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20 August 2004

Emmy Noether Programme Supports 26 Grant Recipients from Heidelberg — A Token of Quality for the University

Special German Research Council programme has been supporting the upcoming research elite for 5 years now — Recipients accorded research groups of their own at an early stage in their careers — A token of quality for universities — 26 grant recipients so far in Heidelberg

Discussion of how best to strengthen Germany's status as an academic location has become a favourite after-dinner topic. But the fact that excellent support opportunities already exist for the upcoming generation of academic researchers is frequently ignored. An excellent example is the German Research Council's very successful model called the Emmy Noether Programme. It has been in place since 1999 and has already benefited 300 grant recipients in a variety of special ways. In Heidelberg 26 young academics have profited from the programme so far and there are hopes that this number will increase in the coming years.

"Ultimately, the number of recipients benefiting from the Emmy Noether Programme is an indication of the status a university has," says Prof. Dr. Stefan Offermanns of the Institute of Pharmacology. He is a German Research Council liaison professor at the University of Heidelberg. "The point is that a department with a young academic supported by the Research Council gets a whole research group into the bargain without having to pay for it. The financing is shouldered by the Council."

This may seem rather an odd arrangement but it ties in with the support modalities of the Emmy Noether Programme, the declared aim of which is to offer an alternative to the junior professor idea. Here it is the young academics themselves who apply for the corresponding grant, a process that encourages a high degree of independence and self-reliance at an early stage. To qualify, applicants must be no older than 30 and have completed an academic degree course (normally a doctorate) followed by a two-year post-doc sojourn abroad. After this first phase (and close scrutiny of the results achieved on the way) the young academic is given a research group of his/her own in Germany financed by the Research Council for a period of four years. Applications are also possible for this second phase alone. Normally, the successful applicant then has the clinching say on which university the research group will be located at.

"So a university like Heidelberg can think itself lucky to host such highly qualified and motivated researchers. This is quite patently a token of excellence! The interest displayed by these young scientists is a direct indicator of the reputation a university has in the eyes of top-flight upcoming scientists, as this programme allows them a great deal of room to manoeuvre right from the outset. The grant recipients can afford to be forthright and self-confident, after all they have only themselves to thank for the support granted to them. And finally, it is legitimate to expect much greater future success from someone who heads a research group at the age of 30."

Early scientific independence and provision of the opportunity for a Habilitation or a direct appointment to a professorship are the declared aims of the programme. Though it has only been running for 5 years it already has some very respectable successes to its name as an instrument for the encouragement of excellent young scientists. So far 28 of the recipients have been offered professorships, 18 of them without the Habilitation. In addition, 13 appointments abroad show the high respect in which the Emmy Noether Programme is held elsewhere — and, incidentally, how imperative it is to offer these young people attractive professional perspectives in Germany. Surprising and gratifying in this respect is the fact that seven grant recipients have refused appointments abroad in favour of a post in Germany.

"With all these successes to its credit, the University of Heidelberg does not need to hide its light under a bushel. The present number of grant recipients puts it up among the leaders in Germany, together with Munich and Berlin. But in future it will be necessary to ensure that the University becomes even more attractive for front-ranking young academics. With the exception of the junior professor there has been no other comparable programme for the encouragement of new generations of top-quality researchers that combines quality with such an early start."

At present most of the recipients in Heidelberg come from the natural sciences; the humanities are badly under-represented. "A pity, of course," says Oppermanns, "But that's the way it is everywhere at the moment." The programme (named after the mathematician Emmy Noether, born in Erlangen in 1882) is a first-class instrument for the encouragement of top-flight future researchers working initially abroad before returning to Germany to head their own research group. For more information on the Emmy Noether Programme and encouragement and support for young academics provided by the German Research Council, go to

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Stefan Oppermanns
Institute of Pharmacology
University of Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 366
D-69120 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/548246/7, fax: 548549

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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