In Defense of Max Planck


THE MAX PLANCK PHDNET, REPRESENTING about 4000 Max Planck graduate students, takes issue with the unfounded claim by Widmar Tanner that a disconnect between German universities and Max Planck Institutes (MPIs) leads to MPI graduates that are “at best average” (“Max Planck accused of hobbling universities,” News of the Week, G. Vogel, 25 January, p. 396). As young professionals of this system, we draw a more accurate portrayal of the Max Planck graduates (1). MPIs rely heavily on a competitive, for- malized, application process typical of elite universities requiring transcripts, recommen- dations, and faculty interviews. This results in selectivity on par with, if not more competi- tive than, elite international programs. MPIs attract a high number of foreign graduate students; 50% of the student popula- tion is international, reflecting MPIs’ strong foothold in the global competition for talent. This connection establishes relationships between foreign graduates and German insti- tutes, at a time when Germany is striving to “internationalize” its science (“German sci- ence takes an international view,” News of the Week, G. Vogel, 29 February, p. 1172). To ensure a high caliber of graduate research, MPI students are regularly evalu- ated by national and international commit- tees. The evaluators have been resoundingly impressed by the spirit and scientific quality of the students and their research. Currently, 49 International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRSs) represent half of the MPI graduate students. Since their inception (2000), IMPRSs have altered the MPI graduate experience. Their modern approach requires thesis committees, ad- vanced graduate courses, soft-skills training (e.g., presentation, communication, leader- ship, and time management), and teaching. Their establishment has noticeably raised the bar for education of all MPI graduate stu- dents, as the benefits of IMPRSs are increas- ingly extended to all students.