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If you want to become a professor at a German university, you need to use the period after completing your doctorate to develop your career and qualify as “eligible for appointment”. Depending on subject, research focus and academic interest, the qualification phase following a doctorate can vary considerably. During the first postdoctoral phase, which generally lasts between two and four years following the award of a doctorate, researchers gain initial research experience at a university, a non-university institute or, in some cases, in industry. In addition to regular university posts as research assistants or lecturers, which already emphasise the opportunity to gain a higher research qualification in their job descriptions, the appropriate professorial qualifications can also be attained by taking part in a research project at a university or a research institute supported either by external funding or a fellowship.
Non-university research institutions also offer jobs for junior researchers, thereby enabling them to qualify for a professorship or a top management job. Habilitation must, however, be completed at a university.
Qualification for a university professorship
If you aspire to an academic career, you can meet the requirements for appointment to a university professorship either through habilitation, by becoming equally qualified as a junior professor, as leader of a junior research group or in industry.
Qualifying to become a university professor generally involves habilitation. Traditionally, the habilitation process involves producing a habilitation thesis and an examination that ascertains whether the candidate is qualified to teach an academic subject. The process can sometimes also be completed cumulatively – in other words, by publishing a series of appropriate papers in prestigious academic journals. Habilitation – or a comparable scholarly achievement (see below "Further qualifications") – is the prerequisite for appointment to a chair at a university.
- Junior professorship
Other qualification paths in addition to habilitation, such as a junior professorship, are also possible.
- Head of a junior research group
Leading a junior research group can also enable experienced postdoctoral researchers to develop competences in academic management and independent research in order to qualify for appointment to a professorial chair. This is how excellent junior researchers are prepared for assuming research management responsibilities not only at universities, but also in large non-university research institutions. International research experience is a helpful – sometimes even compulsory – qualification, for example, for the heads of Helmholtz junior research groups.
- Postdoctoral employment in industry
A postdoctoral research job in industry can be a promising path to a university chair – particularly in the engineering sciences.
Professorship at a university of applied sciences
In Germany, alongside the universities entitled to award doctoral and habilitation degrees, which are primarily devoted to academic research and teaching, there are also so-called universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen), which focus more strongly on the application of knowledge. Candidates for a professorship at a university of applied sciences generally require a doctorate and at least five years of professional experience, including three years outside higher education.
Research jobs in industry
Researchers can also have successful careers outside universities and research institutes. Some 175,000 researchers work in the R&D sector in German industry. Career opportunities in German industry are as diverse as they are unique. Depending on the industry, company and research profile as well as individual abilities, junior researchers can assume the most diverse responsibilities and qualify for the most varied jobs.