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Good old Germany: researchers enticed back home

By Bärbel Broer

One just unpacked his bags a few weeks ago; the other will be packing hers very shortly: Martin Grill, PhD and Claudia Janssen, PhD. The two academics have decided to return to Germany. Both have spent several years living abroad; they have done research, taught and completed their doctorate there. Both have been enticed back - and that despite good positions and future prospects. Swabian Martin Grill to a company in Stuttgart; Friesian Claudia Janssen as a junior professor in Berlin.

Good old Germany: researchers enticed back home© 3DStock - iStockphoto.comWhat motivates two academics to return to Germany after careers of several years abroad?
When he has to explain in German, he struggles to find the right words. "I still think in English," Martin Grill apologises. No wonder: he has spent the past ten years living abroad - for seven years in English Lancaster, then a further three in American Silicon Valley. He moved abroad to the University of Lancaster immediately after graduating from Esslingen University of Applied Sciences with an engineering degree in automation technology and mechatronics. The aim: to obtain a doctorate. "It was a big change for me. At the university of applied sciences in Germany, there was barely any research or even any publications," Martin Grill recalls. But he got into it and specialised in software, radiotelescopy, radio signals from the cosmos. A great deal was new, but so fascinating that it kept him there for seven years. Him and his German wife, who had no trouble finding work as an accountant. His son was born in 2007, and he completed his PhD in the Department of Communications Systems in the same year. Things could have actually continued like this "if the British state had not cut research funding so dramatically", says Martin Grill.

Everything laid-back - but professional

His job search didn't take long. An American offer seemed as if tailored to him. SRI International, a research enterprise developed at Stanford University, obviously thought so too. The small family travelled to Silicon Valley for one week, located half an hour drive from San Francisco. Two days of interviews followed. "But entirely different to those in Germany," says Martin Grill. The discussions were more relaxed, friendlier, not as stiff, and there was no need to wear a suit. Everything laid-back - but highly professional. Martin Grill visited both of the departments he was to work with, spoke with his future colleagues, and went to dinner with the partners in the evening. The Swabian started as a postdoctoral student in 2008, becoming a research engineer after one year. It was no major salary increase, but SRI International was a good employer and the job was a dream come true. "Exactly what I could do and also enjoyed," Martin Grill reminisces, and tells of the challenging research assignments, adventurous trips to Alaska, and complex systems linking solar and wind power, software and satellites. Private life proved to be more difficult though: his wife was unable to obtain a work visa, and the time frame to make contact with the family in Germany was extremely limited. "There's a nine-hour time difference between Germany and the west coast. When we were able to call, Granny was already in bed - or vice versa." Moreover, life in Silicon Valley wasn't always rosy. There are in fact two social classes: "Rich people - often with an extremely expensive lifestyle, und poor people, who work as modern slaves - coming in the morning to clean or do the gardening or manual labour, and disappearing again in the evening," Martin Grill tells.

"Happy wife - happy life"

When their daughter was born, the little family no longer felt at home in its 1,900-dollars-a-month two-bedroom apartment in the seemingly materialistic surroundings. The job was great, but not everything. In mid-2011 they decided they wanted to go home. "But I knew little about the German job market," remembers Martin Grill. He got help from the German Scholars Organization (GSO). Project Manager Daniel Wagner from Berlin coached him in the job search, applications, interviews. Martin Grill has now been back since March 2012. He works for an automotive enterprise as an Embedded Software Architect, writing software for vehicle control devices. The 36-year-old has not entirely settled in yet. He misses the versatility of his old job. For he still has to work in too many areas that aren't really his thing. The reason for this is simple: a lack of specialists, which means that everyone must do everything. Privately, he is now back where he grew up. His parents and in-laws live around the corner. His wife has long since settled in; Martin Grill just needs a little more time. But he is convinced: "Happy wife - happy life!"

Good old Germany: researchers enticed back home Academic Martin Grill has been back in Germany since March 2011

New position with the help of GSO

Claudia Janssen was also enticed back to Germany. The 31-year-old also found work with the GSO's help. On September 1, 2012, she will start a job as Junior Professor for Communication and Media at the Berlin University for Professional Studies. Frisian-born Claudia Janssen from the Pils city of Jever, has enjoyed a remarkable career: after completing her magister's degree in sociology, media studies and modern history at the TU Braunschweig, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. She remained in West Lafayette in the US state of Indiana for six years. After the scholarship, she became a PhD student with a focus on Public Affairs and organisation rhetoric. Claudia Janssen: "Among other aspects, I studied how companies communicate dark chapters in their history such as VW's forced labourers during the NS regime." In 2011, her PhD and a time of intensive learning came to an end: "The doctorate programme at the Brian Lamb School is one of the most renowned and challenging," tells Claudia Janssen. She had just completed her dissertation when she received an offer for the position of Assistant Professor at the Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. A small town with 15,000 inhabitants and 13,000 students. She taught two courses per semester there, had time for her research, and enjoyed the flat hierarchy and lively academic exchange. She regularly commuted the 2.5 hours to West Lafayette where her American boyfriend, a political scientist at Purdue University, lived.

Good old Germany: researchers enticed back home© Melissa Moxley Claudia Janssen is to return to Germany in the near future

Tenure track also in Germany

She will leave for Berlin with him in just a few weeks time. He has a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD); she, a contract as Junior Professor. Why return? "I am ready to take off," she says, sharing her thoughts, "You ask yourself: 'Where do I want to strike roots in the long term?' 'In which system do I want to grow old?' 'How can I be closer to my family?'" When GSO Project Manager Daniel Wagner suggested to apply for a position as junior professor in Germany, her desire to return grew. And then it all went extremely fast: in April, she travelled to Berlin for the hearing, one week later she received the appointment offer, the negotiations were conducted over the telephone, and the contract was signed in May. It is a tenure track professorship, limited for three years at the start. An interim evaluation will follow, and a final evaluation will then be conducted three years later - with the option of a permanent professorship. Claudia Janssen is looking forward to her new position, to Berlin, to her home country. And Germany is looking forward to two returnees.

academics.com :: June 2012