Science in Germany

Constanze Bonifer bonifer at
Mon Nov 18 09:20:06 EST 1996

After having been lurking for a long time it is time to come out of the closet.
The discussions in these newsgroup have been extremely fascinating, it is also 
very intersting to see, that a lot of women have similar problems.
I have studied Biology in Cologne, Germany, with an emphasis on Molecular
Biology and Genetics.  The German system is very different from that in the
English speaking countries, since education takes much longer.
After having done my Diploma thesis on Replication in E. Coli, I did my
PhD on a biochemical theme. I did also my first postdoc (1.5 years in Sweden) 
on that subject (progesterone receptor purification). When I did my PhD, 
I was already 30 years old. After my first postdoc, I was 33. I did a second 
postdoc in England, after that I was 35.
I have been married for many years, but all the moving around has proven 
to be pretty disastrous, so I am divorced now.
In the last years I have been an Assistant Professor at University of Freiburg,
with my own little group within a larger department. In order to be able to 
apply for a permanent position in this country, one has to go through something called "Habilitation", which basically means, that you have to produce a certain amount of publications, you have to do a certain amount of teaching, the 
amount being dependent on the position of your "sponsor" in the faculty. If 
you have a strong sponsor, you need less, if you have a week one..well.
Only VERY few women in Germany reach this status.
The sponsor miraculously also often ends up on someones publications.

However, being "habilitated" is no guarantee for a position. I experience this 
now. My contract runs out now, no position anywhere (only 5% of all professors 
in Germany are women), and to be able to get a position you have to be in the 
network. Or your sponsor has to be very powerful.
Outside of academia there are no jobs for somebody like me. Industry has a 
strict age limit (35 years, I am 41). Unlike in England or the US it is not 
possible to write grants for your position (rolling contracts), one HAS to 
get an official position with a salary.
There are a few 5 years positions.but here we are again: age limit 35 years.

People get funding and  salaries until they are about 40 and then get dumped.
I have been able to attract an immense amount of funding, however,in this 
country you can not apply for your own salary. Which created the absurd 
situation that I can pay two postdocs but not myself. 
When I have to leave this money will have to be given back (or be used by 
all these Professors from the Institute who have not been able to attrack 
funding..but over my dead body only!)

So what do I do? I have quite a reputation in the field I am working in now 
(chromatin structure and expression, transgenesis, locus activation problems), 
this does not seem to help. So at present I am trying to find a position abroad again.
It is pretty awful. I have invested so much in my profession and the only thing I hear from my present head of department: well, not good enough.
I do share this fate with quite a significant number of scientists (male and 
female). It would be nice, if these people would come out of the closet, too.

Oh, and on top of everything else, the University position I had does not 
entitle me to get unemployment benefits (no insurance), which means in cse I get no position until next summer I have to live on social welfare.
And, in order to keep my "Private Dozent" Title I have to continue to teach 
two hours a week at the University without being paid.

Amazing, eh?



Constanze Bonifer
Institut fuer BiologieIII
Universitaet Freiburg
Tel.: 0761 - 2032761
Fax: 0761 - 2032745

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