Summary and context
Yet again, one Max Planck female director – this time from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI-CBS) – was presented as an isolated case of bullying in academia. The story illustrates pregnancy discrimination. The press office of the Max Planck Society (MPG) stated that this an isolated case that is internally solved and it doesn’t reflect what the other more than 700 group leaders and directors do. However, years of PhDnet surveys show otherwise. Later – after a social media comment about putting the case within a larger context – BuzzFeed and Spiegel Online covered the case within the context of MPG’s building principle. A few days later, PhDnet launched their position paper on abuse of power and conflict resolution in the MPG in an interview given by the PhDnet spokesperson, Jana Lasser in Science magazine. The position paper was extensively discussed by Forschung & Lehre. The bullying at MPI-CBS was also reported by the Daily Mail, Washington Post, LA Times, the online magazines of New York Times and Atlantic, among many others. One coverage has a unique take on bullying as an ubiquitous phenomenon. Similarly, there is an ubiquitous phenomenon of discrimination against pregnancy and parenthood inside the MPG, in academia and society.
Continue reading “There is a culture of discrimination against pregnancy and parenthood inside the Max Planck Society”
Summary and context
In February, Spiegel Online brought up the topic of bullying and sexual harassment at a Max Planck Institute (MPI) in Bavaria. Since then, extensive press coverage discussed the deeds of the female director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA). Initially, the press office of the Max Planck Society (MPG) through their spokesperson – Dr. Christina Beck – stated that they heard about the problems at the MPA only in 2016. I proved otherwise: There were documents that went through Dr. Beck’s hands that showed problems at the institute since at least 2013. The president of the MPG – Martin Stratmann – admitted in an interview to FAZ that the internal complaint mechanisms are not ideal but claimed a clear responsibility structure. I agree with the first part, but I will argue that the responsibility structure is far from clear. In addition, academic bullies thrive enabled by bystanders. I describe here how “Nils” – mentioned in the first BuzzFeed coverage – went through all the complaint avenues inside the MPG. Everyone, not only the general administration (GA) of the MPG, knew about what was happening to him.
Continue reading “Bystanders enable academic bullies: The Max Planck Society as a case study”
In February, a report in Der Spiegel spoke about bullying and sexual harassment at a Max Planck Institute in Bavaria. The moment I read it, I knew who the academic bully was because each bully has their own brand of bullying. I knew of a case from 2014 that I took through all the mediation levels mentioned in the statutes of the Max Planck Society (MPG). The mediation failed in 2014; the case was reported in BuzzFeed in 2018 as “Nils”. The press office of the MPG was quick to convince Nature News that the issues are going to a head, before actually seeing the results of the survey conducted at the institute. The lack of remorse and failure in taking responsibility disappointed the people at the institute: The MPG continuously stated that the first time they heard about these cases was 2016. As a consequence, the survey results were leaked to BuzzFeed.
Continue reading “Is the conversation on academic bullies over now? We are just getting started”
Since February this year, the cases of bullying and harassment at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) are openly discussed in the press (Spiegel, BuzzFeed, Nature News and again BuzzFeed). The Max Planck Society (MPG) claims that they acted as fast as they had learned about the situation. The MPG claims, through their head of communications, Dr. Christina Beck, that they did not know about the situation before 2016. However, problems at the MPA were previously reported to the MPG since 2013 in documents that Christina Beck saw as well.
Continue reading “The Max Planck Society knew about the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics since at least 2013. They did nothing”
Summary and background
The Max Planck Society’s (MPG) institutes (MPIs) are evaluated every two to three years in terms of research output and personnel management by a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). After such an evaluation at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI-bpc), a couple of junior researchers wrote a letter addressed to the MPG president and the Education and Research Ministry. The letter summarized the issues discussed during the evaluation. Previously, I summarized the events surrounding the letter and argued that the letter – in particular, its controversial style – is a product of a culture in which the management suppresses opinions through bullying. However, the style of the letter is not a reason to neglect the issues brought forward, as they are characteristic of German academia. Continue reading “How the evaluation of one Max Planck Institute ended up in insults (part 3)”
At the beginning of the year, an anonymous written by a couple of early career researchers at Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI-bpc) was sent to the Max Planck Society (MPG) president and the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The letter summarized the local issues and framed them into the known problems in the German academic system. The MPG management attacked the letter by steering the discussion towards the quality of its authors. Moreover, early career researchers were intimidated to avoid future similar letters. Here I frame the current events at MPI-bpc within the national fight to change the German academic system and answer the question of why these events are interesting for all MPIs and academics working or planning to work in Germany. Continue reading “The story of an anonymous letter important for German academia”
In January 2016, a couple of early career scientists from Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI-bpc) wrote an anonymous letter to the Max Planck Society (MPG) president, Martin Stratmann. A copy was sent to the German Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka. Some people were upset with the letter while others called their authors “heroes”. I received an arguably insulting email accusing me that I was the author of the anonymous letter. This made me think about the bullying culture in academia, especially in strongly hierarchical and competitive organizations such as the MPG. This is the second out of a series of blog entries analysing the current events at MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI-bpc). Continue reading “How the evaluation of one Max Planck Institute ended up in insults (part 2)”
There was a scientific advisory board (SAB) evaluation at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in December. Some early career scientists were not satisfied with how the evaluation proceeded. Hence, in early January 2016, they wrote an anonymous letter to the Max Planck Society (MPG) president, Martin Stratmann. A copy was sent to the German Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka. Many people were upset with the letter. I received an arguably insulting email accusing me that I was the author of the anonymous letter. This made me start investigating what happened during and after the SAB. This is the first out of a series of blog entries analysing the current events at MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI-bpc). Continue reading “How the evaluation of one Max Planck Institute ended up in insults (part 1)”