Academic Career

Researchers who strive for a career in academia usually work towards becoming a professor. The candidates must have excellent research credentials or shown outstanding  artistic accomplishments and must prove their aptitude in terms of teaching in order to be appointed to a (university) professorship (see Section 44 of the German Framework Act for Higher Education  (HRG) and Section 49 of Rhineland Palatinate’s Higher Education Act (HochSchG). The necessary skills are acquired over several qualification phases.

Academic qualification phases

The candidates’ first qualification phase ends with their doctorate. In order to pursue a doctorate candidates usually need to have obtained a university degree (Master, Diploma, State Examination). The doctorate’s function is to prove that young researchers have contributed to the progress of research with their own independent research achievement. The doctorate is divided into two parts: writing a dissertation which includes presenting methodology and results of one’s research and passing an oral exam (in the form of a “Rigorosum” or disputation).

The doctorate is followed by the postdoc phase – short for postdoctoral phase – which serves to broaden and deepen research skills and methodological knowledge. Moreover, postdocs should use this phase to develop their own research profile. The postdoctoral phase is divided into an early postdoc phase or “orientation phase” and an advanced postdoc phase.

The orientation phase is a precondition for the candidates’ further academic qualifications and may take two to four years during which candidates should focus on research. This phase is also intended to enable researchers to reflect on their preferred career path and consider possible career options.

Those who (still) aspire to a professorship must use their advanced postdoc phase to round off their academic profile according to the professorship qualifications which will be required of them. There are different ways of achieving this.

Routes to a professorship

The traditional path leading to a professorship is to obtain postdoctoral lecturing qualification (habilitation) while working in an academic qualification position. In order to achieve this qualification the postdoc candidates have to write a habilitation thesis of major academic importance and give a presentation followed by a colloquium so as to prove the candidate’s academic teaching skills. The last step is the candidate’s public inaugural lecture.

The introduction of junior professorships created an alternative path to becoming a professor in Germany. Junior professorships enable postdocs to carry out independent research and teaching at an early stage. After three years, an interim evaluation decides whether the junior professorship will be extended for another three years. In some cases, a positive final evaluation is linked with a tenure track option,  that is the appointed candidate will be given life tenure subject to the mandatory retirement age.

Yet another route to becoming a professor has been established through third party funding programs for junior research group leaders. These programs, which usually provide funding for five years, enable young researchers to acquire important leadership skills at an early stage while at the same time providing them with a high degree of academic independence. Moreover, junior research group leaders usually have generous budgets to fund their own post as well as further staff. On the other hand, there are no common regulations on their integration into teaching, which is why junior research group leaders have to negotiate, among other things, their teaching authorization as well as the scope of their teaching with the university at which their group is based.

Often twelve or more years pass between a candidate’s graduation from university and his or her appointment to a professorship.

Professorships at universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschule)

Professorships at universities of applied sciences are an alternative to university professorships. These professorships are characterized by their strong focus on practice-driven teaching and research. Consequently, candidates must have several years of professional experience outside academia. As their daily work routine will include more teaching hours, teaching experience and sometimes continuing education in higher education didactics might also be required. Moreover, candidates have to prove their academic and professional qualifications with a doctorate (at least “magna cum laude”). In the case of artistic disciplines, such as design or architecture, candidates have to show achievements comparable to a doctoral degree (artistic projects, awards, prizes etc.). Academic achievements beyond the dissertation might be important for this kind of professorship, which have to be proven by publications.

The appointment procedures for professorships at universities of applied sciences are essentially the same as for university professorships. The details of the procedures, however, may vary according to university of applied sciences and German federal state.