Paths to a Doctorate The Research Academy offers further education opportunities for young scientists at Aalen University of Applied Sciences.
As one of the strongest research universities in Germany, Aalen University has a large number of scientific staff – of which many are striving for a doctorate. They come from very different fields such as battery research, business psychology, bioanalytical chemistry or machine learning. In order to meet the needs of such diverse researchers, the Research Academy was founded in 2021 as part of the „WINPROFSHIP“ project in the federal-state program „FH-Personal“. Their duties: to establish a central contact point for the promotion of early career researchers. But how do you build a broad-based offering – and how does such a program look like?
At the beginning of 2022, Andrea Bläsing and Dr. Nils Laflör – who are the team behind the Research Academy – were faced with this question. „The development of the Research Academy naturally requires a certain degree of research,“ explains Laflör. He continues: „We first looked outwards and asked ourselves: What do the central graduate institutions at other universities do and what can we adapt for ourselves? In order to get to know their target group better in the next step, they engage in personal interaction with working groups, teaching staff and doctoral candidates and carried out a structured survey by conducting a questionnaire. „We have discovered that some doctoral students are already well networked through their research group. Other doctoral students are almost alone. Some are only rarely present at the university, because they are doing their doctorate in co-operation with a company, for example,“ adds Bläsing. Armed with the information they gathered, they developed a program designed to offer added value for all needs.
The doctoral degree is an important milestone in scientific training. In addition to research methods and specialised knowledge, interdisciplinary competences are crucial for your future career - be it in research, teaching or industry. To support the acquisition of these interdisciplinary skills, the Research Academy puts together a varied programme every semester - from 30-minute "lunch break sessions" with impulses on various topics to two-day workshops on topics such as scientific writing, good scientific practice, time and self-management or career development. Max-Jonathan Kleefoot, a doctoral student at the university's Laser Application Centre (LAZ), also makes use of the Research Academy's offerings and sums up: "My motivation for taking part was to improve my presentation style. Thanks to the workshop, I now realise more often how I come across to the audience and what adjustments I can make to improve my positive demeanour." The doctoral student also appreciates the networking with other doctoral students at the events, as he learns about methods and findings from other disciplines and combines these with his own research, which was not possible before.
Another key aspect that was repeatedly expressed in the interviews and the questionnaire was the desire for networking - both on a personal and professional level. On the one hand, informal dialogue provides social support, while on the other, interdisciplinary discussions allow participants to view their own research or current problems from a different perspective and thus gain new approaches to solutions. This was precisely the aim of the Research Academy's first retreat, which took place last October. With almost 40 doctoral students from all departments of the university, there was plenty of opportunity for both academic and informal dialogue. "The opportunity to engage in intensive dialogue with the other doctoral students and experience a wide range of perspectives and specialist knowledge not only deepened my own understanding of research, but also led to a more comprehensive view of scientific issues," says Tobias Humpf, who is currently working on his industrial doctorate.
The Research Academy also offers personal counselling. Whether questions about the doctoral process, support with academic writing and publishing or planning your future career: "We are pleased that we are in personal contact with academics and can respond to individual questions," says Bläsing. The individual counselling is also open to people who are interested in doing a doctorate at Aalen University, emphasises Laflör: "I often have conversations with external people who are interested in doing a doctorate at Aalen University. Of course, I am very pleased that some of them have actually started at Aalen University."
There has certainly been a learning curve over the past two years, but the highlights stand out. "Of course, the two-day retreat was a big highlight. We have also organised an excursion to Varta's headquarters in 2022 and an excursion to Voith is planned for February 2024," explains Laflör. A special occasion to celebrate is also the awarding of the right to award doctorates to the Baden-Württemberg Doctoral Association, through which research-strong professors at Aalen University have been able to independently lead young scientists to a doctorate for around one and a half years. This progress at state level also emphasises the need for the Research Academy once again. Bläsing emphasises: "We are very pleased with the development of the Research Academy. Our goal is to reach all researchers at Aalen University even better in the future and to support them with our program and, of course, with new formats."