By offering them the opportunity to head their own research group, the Helmholtz Association has been able to attract eight talented young scientists from abroad and to persuade four German researchers who had been working at such distinguished institutions as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Harvard University to return to their home country.
“By giving young scientists the chance to develop and head their own research group, the Helmholtz Association offers them excellent working conditions and a long-term perspective for a career in research. That is particularly important for scientists between the ages of 30 and 40, a phase of life when career courses are generally set. The Young Investigators Groups help us attract some of the brightest minds from all over the world and equip them to tackle the research challenges of the future,” says Prof. Jürgen Mlynek, President of the Helmholtz Association.
A total of 226 scientists from Germany and abroad applied to Helmholtz Centres to head a Young Investigators Group, about one-third of them women. In the final round of the three-stage selection process, ten men and ten women were able to convince the interdisciplinary review panel of international experts of the merits of their research proposal and their aptitude to head a research group – the first time that exactly 50 percent of successful applicants were women. “The large number of first-rate applications shows that the Young Investigators Groups have high international appeal. They allow us to attract researchers and scientists that are among the best in the world,” says Prof. Mlynek.
The scientists heading Young Investigators Groups are able to choose their own team and conduct research independently while benefitting from the excellent facilities and working conditions offered by Helmholtz Centres. Each group is assessed after three or four years, and if it receives a positive evaluation, the head of the group is given an offer of permanent employment (Tenure Track). The programme promotes increased networking between Helmholtz Centres und partner universities. In addition to conducting research at a Helmholtz Centre, the young scientists hold lectures or seminars at the partner university and are thus able to acquire teaching experience and qualify themselves for a university career. Some are later appointed junior professors by the Helmholtz Association jointly with the respective universities.
The Helmholtz Association has meanwhile launched 151 Young Investigators Groups in nine selection rounds so far. Half of the funding is provided by Helmholtz Centres and the other is covered by the Initiative and Networking Fund. The Initiative and Networking Fund was established by the Helmholtz Association to allow it to provide funding quickly and flexibly for projects and measures that are in line with its strategic goals. These include identifying and addressing new research topics, increasing networking in the scientific community and programmes for talent management. In recent years part of the additional funding granted within the Pact for Research and Innovation has been used to increase the budget for the Initiative and Networking Fund to €68.8 million in 2011. Heads of Young Investigators Groups generally have adequate funds at their disposal to pay the salaries of a team of three to four in addition to their own and to cover the costs of the required laboratory equipment. (ARö)
The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With 31,000 employees in 17 research centres and an annual budget of approximately €3.3 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).
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