30. August 2019 | Magazine:

What does Tenure Track mean to you? Five questions for Junior Professor Miriam Langlotz

Since April 1, 2016 Miriam Langlotz has been junior professor for Didactics of the German Language at the Institute for German. Only two and a half years after completing her doctorate, she was appointed to the TU Braunschweig. The holder of a tenure-track position has the prospect of an unlimited professorship after a total of six years and correspondingly good evaluation. We asked her five curious questions about her career path.

Junior Professor Dr. Miriam Langlotz. Picture credits: Dennis Blechner/Bildsucht Kassel.

How did you get started at the TU Braunschweig, Professor Langlotz?

When I got the phone call in January 2016 that I would receive the call, I was thrilled, of course. I hadn’t expected this to work out at all, as the application process had been a long time ago. The orientation of my doctorate was certainly a major factor in my reputation. It is an empirical research at the interface between linguistics and language didactics. The topic of my doctorate was the further development of a linguistic model for the diagnosis of writing development in secondary school. In language didactics, empirical research has not been the focus for long. In order to adequately grasp linguistic learning objects and skills, it is essential today that subject didactics is increasingly empirically oriented. We investigate how students’ linguistic competence can be operationalized and how it develops under which influencing factors.

In your opinion, what were the most important milestones in your career?

When I began my doctorate in 2009 after completing my primary school teacher training, I did not necessarily do so with the aim of pursuing a scientific career, but rather out of enthusiasm for my field: research into the teaching and structure of the German language. Throughout my doctorate and post-doctoral period, I already worked as the coordinator of a doctoral college. My tasks here included participation in second and third party funding applications as well as conceptual work at conferences and anthologies. This enabled me to gain important experience, for example in project management, scientific communication, conference organisation
and editing. I worked as a lecturer at various universities and spent a short time as a guest lecturer at the University of Szeged in Hungary.

What support did you receive on your career path? Did you miss anything?

In the different phases of my career so far, I have received and taken advantage of very different support offers at different universities: As a doctoral student in Kassel, I experienced very subjectrelated support from the aforementioned doctoral college, which was specifically geared towards the humanities and cultural sciences. As coordinator here, I have also been given a great deal of creative freedom to organise support programmes for our members myself.

What I wasn’t prepared for until I took up my position in Braunschweig was the subject of personnel management and chair management. The coaching programme as part of the prof programme at the TU Braunschweig was particularly helpful here. Another important support is the opportunity for exchange with like-minded people, which Teach4TU has created through the establishment of a junior professors’ Stammtisch.

In addition, I was allowed to participate in the mentoring program for postdoctoral students and received support from a great mentor, valuable further training and further coaching support. The TU Braunschweig has an extraordinarily extensive range of continuing education courses on offer, which makes it much easier to get started.

What does Tenure-Track mean to you personally?

Maintaining long-term career prospects in science is something very special. After your doctorate, you are faced with another possible six years on temporary positions, with uncertainty as to what comes next. The tenure-track option is a great relief. Because at least it is clear that long-term employment is possible. So at first I was incredibly happy to have “managed” to get this far. At the same time, however, there was pressure to perform, to meet the requirements in order to maintain the implementation of the tenure-track option.

The central questions that arise at the beginning of the junior professorship are: How do I raise third-party funds as quickly as possible? How do I succeed in publishing sufficiently? Which project topics are forward-looking? Which doctoral topics can I supervise well? How can I supervise my doctoral students in such a way that they succeed in concluding with a good result? What administrative tasks can I sensibly support the Institute and the Faculty with and still have sufficient time for my own further academic qualification? How do I design the range of courses so that I prepare the prospective teachers for their profession in a meaningful way? How do I structure my chair as efficiently as possible? How do I manage to put together a good team?

My tenure track comes about because an original W2 professorship was converted into a W1 professorship in order to make it easier to fill. This means that I was given responsibility for an entire chair from the start of the junior professorship. I am very well supported in this by my colleagues at the Institute for German and my team. The advantage of additionally created junior professorships, however, is a “softer entry” into the complex field of a professorship.

What do you advise your junior staff to do?

I advise students: dare to enter the world of science! Science has some great advantages that can hardly be found in any other profession: The self-determination to pursue one’s own research interests, the self-responsibility for one’s own work processes, the opportunity to discover something new and thus make a valuable contribution to research and society. Doctoral studies open up new career perspectives, also beyond the universities. Prospective teachers have the opportunity to gain in-depth insights into the research surrounding their subject – in some cases this gives rise to new ideas for teaching, and a large repertoire of knowledge and expertise is gathered that makes it possible to organise teaching at a different level.

And the young female scientists: Go your own way and choose topics that are really close to your hearts. Only if you bring the enthusiasm for your subject with you will you succeed in patiently dealing with it for years to come. It is also important to find out your personal work style and how you can create the best working conditions for yourself. There are many different models of working in science. Once you have determined which of them suits you best, you should try to adjust your working environment accordingly or find suitable jobs. And if you get frustrated somewhere along the way (which everyone has to face at some point), it’s important to remember that all great scientists once started out small, too.