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Research for Industry: Booming Opportunities for Young Scientists in Companies

By Ulrike Schupp

Innovative products boost a company's competitiveness, and it's not just large companies like Siemens and Audi who benefit. Medium-sized companies, too, are attracting young scientists with revolutionary research projects, attractive career prospects and good money.

Research for industry©kryczka - iStockphoto.com
According to the Lower Saxony Institute for Economic Research the economy is at risk of significant setbacks due to a lack of incentive for innovation from the export and automotive industries. As it is, the proportion of Germany's domestic product which is spent on research and development (R&D) is stagnating at around 2.5% which is a low figure by international standards. For this reason both large and medium-sized companies alike are increasingly looking for specialists with expertise in the sciences, particularly in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology as well as specialist technical areas relating to resource and energy efficiency. "Despite the current economic situation Audi is still actively recruiting and offers solid prospects for engineers" says Michael Groß, Director of Personnel Marketing at AUDI AG. In our R&D department staff are working, among other things, on developing new drive concepts and more fuel-efficient engines. Audi pays its graduates a starting salary of around €50,000 per year while those with doctorates can expect more.

A doctorate is your springboard into R&D

"At Audi there are two options for pursuing a doctorate", explains Michael Groß. "It can either be done as an employee of Audi or through collaboration with Audi projects as part of a scientific cooperation framework". In virtually all companies, a doctorate is a good starting point for a career in research and development and is seen as evidence of self-discipline and management ability. However, it doesn't always guarantee a higher salary. "In industry, a doctorate in chemistry, biotechnology or physics is highly regarded", says Jürgen Bühler, director of alma mater, a specialist employment consultancy aimed at academics. "Engineers who have achieved a doctorate are sought after for work in highly specialised engineering firms or in the research departments of large companies". Bühler goes on to say that a practically-orientated, industry-based doctorate "will bring greater financial rewards than a purely scientific, theoretical doctorate". If an applicant's doctoral work matches the current vacancies in a company's research and development department they will find that it provides a direct way in to the company.

Fraunhofer: Mediating between Research and Industry

The Fraunhofer Institute has developed its role as a mediator or broker between the worlds of research and industry. "We promote excellence among young scientists who come to us to pursue an 'intermediate career' before they move on to work in industry", explains Ralf Neuhaus, press officer for the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund. "The majority of researchers initially start working with us on Institute projects. The PhD position is financed by the relevant department." One example of cooperation between universities, the Fraunhofer Institute and industry is the "Audi Logistics Laboratory" which was established in 2007 at the Graduate School of Production Engineering and Logistics at the University of Dortmund. "There is a huge demand for research in the logistics sector", notes Dr. Ernst-Hermann Krog, Director of Brand Logistics at Audi. The various sectors are constantly changing as a result of customers who demand greater efficiency or changing economic and environmental conditions. "Science with a practical orientation has an important part to play here, for example, when planning increasingly complex material flows". The logistics laboratory has facilitated an exclusive species of research fellow, one who has a part to play in world-class international research. "There are no subsidies here. The costs for grants and scholarships are economic and are borne by whichever specialist department is involved in the project".

Environmental and Climate Technologies are the Next Big Growth Areas

Environmental and climate technologies are among the most important growth areas at present. Even in these troubled economic times, Siemens AG is still creating jobs. "Between October 2008 and March 2009 we created 1600 new jobs world-wide in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors", remarks Dr. Ulrich Eberl who is responsible for technology communication at Siemens. Particularly sought after are specialists and interdisciplinary experts who are familiar with materials, software development or sensor technology. Their roles in R&D include, for example, developing mobility concepts for linking electric cars to power networks. "The central Siemens research department is an excellent starting point for top-notch graduates who, after a few years, are able, and indeed encouraged, to move to other management units". A total of €3.8 billion was spent on R&D in 2008 with roughly a billion of this going towards environmental technologies. "Over the course of the year, Siemens set up around 500 research partnerships with various institutes, universities and industrial partners. Naturally, this also facilitates contact with leading researchers who want to move into industry". But it is not just the large companies where there is a boom in opportunities for young scientists. A key driving factor for R&D in Germany comes from the 35,000 or so small and medium-sized companies who are constantly engaged in research and the trend is showing no signs of slowing.