Postdoc at a non-university research institute

Picture of a female researcher

Non-university research organisations are often very well-equipped and offer postdoctoral researchers a good starting point for launching their careers. Postdocs can work in teams with researchers from all over the world here, and research projects are often integrated in international partnerships.

Hundreds of specialised research institutes

There are hundreds of specialised research institutes that focus on various fields of research as well as basic or applied research. The four largest government-funded research organisations are the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. On our Research organisations section you will find an overview of the research organisations in Germany.

Type of employment

Research organisations support postdocs with research jobs or grants.

Postdocs usually work in (junior) research groups on a specific, frequently also interdisciplinary research topic. As a rule, non-university research institutes are very well-equipped and offer an international environment.

Research groups often collaborate with university institutes or with companies. They constitute a very good springboard for a career in research, also outside higher education. Thus, for example, 80% of the employees who leave Fraunhofer research institutes move to a position in industry commensurate with their qualifications.

Like in universities, positions for research associates are frequently temporary (two- or three-year contracts are common).

If you receive a research grant from a funding organisation – for example, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation – or a research institution, you can work on your research project independently and manage your own time.

Research grants are above all intended to support promising junior researchers, especially researchers from outside Germany. Research fellows receive personal and financial support as well as the facilities from the host institution that they need to carry out their project.

You must bear in mind the so-called 12-year rule, which limits the employment of young researchers at higher education institutions and publicly funded research institutions. It means that research associates can generally only be employed at a research institution for a maximum of six years until the completion of their doctorate and then another six years after that (nine years in the case of medicine). This affects the majority of research associates because only a small proportion of non-professorial academic positions at higher education institutions or research institutions offer a tenure track.

There is one exception to the 12-year rule: temporary contracts can be awarded beyond the normal limit if the researcher continues to be employed using third-party funds. If there are children in the researcher’s household, the deadline can also be extended by two years per child.

Application and salary

Once you have decided which path to take you should carefully prepare your application. Here is some useful information to help you successfully complete this process:

As a rule,

  • applications for a position as a research associate are submitted directly to the relevant institute – frequently online. The exact procedure is outlined in the respective advertisement.
  •  a good to very good doctorate in the appropriate subject is required.
  • you will be expected to outline your research interests and experience, provide evidence of your methodological expertise and relevant research publications and also present references.
  • prizes, honours, conference lectures and research stays at home and abroad are also relevant to your application for a research grant.
  • if the initial application is successful, you will be invited to attend a job interview or participate in a telephone interview.

If you would like to apply for a grant, you should seek information from the relevant funding organisation. The precise requirements and conditions are described in the relevant funding programme. Depending on the programme, you may require not only an outstanding doctorate, but also special qualifications, such as international experience or specific research interests.

Employed members of research staff at a non-university research institute are paid on the basis of the collective agreement for federal public employees. The gross monthly salary for a full-time position depends on experience and amounts to roughly 4,500 euros.

You should bear in mind that monthly deductions are taken from this total to cover taxes and possibly also social contributions for medical, unemployment and retirement pension insurance. These contributions enable you acquire rights to the excellent benefits of the German social security system.

If you receive a grant, the amount will depend on the respective programme and can vary considerably. In Germany, as a rule, social contributions and tax are not payable on grants. However, grantees must have health insurance if they work or conduct research in Germany.

Job search & funding

Where are jobs advertised? And who provides funding for international researchers? Here you will find more information: