Leibniz PhD Network
Gabriel Oliveira Ragazzo and his colleagues from the Steering Committee of the Leibniz PhD Network
“I don’t settle for the status quo”

At the end of October, Gabriel Oliveira Ragazzo was elected as the new spokesperson for the Leibniz Association's PhD Network. In this interview, the IPK scientist explains what motivated him to run for this position, what his goals are and what he personally hopes to gain from this new role.

How did it come about that you were appointed spokesperson for the Leibniz PhD Network by the General Assembly in Hamburg in October?

Since February 2023, I am part of the PhD Board here at IPK. Therefore, on October 20, 2023, alongside Dennis Psaroudakis, I represented IPK at the General Assembly of the Leibniz PhD Network, held at the Centre for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) in Hamburg. During the event, people from Leibniz PhD Network showcased various project results and actions from the recent years, along with ideas for the future, which sparked my interest in working for doctoral students' interests and representing IPK with more responsibilities.

At the assembly, a new Steering Committee should also be elected, so I decided to run for the position of a general spokesperson and was elected with the majority of votes. Now, I am thrilled about this opportunity and aspire to be a good PhD representative not only for IPK but for all Leibniz institutes.

What are the tasks of the Leibniz PhD Network?

The Leibniz PhD Network serves as the representative committee for over 4,000 doctoral researchers across the 93 institutes that make up the Leibniz Association in Germany. Its primary objectives are to support the career development of young researchers, promote ethical research practices and effective communication, and facilitate networking and collaboration among doctoral researchers. Furthermore, the network represents the voices and concerns of doctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association.

Additionally, the Network maintains working groups that are open to all doctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association. These working groups cover diverse areas such as Communication, Mental Health, Ethics and Security, Prevention of Power Abuse, Survey, Sustainability, and Diversity.

What motivates you for the new tasks?

I view these new tasks and responsibilities as a great opportunity for both professional and personal growth. By nature, I am an idealist and someone who doesn't settle for the status quo. I've always enjoyed taking on challenges and being present in the arenas where decisions are made. I am excited to have the chance to be a voice advocating for the interests of PhD students. I firmly believe that in every aspect, there's room for improving working conditions, mental health, and enhancing the quality of research and science in research institutes.

What topics are on the agenda?

The official handover to the new Steering Committee, of which I am a part, is scheduled for mid-December. During this transition, we will discuss priorities and set goals for the upcoming term starting next year.

However, I can provide an overview of key discussion points within the Leibniz PhD Network. These include contract duration, working hours, the potential for contract extensions and salary improvements, as well as active participation in all aspects of the WissZeitVG debates. We aim to expand our collaborations with relevant political partners. Furthermore, our agenda involves establishing mechanisms to prevent and address cases of power abuse, enhancing mental health initiatives within academia to improve students' overall well-being and performance, and implementing sustainability measures within institutes to reduce waste and promote eco-friendliness.

How do you find out about the concerns, problems and questions of PhD students?

Regularly, the PhD Network, through one of its working groups, conducts surveys encompassing PhD students from all Leibniz institutes. These surveys reveal a wide range of concerns that students have during their doctoral studies. These concerns include working conditions, career development, satisfaction with supervision, mental health, abuse of power, family, and future prospects, among others.

Despite the broad and diverse nature of these issues, I believe it is both a necessity and a benefit for research institutes to ensure the satisfaction and well-being of their students. After all, they are an essential part of scientific progress. Representation of students in PhD and PostDoc Boards, as well as within the Leibniz Network, aims to deepen the relationship between students and the Leibniz Association, ensuring that students' voices are heard and respected. Therefore, I am readily available to listen to any student at IPK who wishes to raise issues for discussion within this context.

You now also represent the Leibniz Association in the N2 network. What is that about?

N2, or "Network of Networks", is a collaborative platform that brings together spokespersons from the Leibniz PhD Network, Max Planck PhDnet, and Helmholtz Juniors. It unites over 15,000 doctoral researchers from Germany's non-university research organizations to engage in discussions about the future of science. These discussions include topics such as working conditions, career prospects, and the societal impact of research.

N2 represents the collective interests of doctoral researchers within Germany's research organizations and aims to work closer together on the following topics: Improving working conditions and promoting equal opportunities for doctoral researchers in non-university organizations and beyond; Exploring career opportunities for doctoral researchers in Germany; Influencing science policy at both national and European levels, such as issuing political statements on the future of young scientists; Organizing joint events for doctoral researchers; Promotion of good scientific practice and prevention of power abuse in academia.

What concrete plans do you have?

I believe that, in a general sense, the primary role of a Spokesperson is to carefully listen to various viewpoints during discussions on specific topics and effectively defend the interests of PhD students. I recognize that this is a challenging responsibility since final decisions are naturally made by higher authorities. Nevertheless, my strategy is to foster a highly collaborative approach with fellow members of the steering committee, actively assist in meetings, organize workshops and panel discussions, and act as a channel for feedback from PhD students within and outside IPK.

As for N2, I also plan to engage in negotiations and political deliberations, both within the Leibniz Association and the political sphere, surrounding political parties and government representatives, particularly concerning matters related to the interests of students in research institutes. For example, by having appointments in discussion groups with members of the Bundestag and the Ministry of Education and Science, especially regarding the WissZeitVG debates.

What do you personally hope to gain from this commitment?

I believe that with these new responsibilities, I can particularly enhance my communication skills, learn how to effectively communicate and negotiate with influential people, and grasp the art of saying the right thing in the right way and at the right time. Most importantly, I aim to improve my ability to actively listen to people, identify problems, and seek solutions for each of them. This role offers opportunities to expand my network, connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and expertise, as well as gaining experience in event organization.

However, undoubtedly, my most significant learning curve will involve effectively managing my schedule to be an active member of the PhD Network, the PhD Board at IPK, and simultaneously maintain satisfactory progress in my doctoral research. At the end of this journey, I believe I will emerge with a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and, above all, precious memories.

Has there already been a reaction at the IPK to your new functions?

Firstly, my friends and colleagues showed enthusiasm about my new position. Also, the members of the PhD Board were happy about the representation of IPK students within the Leibniz Association. And, of course, my supervisor and director of IPK, Prof. Dr. Nicolaus von Wirén, who initially expressed some concerns about the added responsibilities and potential "problems" I might bring, but as always, supported and encouraged me to pursue my new challenges and accomplishments.