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Germany’s Ph.d. Bureaucracy

May 5, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 18

The News of the Week article "Mistaken Masquerade" struck a chord (C&EN, March 10, page 11). The situation that Sarah Everts describes has existed for close to seven decades, and the cited law is in large part the reason my family is successfully established in the U.S.

In 1953, while a student at the Technical University, Braunschweig, I was awarded a German Foreign Office fellowship for study abroad. I spent that year in England at the University of Leeds department of organic chemistry. After I returned to Germany and completed my degree, Leeds offered me a job as a teaching assistant (“Demonstrator”) at £450 a year (approximately $1,500 then) while I pursued a Ph.D. No comparable offers were forthcoming back home.

When I inquired about applicable German regulations, the provisions of the 1939 law that you discussed were laid out for me in a 1955 letter from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture. Basically, the requirements were to obtain permission from one of the German states by way of submitting documentary evidence, a copy of the dissertation and, if possible, a German translation thereof. The grapevine had it that this represented a significant hurdle in a country with cutthroat competition for scarce academic positions.

Three years later, things got more complex when we considered how to integrate into this process my new bride, herself a German citizen, with B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees from two U.K. universities. So we both accepted postdoctoral positions at Yale University and tested the waters of returning to Germany once more in 1961. We decided to remain in the U.S. and have never regretted our choice.

Wolfgang H. H. Gunther
West Chester, Pa.



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