PostdocNet Founding Meeting – Feedback and Perspectives

From the 29 to the 30 of April 2019, the postdoc community of the Max Planck Society (MPS) had their first meeting to launch the PostdocNet. The PostdocNet is a networking and lobbying organization for all postdocs of the MPS.

After this meeting, the postdoctoral community was asked for feedback on this first meeting and for perspectives to guide the organization of future meetings. Here is the summary of this survey conducted from the 29/05/2019 to the 19/06/2019.

1) Demographics of the survey

The survey was sent to the PostdocNet mailing list and at the time of survey closure, about 35% of the postdocs answered it. Incomplete questionnaires were filtered out, yielding a final participation (valid responses) of 30% (figure 1).

Figure 1. All persons registered in the Max Planck Society PostdocNet mailing list at the closure of the survey (19/06/2019), all survey participants, and the ultimately evaluable data sets, in absolute figures.

Among the postdocs, 38.1% were also postdocs representative in their Institute and a majority of answers came from the Biology and Medicine section of the MPS (figure 2).

Figure 2. Overview of the PostdocNet community and to which scientific section do this community belong. “Rep” corresponds to a postdoc that is postdoc representative in their institute. Percentages represent the proportion of respondents who gave the answers given on the y axis. N=63.

2) Concerning the 1st PostdocNet meeting

From the total responders, 38.8% did not attend the meeting (figure 3, top). The main reason was conflicting schedule (figure 3, bottom left). Positively, no one has responded: “My supervisor/institute did not allow me to come” to this question. However, among the 61.9% that attended the meeting, 12% encountered difficulties to obtain a travel financial support (figure 3, bottom right). The majority of people that attended the meeting did not considered Berlin as an unsuitable location, but it was a concern for more than 15% of people that did not join the meeting.

Figure 3. Responses of postdocs with respect to their participation to the founding meeting in percentages (N=63), followed by answers to questions specific to the first response. Percentages represent the proportion of respondents who gave the mentioned answers. N (“No”)=24, N (“Yes”)=39.

More than 85% of the postdocs were satisfied with this 1st meeting (figure 4).

Figure 4. Responses of postdocs with respect to overall satisfaction and the organization of the event as well as the role of internal events to networking. Percentages on the left panel represent the proportion of respondents who answered the relevant questions with “Very satisfied” or “Satisfied”. Percentages on the right panel represent the proportion of respondents who gave the mentioned answers. N=39.

Overall, more than 60% of the postdocs that attended the Founding meeting received enough information prior to the event and found the event well organized. In addition, breaks and breakout sessions facilitated networking between the postdoc community (figure 4, bottom).

The satisfaction was also quite high on the discussed topics, the presentations given by the invited speakers and the smaller group breakout sessions (figure 5, left). The reserved opinion on the evening panel discussion was that half of it was redundant with the next day program. The feedbacks were extremely positive concerning the talks given by the European Network of Postdoc Associations and the Postdoc Representative of Karolinska University. Postdocs appreciated to listen to Prof. Reinhard Jahn especially about the postdoc guidelines of the MPS.

Figure 5. Responses of postdocs with respect to the satisfaction with the mentioned topics. Percentages represent the proportion of respondents who answered the relevant questions with either “Very satisfied” or “Satisfied” in dark green or “Neutral” in light green. N=39.

As general comments, postdocs highlighted the lack of time to discuss more in depth questions like the PostdocNet statutes, future organization of working groups, hot topics concerning postdoc community.

– The time slots were not kept […] the chairs needed to be somewhat ‘stricter’.

– Stay in time

– Everything was great, but the evening session (panel discussion) was too long.

– The second panel, with the speakers of the next day, was unnecessary and redundant.

– Second panel redundant with day 2, as they talked about stuff that they presented the next day.

– Everything on the second day was very rushed, when it was perhaps the most important part!

– Not enough time for the statutes’ discussion.

– There was too little time to discuss the statutes.

– We should have really started discussing the statutes earlier.

– Information about this election should have been advertised beforehand.

– When electing the steering group, I didn’t have any prior information about the candidates, this should have been sent the day before so we make a more informed decision.

This lack of time is reflected in the reserved opinion that postdocs had on the presentation and votes of the PostdocNet statutes as well as the constitution of the different working groups (figure 5, right).

3) Perspectives on future meetings

Concerning the perspectives to give to this 1st meeting, 16% of people that did not attend in 2019 showed interest to come in the future. Only one person that came at the founding meeting said that they will not attend PostdocNet meetings in the future. It is expected that attendance will greatly be dependent on absence of conflicting schedule as well as interest in the proposed program.

The majority of respondents liked the current format of two complete days (figure 6). To be noted, people would appreciate if the end of the meeting allowed an easy 3 to 4 hours trip.

