Junior research group leader

Two researchers inspecting a white substance

Leadership of an independent junior research group enables outstanding junior researchers who have already gained research experience after completing their doctorate to realise their own research project and qualify for a professorship or another leadership position. The large research organisations and universities – often jointly – fund the establishment of junior research groups with their own programmes or with support from the German Research Foundation (DFG) or other funding organisations.


These junior research groups are based either at universities – frequently as part of a DFG collaborative research programme – or at institutes of non-university research organisations . These funding programmes include the DFG’s Emmy Noether Programme, Fraunhofer Attract, Helmholtz Young Investigators Groups and Max Planck Research Groups. As a rule, junior research groups are supported for five years, but funding can also be extended.

  • Facilities and budget

    As a junior research group leader you will use the infrastructure and administration of the research institute at which you are based. However, you also have access to your own funds for human resources and materials that enable you to realise an independent research project and lead a team of doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers. If the position is based at a university and possibly even established as a junior professorship, it can also involve the supervision of doctoral students and teaching duties.

    These research groups are usually very well equipped and have generous budgets. Thus, for example, the Helmholtz Association supports its Young Investigators Groups with up to 250,000 euros per year , while Fraunhofer Attract provides up to 2.5 million euros over five years for a group leader position with 3 to 4 new members of staff, materials and other investments.

    As a rule, an evaluation of the junior research group will take place after three to four years.

  • Qualifications

    As a rule, applications can be submitted by postdocs with several years of (international) research experience after completing their doctorate. The most important selection criterium is the outstanding subject competence of the applicant. If you wish to realise your own research project, you must be able to convince the selection committee of its excellence. Outstanding publications in leading international journals are usually also expected.

  • Prospects

    Anyone who has led a junior research group at a non-university research institute or a university has already demonstrated they have the ability to manage staff, to independently realise a research project and assume budget responsibility. They can therefore perform the additional academic services that have to be proven for appointment to a university professorship. Therefore, junior research group leaders generally have promising career prospects. Over two thirds of all Max Planck Research Group leaders succeed in gaining promotion to a university professorship or a comparable position in a research institution. The situation is similar for leaders of Fraunhofer Attract research groups: over half of them move on to a professorship. The leaders of Helmholtz Young Investigators Groups have favourable prospects: their positions are linked with a tenure-track option.

Finding a position, selection procedures and funding

What you need to know if you are interested in leading a junior research group:

  • Where are vacancies for junior research group leaders advertised?

    Vacancies for junior research group leaders are advertised publicly and can also be researched online on job exchanges:

    • Job advertisements
      You will also find vacancies for researchers advertised in major German daily and weekly newspapers as well as in specialised research journals. The Unabhängige Deutsche Universitätszeitung offers a large online academic job market on its website.
    • Online portals
      The Internet offers a large number of employment exchanges that also enable specialised searches for jobs in science and research. However, you cannot expect to find a complete overview of all current vacancies on each exchange. That is why it is worth looking at several different websites. On our website you will find a list of selected job portals that can help you in your search.
    • Social media
      Why not visit us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter? We will keep you up-to-date on current job vacancies and research grants.
  • Application and selection procedures

    Usually there is a multistage application procedure that varies from institution to institution. Positions are advertised either by the relevant institute itself, the university or the research organisation. If the subject of the research group is open, then a specific project proposal has to be submitted. Frequently applications have to be written in English, and occasionally they can only be submitted online on a special application portal.

    There are also differences in how the procedure continues. For example, a committee may draw up a shortlist of applicants who are then invited to a selection symposium or a personal interview . This committee then makes a recommendation – possibly after consulting external experts – that becomes the basis upon which the governing body of the research organisation or university makes a decision.

  • Remuneration

    Generally, junior research group leaders are paid in accordance with the collective agreement for state public employees. Depending on professional experience and grading, monthly gross income is between 3,700 and 4,500 euros.

  • What funding is available for junior research group leaders?

    Positions for junior research group leaders form part of the support for young research talent. They are therefore generally funded by programmes of the German Research Foundation (DFG) or other research organisations. Foundations also actively engage in postdoc funding and finance positions for junior research group leaders.
    Unfortunately, there is no single database that lists all funding measures. However, the following information may help you find appropriate funding:

    • Finding a suitable funding programme
      Many research funding organisations – especially the German Research Foundation (DFG), the large non-university research organisations and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, but also the European Union – have set up special programmes for junior research group leaders. You will find information about these and other funding programmes for foreign researchers on our website. Our list of funding databases will also help you find appropriate funding.
    • Overview of German foundations
      You will find an overview of the German foundations that actively engage in the funding of science and education in the database (in German) of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft.
    • Social media
      Why not visit us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter? We will keep you up-to-date on current job vacancies and research grants.

      If you already have more concrete ideas, you can also seek information directly from the relevant research organisations or grant providers:
    • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
      The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation honours outstanding international junior researchers with the prestigious Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, which enables them to set up independent junior research groups at research institutions in Germany.
    • German Research Foundation (DFG)
      You will find information about the Emmy Noether Programme on the DFG website.
    • European Research Council
      At the European level, the European Research Council (ERC) supports highly qualified postdoctoral scholars with Starting Grants. These are meant to enable researchers to realise their own projects in an independent research group.
    • Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
      Fraunhofer maintains a separate website with information about the Fraunhofer Attract programme, including details of current vacancies.
    • Helmholtz Association
      Details of vacancies at all Helmholtz Centres can be accessed via a special job vacancies page. Current calls for proposals for Helmholtz Young Investigators Groups are published on a special web page.
    • Leibniz Association
      The Leibniz Association advertises vacancies on its jobs portal.
    • Max Planck Society
      Vacancies for junior research group leaders can be found in the central Max Planck Society jobs database or on the websites of the over 80 Max Planck Institutes.