In the Beginning Was the Grievance: The Young Academy
They've got to come from somewhere, the next generation of scientists and scholars. But the roads of academia are often long and hard going. Howsoever the German education system may evolve, it will at all events need young talents willing to devote their skills to the service of science and scholarship.
In the beginning was the grievance to be remedied: "We have the impression the German academic system is exceedingly age-friendly," said Professor Dieter Simon at the inauguration of the Junge Akademie in the summer of the year 2000. The point of the project was and remains perfectly simple: to ease young graduates, at the shaky start of their university careers, into the academic establishment under their own steam – but with an institutional safety net. The idea was the brainchild of Paul Baltes, director of the Max Planck Center for Educational Research, and it caught on. The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften) and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina) then brought the project to life for an initial ten-year run. The setup is as follows: 50 fellows (or "members", as they are called) – all aged about 30 to 40 – are employed by the Young Academy for up to five years. Every year ten members are "renewed". During their membership, each young fellow has roughly €25,000 at their disposal for research projects. So what do these young academics do then?
Interdisciplinary study groupsThey set up study groups to address specific subjects from various angles: interdisciplinary discourse is of the essence here. Every study group should have at least three members. A look at their specific research projects bears out the interdisciplinary approach: a group "On the Interpretive Power of the Biosciences", for instance, took three biologists and three philosophers on board, along with a geo-ecologist, an art historian and a theatre scholar. A group called "Renaissance of the Religious?" brings together a social scientist, an historian, a sociologist and a philosopher. In addition to each study group's regular meetings, the Young Academy holds a full assembly three times a year to exchange research findings and new ideas.
Academy publicationsThe bulk of the research eventually reaches academia at large through publication by various academic publishers. One central platform is the school's own Junge Akademie Magazin, a biannual with a circulation of 3,000 copies available free of charge from the head office of the Young Academy. The journal introduces new members, reports on research projects and events, and serves as a publication forum for the research results of some study groups.
That's all well and good. But in our day and age, above and beyond the serious organization of working and research processes, if an institution wants exposure and arguments for its own raison d'être, it evidently has to have more than just results to show for itself: there's got to be a high-profile attention-getting "event" to attract media coverage.
"Who has the choice?"Once a year the Young Academy poses a "Prize Question". This contest is open to contestants from all over the world, who are eligible for prizes totalling €9,000. The question is supposed to be complex, and yet simple enough to admit of answers in virtually any form: essays, poetry, sculpture, pictures, photographs, musical compositions or any combination of the above – whatever. The Academy deliberately imposes no constraints so as to attract entries that are as diverse and original as possible. "What's inside us that hurts?" was the first prize question posed by the Young Academy, back in 2001. In 2005 it was "Who's got time?" and the jury was delighted to receive over 600 entries. The winners were a series of artificial photographs of hourglasses, a card game in the form of a quartet on the subject of time and an essay on dust. Last year's query was "Who has the choice?" The winners will be announced this summer.
Has the Young Academy remedied, if only just a little bit, the grievance about age-friendliness in academia that co-founder Dieter Simon mooted in 2000? It's probably still too early to say. But an answer will be due in a year or two when a decision comes up on whether to keep the Young Academy going.
After his studies in philosophy, Mr Neumann now works as a freelance journalist specializing in philosophy, literature and history.
Translated by Eric Rosencrantz
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
Any questions about this article? Please write to us!