with them; after all, they had to manage their own projects. They also know how the system ticks and how research works. It is important that they identify with the task and make a conscious and informed decision for science management. You should also be aware that you are in a supporting role, but one which is still an important part of research. As in any profession, the position you seek in science management should correspond to your own strengths and abilities.
What training opportunities are there in the field of science management?
At the Technische Universität Berlin, there is a part-time master's programme in science management for people who are already working. It focuses on marketing and communication. Part-time programs like the course in science management at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer or the MBA program in “University and Science Management” at Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences have other focuses. Those programs can be a useful addition to previous training, but many science managers acquire the required additional skills on the job.
A change in culture has also begun to take place in science. Globalisation and digitisation are also shaping the structures of the scientific landscape. Has this also increased the need for science management?
The science system cannot function isolated from such major forces as digitisation and globalisation. You therefore need good people who can accompany and shape these processes and major social paradigm shifts. Cooperations must be established and managed, innovative ways of working and communicating must be found. The Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments is a good example for this. It has brought a dynamic to the sector. Basically, it can be said, the job description “science manager” is becoming increasingly professional. There are now attractive positions that are also linked to a higher status. Management is increasingly seen as an integral part of science. And there are more and more people who want to do exactly that.
Is Brain City Berlin a good location for science managers?
Berlin is very well developed as a science location, with its renowned universities, the Berlin University Alliance, and various non-university research institutions. In addition, there are many research-related companies and science-promoting organisations. The Berlin University Alliance has also created a whole range of new jobs and opportunities for science managers in Berlin working in areas such as science transfer, strategy, and science communication. Berlin also offers the advantage that people from all over the world want to live and work here. The city is internationally recognised as a science location.
Do you have a tip for young scientists who want to switch to science management?
Basically, it's important to build networks at an early stage and speak to people who are already working in the field. This is the only way to get a more detailed insight into the possibilities and different facets of this area. In addition, you should analyse your own strengths and skills and ask yourself if this is really what suits you. It is also helpful to make your own skills visible to the outside world. This worked so well for me. I started a blog, created a LinkedIn profile, and moderated scientific events. I was then actually asked whether I would like to apply for my current position at the German Scholars Organization. It worked. We advise scientists and help them network and offer funding programmes together with partners. Science management is not limited to universities and research institutions.
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