The path to a professorship

Research Careers

If you would like to become a professor at a German university, you have to use the time after completing your doctorate to attain “eligibility for professorship” (Berufungsfähigkeit). Depending on your subject, research focus and academic interest, this postdoctoral qualification phase can differ considerably.

In a first postdoc phase – as a rule, two to four years after completion of a doctorate – you will gain research and, if necessary, teaching experience at a university or a non-university institute, possibly also in industry. You can also use this time to produce your own publications, engage in further training at congresses and develop your soft skills. International research experience can also be gained during this period of further training and qualification.

Experienced postdocs can then meet the requirements for appointment to a professorship with work on a habilitation treatise, a junior professorship or evidence of other academic accomplishments, such as a leadership position in a junior research group  or in industry.

Qualifications for a university professorship

The prerequisites for appointment to a professorship at a university are a completed programme of higher education, pedagogical suitability and a special aptitude for academic work (usually an outstanding doctorate). Proof must also be furnished of additional academic achievements . Different paths are possible in Germany:

  • Habilitation

    Most candidates qualify for a university professorship in Germany by means of the habilitation process. Traditionally, habilitation generally includes the production of a habilitation treatise and an examination process that establishes the ability to teach in an academic subject. In some German states, this can also be achieved “cumulatively” – in other words, through the publicaiton of several relevant essays in prestigious specialist journals.

  • Junior professorship

    A junior professorship has meanwhile become an established alternative to habilitation. Most state higher education laws governing the requirements for appointment to a professorship recognise a junior professorship as an academic achievement equal to that of a habilitation. Junior professorships are especially common in mathematics and the natural sciences as well as linguistics and cultural studies.

  • Leadership of your own junior research group

    Experienced postdocs can also develop their expertise in academic management and independent research and qualify for appointment to a professorship by leading their own junior research group. This is how excellent junior researchers at universities and large non-university research institutions prepare to take on positions of academic leadership. International research experience is a helpful and occasionally even essential requirement – for example, for becoming leader of a Helmholtz Young Investigators Group.

  • Postdoctoral position in industry

    Academic achievement equal to habilitation can also be proven without a formal procedure, for example, through research conducted outside the university. A position in a research-oriented company represents a promising path towards a university professorship in engineering. