Project manager: Not many are leaving- beacause it’s interesting and safe!
An interview with Dr. Eleonore Glitz, Project Consultant at the Projektträger Jülich (PTJ), Department of bio-economy.
NaturalScience.Careers: Forschungszentrum Jülich, Projektträger Jülich: what kinds of institutions are these?
Dr. Glitz: On an organisational level, both are connected. The Forschungszentrum, as the name implies, conducts research on various technology fields relevant to society. It is part of the Helmholtz Association. The PTJ is on the campus of the Forschungszentrum and uses its infrastructure, but is independent of it for the rest. Its tasks comprise the support of the federal and regional administration as well as the European Commission in the realisation of their funding aims.
What do you do in your job, how does a typical working day look like?
In the field of bio-economy, we work on a mandate from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) on funding projects from various areas of bio-economy and biotechnology. We monitor and guide the projects from the submission of the project sketches until the evaluation of the final report including the utilisation of the project results. Our applicants are typically universities, research institutes like the Max Planck or Fraunhofer institutes, but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We advise them before their applications, we organise the assessment process- which does also include some of our own assessments- process the applications and guide the projects with the help of status reports until the end of the project. During the funding term, we´re contact points for all kinds of questions and problems, which we always try to solve in a way which benefits our “customers”. We closely collaborate with economists during all steps, who check the financial plans of the applications for plausibility and correctness. In all of these steps, we constantly have to keep the relevant laws, regulations and administrative clauses in mind.
We have the opportunity to visit the projects during their funding term and to participate in project meetings. We can determine the number of business trips largely by ourselves. Per year, I am about 5-6 times on business trips for two days each. I have some colleagues with heavy involvement in international projects, who are travelling almost every week.
On top of that, we collaborate with the relevant departments at the BMBF, e.g. on the statistical evaluation of their funding schemes, policy briefs concerning “kleine Anfragen” (parliamentarian inquiries) or citizen inquiries to the Bundestag.
Please let us know how you got into the PTJ.
I studied biochemistry in Hannover and Metz and did my PhD in Munich. During my maternity leave, I had a teaching assignment at a University of Applied Science (FH). Following this, I worked for two years in science management as Office Manager at the Department Chemistry at the LMU Munich before coming to the PTJ, where I work on the funding of SMEs since then.
You managed to get a position straight after your maternity leave. How did you manage that, what did tip the balance in your favour?
“Scoring a job” was not that easy at the end of the 90s. I think that my apprenticeship as a business assistant in the chemical industry, which I did before my studies, gave me a big head start. Furthermore, I had the teaching assignment at an FH for a total of seven years, which I could continue during the pregnancy and baby breaks.
How is the PTJ as an employer towards mothers, or more general: how family-friendly is it towards all employees?
Working hours can be arranged very flexibly, between 10 and 39 hours everything is possible. Also, home office can be arranged individually, if there is a case of caregiving in the family. You can quite freely arrange your work within the framework of fixed appointments, which obviously demands a high level of self-organisation.
Sounds very uncomplicated. What can you tell the (future) mothers, who want to establish themselves in the labour market?
Don´t make up your mind too much, I also didn´t have a permanent position when I got pregnant. One led to the other. At the PTJ, all positions start as two-year contracts- although with a high chance of being continued as a permanent contract. You can´t plan too much anyway, I would do it that way again. In my opinion, employers who are too worried about the kids of their potential employers, don´t invite women in the first place. If someone applies at the PTJ with the right qualifications, then these will be evaluated during our hiring decision. We presume that employees can distribute their work in a way that they can fulfil their obligations. At the PTJ, I could even imagine that the much-cited “career break” is viewed as positive. With our work as project consultants, we need a broad spectrum of experiences- a broad technical knowledge, organisational skills as well as an affinity to numbers and paragraphs. Some of the breaks in the vita do quite actively teach precisely this diversity. For this reason, we often take middle-aged lateral entrants, but of course also career starters straight out of their PhDs. The latter do quite often come from the Forschungszentrum Jülich, so they do bring the specific background of our environment with them.
And how is the PTJ for their employees in general? Are there training programmes, for example?
There is a special PTJ training programme, in which our core competencies like legal aspects or the entire funding process are taught. Furthermore, we can participate in the training programme of the Forschungszentrum, which ranges from PowerPoint to sports. And for things that you can only get externally, like a symposium, this can also be funded. The PTJ is really looking after the well-being of its employees; I like to work on our green campus. And if you like to have some more city life, you can apply to work at one of the other sites like Berlin or Bonn.
The PTJ is really looking after the well-being of its employees; I like to work on our green campus.
What are the requirements to be hired by the PTJ?
A broad overview knowledge, interest in project management and readiness to work yourself into a broad variety of topics. In most cases, knowledge on “wikipedia” level is sufficient. Furthermore, you should bring a certain affinity to administrative processes. Specialist knowledge is not necessary for all the areas we´re working on, but you should be able to understand what´s happening, e.g. by using primary literature. Apart from the technical-scientific side of the applications, there is also the economic side, which you need to understand. With experience, you start to realise which parts of a proposal are well-founded and which are invented. This refers to the financial figures as well as to the feasibility of the technical solution which is depicted. You see, our work is versatile, also individual projects differ strongly and are very multi-faceted.
Is your work environment better characterised as a government agency or as an enterprise from the private sector, with which you closely collaborate?
Our organisation is an agency, clearly, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with it. The public salary (TVöD) is quite moderate, therefore the positions are very safe. You should not think of rigid structures or hierarchies, when hearing the term “government agency”, however. Basically, all of my colleagues are highly qualified, which means that the hierarchies are very flat. Everyone works on their projects, it is quite rare that you´ll get staff responsibility for other project consultants. Furthermore, we work in a highly interdisciplinary team, ranging from the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) to agricultural science, nutrition and geology and further into various fields of economics.
How autonomously can you make decisions in such an environment?
Working on applications and projects, I have broad autonomy within the legal framework. For example, I can pick projects, which I´d like to work on. The choice of fundable projects is ultimately with the relevant department of the BMBF. However, in most cases, the recommendation of the expert panel is being followed. This panel can consist of external experts or PTJ colleagues, depending on the type of funding.
Is there a lot of competition for positions at the PTJ?
At the moment, the situation is good from the perspective of the PTJ, meaning we receive lots of applications. From the viewpoint of the applicants, it is a challenging time. We hire exclusively based on job ads. However, there is the opportunity to gain some experience during internships lasting for two or more weeks.
What are the connecting points to other employers? How is your job from the perspective of building your own network? How would your professional perspective look like, if you´d decide to leave the PTJ?
Hardly anyone wants to leave here. In our area, work is very pleasant, interesting and safe at the same time. If you want to leave… back into research won´t be possible, you´ll be out for too long. You´d have better chances in scientific administration or with venture capitalists. We also have lots of contacts into ministries and on the level of the projects with the CEOs of SMEs.
Ms. Glitz, thank you very much for the interesting conversation.
Interested to dive deeper into the topic of (alternative) career options?
You might be interested in our workshop PhD, and next? Career options, skills and orientation for scientists or our talk Graduated and now? – A look at career options.