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Research Careers at Universities and Public Research Institutions

Research Careers at Universities and Public Research Institutions

A doctorate is generally the mandatory degree for a career in university teaching or research and for jobs at non-academic research institutions. For those aiming for a professorship in Germany, a second qualification known as a habilitation is also required. The habilitation is a longer, more in-depth thesis that often explores a different topic than the dissertation.

In Germany, a typical first step towards a university career could be attaining a postdoc position in a research group or an assistantship to a professor, where you would have teaching, administration and research duties. At this stage, you could either seek a junior professorship (note: these positions are not tenure-track in Germany), start a Habilitation project, or look for funding for your own research project.

Positions at non-academic research institutions are usually in the form of postdoc jobs, at organizations like the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG), Leibniz-Gemeinschaft (WGL), or Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft.

Especially in the natural sciences, it is necessary to work abroad after your doctoral studies to further your career. At US universities eg., usually, there are full-time research positions and also those with teaching obligations.

If you want to become a professor, however, there are a few important caveats to consider. Most important, not everybody can become a professor—there are simply not enough jobs. In language and cultural sciences in Germany, for example, every year around 430 will complete their habilitations, but only about 200 new professors will be appointed (Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2008). Over time, this leads to an overabundance of qualified academics without professorships who have few options left: the German academic systems offers almost no alternatives to a professorship, and for many  it is too late to begin a new career from scratch at this late stage.

Second, research and university careers are not known for being lucrative. They also involve long qualification periods, moving often and making do with short-term contracts. Due to German labor laws, there is the added risk of losing access to academic and research jobs, because employment on short-term-basis is legally restricted to 12 years. After that, you must acquire a permanent position or you are no longer allowed to work at a higher education institution or public research institutions in Germany.

Thus, family issues may also need to be considered if pursuing this option.

It is therefore advisable to be aware of alternative career paths in industry and in the private sector. Keep an open mind, and prepare yourself for the job market through networking, courses, and an interdisciplinary and applicable approach in your research. This way, you can present your skills and academic training in the best possible light to potential employers.

Jobs in academia are advertised at university websites like this at FUB. Sources of postdoc funding can be found here. International positions can be found at jobs.ac.uk or new scientist.