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Career Options

It is crucial to be aware of what you want to achieve with a doctorate before you begin and continually re-assess your goals as you progress. You should find out what skills are necessary to reach your career goals, and identify weak areas in your skill set. You should take relevant courses and build a strong network. Have an open mind and consider many options - life always holds surprises, even for those with the best preparation

Typical sectors where postdocs find work are research and development, the public sector, business and industry and entrepreneurship:

Typical sectors are:

Public Service

A career in university administration or in government is the most common career path for postdocs who opt to leave university research after their dissertation. At a university, possible roles include being referee for eg. EU funding, assisting a vice president, or managing a study module. In governmental organizations, you may use your field of expertise to serve as advisor to a parliamentary committee.

Other options include a post with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

While these careers may have been considered a second choice in the past, these fields have earned more recognition and benefited from specific training, such as research management. Jobs can found at websites of the respective institutions.

The Private Sector (Research and Non-Research Positions)

Research can also be performed at companies. Though this option is most common for natural scientists, large corporations sometimes employ historians who work on company history, while PR consulting firms may employ humanities graduates for of their strong writing skills. So it is worth while to think outside the box.

The typical sectors for finding work vary by field. Biologists often find jobs in the pharmaceutical industry for example, while banks and insurance companies may employ economists, and social sciences and humanities graduates are needed in education.

Regardless of field, extra qualifications like leadership ability or interpersonal skills will almost certainly be required. Find out what skills are relevant to your chosen field, and make sure that you supplement your doctoral studies with appropriate courses and respective experiences.


The doctorate phase can also from the basis for a start-up – through a product or technique developed during your research or skills and networks you acquired. Yet additional qualifications concerning management or legal skills are required to realize this goal. If you have an idea for a start-up, the ProFund team of Freie Universität can advise you on many important issues.

Academic careers

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.

A number of funding organisations have established junior research group leader programs, creating alternative careers to earn academic qualifications. These grant programs run for several years (in most cases five) and often feature generous financial resources, including funding for the leader’s own position and additional participants.

The aim of these funding programs is to allow excellent young scholars and scientists to take on leadership positions at an early stage, thereby amassing the experience that is required of candidates who are applying for professorship positions – experience that can substitute for the Habilitation process. The application process is highly competitive and is open only to scholars and scientists who have proven their academic excellence early on. It is recommended that candidates acquaint themselves with the application requirements at an early stage. There is often a specific time window for submission of applications, and candidates may also be required to have international research experience.

The position of junior professor was first created early in the first decade of the new millennium, with the aim of offering an alternative to the Habilitation process. Junior professorships give junior scholars and scientists the opportunity to conduct research and teach without being directly under a supervisor’s instructions and to amass experience in academic self-administration, thereby earning the skills and qualifications needed for lifetime professorship positions.

Each junior professorship is publicly advertised by the host institution, and positions are filled in course of an appointment process. The candidate is initially hired for a three-year limited-term position and may be rehired for another three years following a positive interim evaluation. Junior professors are paid at salary grade W1.

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