Jan 062014
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Jörg Meibauer attained his Ph.D. at the University of Cologne in German linguistics in 1985. He habilitated in Tu?bingen in 1993 and is a full professor at the Department of German Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz since 1998.

Albert Einstein, in a famous speech in the London Royal Albert Hall, proposed that young scholars who want to think a problem through should be given a job as a lighthouse keeper. That was in October 1934, and what he had in mind then were job opportunities for emigrated scholars. But ever since, the idea that someone did her Ph.D. in the splendid isolation of a lighthouse has lost nothing of its fascination. The picture of a young woman working hard on a scientific problem, not only illuminating passageways for the ships, but also enlightening society, fits well our romantic ideas of academic work.

Taking the picture more seriously, we may ask two questions: Whether Ph.D. students need a job, and whether they need isolation. The first question can be answered easily. Ph.D. students need a living, be it on the basis of a scholarship or a grant, be it through a job as a research assistant. Scholarships may ensure that one can fully concentrate on one’s work; however, they are restricted in time, and it is often unclear whether a Ph.D. can be achieved within, say, 2 1/2 years. Hence jobs as a research assistant appear to be a good alternative, all the more since the young researcher is embedded into a research team or the chair’s respective work. I assume that working at a supermarket or at the gas station, while valuable and enlightening in other regards, is not very helpful when you are to describe which constituents may fill in the German prefield (i.e., the space before the finite verb in a German sentence).

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