Figure 6. Responses of postdocs with respect to the attendance and format of future PostdocNet meetings. Left panel, percentages represent the proportion of respondents that gave the mentioned answers. Right panel, percentages represent the proportion of respondents who gave the answers mentioned on the right to the respective questions. N=63.

In addition, people stressed the need of time for discussions within the PostdocNet group and concrete “work”:

– I do think we should have some breakout ‘working’ sessions that can actually come out of the PostdocNet meeting with some concrete starting points for initiatives for the year. It’s such a great environment, with so many motivated postdocs in one place, we should actually do some work! Perhaps the talks could be shorter in the morning and a few of these ‘working sessions’ could happen in the evening.

– Maybe one day with reports of the several working groups, the steering committee and other relevant, associated units (like for example the head quarter and the dept. for human development) and one day which is more workshop-like, for example with content about career development (the seminar group could help with that), or mental health, or other stuff like that. Maybe also a slot and format for explicit networking.

– For the next meeting a clearer route for discussion of new working groups and elections should be established.

– Please, give more time for forming the new working groups next time.

– Next time we should plan more time for the meeting of the new forming groups. I am in some of them and it would have been nice to make a very rough work plan already in Berlin.

Their main interest for future invited speakers went to Max Planck headquarters (Department of personal development & opportunities) and Career / Coaching / Mentoring trainer (figure 7).

Figure 7. Responses of postdocs with respect to the content of future PostdocNet meetings. Percentages represent the proportion of respondents who gave the mentioned answers. N=63.

In addition to the proposed topics, postdocs also suggested:

  • Sustainability
  • Implementation of postdoc guidelines at institutes (tips, tricks, successes and failures and how to improve)
  • Breakout sessions on job search / applications / CVs / ‘getting prepared for the next step’
  • Breakout sessions on developing your career goal and determining how to reach it
  • PostdocNet working groups
  • Helmholtz and Leibnitz postdoc representatives
  • Science politician
  •  Science Policy Officer
  • European commission dedicated to postdoc
  • Interested in leisure time did not reach 50% agreement from the respondents.

To conclude, postdocs are aware of the importance to meet all together to discuss and raise important topics for our community. They emphasized the importance of good and effective use of the meeting time. Additionally, postdocs stressed the fact that they should decide for topics discussed during PostdocNet meeting.

I really disliked how the topic of stipend/fellowship was dismissed [during the panel discussion] when this is an extremely important topic especially since it was supposed to be resolved 5 years ago. I think it is not up to the organizers to decide what topic is worth discussing but to the people present.

On behalf of the survey working group, we are looking forward to the future meeting!

Illustration: Pixabay


Postdoc Guidelines, get your copy here!

Are you a postdoc in the MPS? Do you know about the Postdoc Guidelines? Find them here and look forward to an upcoming post on ideas for implementing the guidelines in your institute! For a brief introduction the Guidelines find the commentary below from Prof. Reinhard Jahn and Dr. Yu-Xuan Lu (PostdocNet Spokesperson).

Commentary from Prof. Reinhard Jahn (The Chair of the Presidential Committee “Junior Scientists in the Max Planck Society”):

Until recently, the traditional German academic system has not distinguished the postdoc as a separate career phase, in contrast to many other countries such as the US. Thus, the first step of an academic career was (and to some extent still is) without any clear perspective or institutional framework, resulting in a lot of uncertainty in this critical career phase.

The “Guidelines for the Postdoctoral Stage in the Max-Planck Society” aim for changing this by providing a transparent and dependable structure for postdoctoral work. Not unexpectedly, the Guidelines represent a compromise balancing different interests, and they could and should be improved in the future. Moreover, they avoid strict regulations such as a mandatory upper time limit, also not to increase the bureaucratic burden. However, they include several important points such as mandatory advice and counselling no later than 4 years after beginning of the postdoc, and the entitlement to participate in courses and meetings. Not all institutes and directors are yet fully aware of the content of the Guidelines. Note, however, that these Guidelines were issued by the Senate of the MPS and thus represent the official policy endorsed by the President. We hope that they will contribute to making the postdoctoral stay at a Max-Planck Institute a positive experience and will aid in career progression inside or outside the academic system.

Comment from Yu-Xuan Lu (the PostdocNet spokesperson):

A postdoc is a person who conducts a professional research after the completion of their doctoral studies. The primary goal of a postdoc stage is to gain additional skills and experiences that helps to pursue a career in academia or any other fields. Due to the nature of this phase, it is crucial to have a transparent structure for the development of postdoc’s research and career. The Guidelines that was officially approved by the Senate of MPS recognises the needs of postdoc stage and mandatory advices postdocs and their faculty supervisors should be aware and ensure these needs can be fulfilled. We believe the implementation of the Guidelines will improve postdoc’s career development and advancement, and mutually benefit their supervisors and the entire Max Planck Society.


Get to Know Your PostdocNet Working Groups!

Have you wondered how you can get involved in the PostdocNet? Or wanted to know more about the working groups which were established at the Founding Meeting in April 2019?

Look no further! Below, we try to summarize the topics of each working group, some goals and most importantly, how to contact the working group if you want to help.

We are only successful if the Postdoc members of this network step up and lend a hand in moving things forward. This can be from organizing meetings, seminars, or just in general helping with daily tasks that need to be done. Perhaps you’re great with computers and graphics, or you love to write posts, or maybe you really enjoy discussing the pertinent topics researchers in Germany are facing today. Whatever your passion, there is somewhere that you can help!

The current working groups are:

Equality and Diversity:

We value the diverse backgrounds that Postdoctoral Researchers bring to the individual Max Planck institutes and the Max Planck Society at large. We believe that every person should have access to equal opportunities and treatment irrespective of gender, sexual identity and orientation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, age, socioeconomic status, marital and parental status. We believe that creating an inclusive work environment will lead to scientific success and well-being for all Postdocs in the Max Planck Society.

We aim to:

  • serve as contact point for all Postdoctoral Researchers within the Max Planck Society
  • promote the Max Planck Society’s vision on equal opportunities
  • raise awareness within the scientific community on the value of diversity to create a more inclusive work culture
  • represent Postdoctoral Researchers on initiatives regarding diversity and equality in science
  • provide Postdoctoral Researchers with information regarding diversity and equality services available within their own institute and the Max Planck Society
  • provide constructive suggestions and ideas to the Max Planck ‘Opportunities’ Committee to promote diversity and equality

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

General Meeting:

Our strength lies in our collective movement for change. In order to facilitate communication between the vast number of Postdocs within the Max Planck Society, we need the opportunity to meet and discuss successes and points of improvement. The members of the General Meeting working group coordinate the location, schedule and general logistics of the yearly meeting. Help is always needed! If you enjoy planning events and bringing scientists together, join us and make this happen!

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

Employees are very well protected in Germany but it is up to us, to ensure that we are aware of our rights. As such, the Legal Support working group seeks to examine a wide variety of issues. Most of our work will involve conducting legal research to make referrals.

At present, the immediate actions of this group will focus on: 

1. Consider converting all stipendiary post docs to contracts;

2. To check whether or not the Postdoc guidance of 2017 are legally binding upon our institutes;

3. Review the VBL pension contributions and ability to withdraw from the scheme.

4. Organize and make available possible contracts that Postdocs may see, and provide translated (or simplified) descriptions of each section.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

Research Needs:

The primary aim of this working group is to make sure that the Max Planck Society (MPS) provides the environment and support that allows Postdoctoral researchers to get the maximum out of their time at the MPS. In order to allow Postdocs to build up their research profile, we want to encourage and actively promote their achievements, mobility and independence as well as their interactions, exchange and collaborations inside the MPS.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.


The Secretary Working Group aims to support and administer the central framework upon which the PostdocNet is founded. As a working group we are responsible for implementing many of the matters arising across the network. Current (and over the next year) working projects for the Secretary WG include looking at and fine-tuning how the PostdocNet statutes can be improved, determining the framework for establishing local structures e.g. local elections, encouraging the establishment of local hubs in the PostdocNet and preparing a thorough starting guide for new Postdocs including advice on all aspects on working at MPIs that have been brought up by Postdocs.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.


As fixed in the statutes, the Seminar working group is responsible for the organization of soft skills and scientific seminars. The aim is thereby to work together closely with the Department for Human Development of the MPG and other personnel throughout the MPG responsible for career development of their scientific staff. We are currently still thinking about how to be active best and what kind of formats could be useful and feasible. Any help, in creative and practical form, is welcomed and appreciated!

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

Social Rights:

The primary aim of this working group is to ensure that the Max Planck Society (MPS) provides basic labor and social rights to all Postdoctoral researchers within the MPS, including those on externally funded fellowships, up to the level of German contractual law. Moreover, we will try to define and ensure competitive social conditions within the MPS, such as minimal salary levels, child care & family benefits, minimal contract lengths, mental-health support and etc.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.


The goal of the survey working group is to construct and launch surveys addressed to the PostdocNet community in order to gather meaningful data for the benefit of the community. For 2019-2020, the Survey Group aims to evaluate the needs, the work environment and the career development of the Postdoc community in the MPS.

All motivated person are welcome to join. Specifically, knowledgeable Postdocs who are data analysts, psychologists, demographers, sociologists, and other positions which would help with the collection and analysis of the survey results are encouraged to contact us.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

Web and Media:

The Web and Media working group focuses on providing useful content, administering the PostdocNet website, as well as social media channels (  and LinkedIn). In addition, the working group moderates the mailing lists and keeps close connections to the other working groups to determine where new content, or important information has arisen that should be distributed to the members of the PostdocNet. We currently need Postdocs interested in curating, writing and editing content for the website.

Interested Postdocs can contact the working group here.

Illustration: Pixabay