Research consultants are able to gain a foothold in many different areas: they work at universities, non-university research institutions and science funding bodies, such as the German Research Foundation (DFG), but also in the political sphere, in ministries and offices of members of parliament for instance. "A position as a research consultant is not a sign of a failed career, but rather an important and attractive alternative to a career in academia," says Mathias Pätzold, Secretary General of the Scientific Commission of Lower Saxony (Wissenschaftliche Kommission Niedersachsen - WKN). "It allows you to remain in touch with this world while at the same time working in a professional field that is constantly growing" Pätzold continues.
The WKN is an independent panel of experts that advises Lower Saxony and other northern German state governments on science and research policy matters. Each research consultant working there has a single specialist focus. They prepare expert reports, organise working groups that perform potential analyses for example, and develop guidelines. If specific research units or projects are up for review, for instance, the research consultants at the WKN will prepare and organise the content for the evaluation procedure. According to Pätzold, aspiring consultants should bear one thing in mind in particular: "Research consultants accompany the academics, and support and encourage them but are barely involved in the academic work themselves."
Versatile roles for research consultants
For Stefanie Rohrer, this was clear from the start. She is the research consultant in the President's Office at the Technische Universität München (TUM). "The proximity to science allows me to keep up to date, but I do not miss the work in the lab," says the holder of a doctorate in biology. Her current lead project is a new offer at the TUM: massive open online courses (MOOCs). Access to these free Internet-based courses is unrestricted and any number of participants is able to participate at any time from any location.
Stefanie Rohrer is the contact person for lecturers participating in the MOOCs@TUM initiative and responsible for coordinating the cooperation with American platform providers. The 32-year-old is also the contact person for projects at the TU9 universities. Nine technical universities in Germany have joined forces within this association. Rohrer manages the cooperation on the TUM's behalf, and prepares documents for the general meetings for the university president. She also supports him in his daily work.
Dirk Sawitzky also appreciates the diversity his job offers. He is the research consultant for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary group. The historian is responsible for foreign and security policy. "There's always a crisis somewhere in the world," Sawitzky says. His task: to help the parliamentary group determine their position. He follows the latest developments in the respective country and makes suggestion as to which position the parliamentary group could communicate to the public. His sources are national and international news reports as well as contact with employees at the according institutions, such as the Federal Foreign Office and the United Nations. "We deal with a variety of issues and a growing number of countries," the 47-year-old explains. While there is never a dull moment, he sometimes wishes there were fewer trouble spots: "The emotional burden of continuously having to deal with crises such as Syria is extremely high," Sawitzky concedes. "I occasionally yearn for issues that aren't always a matter of life or death."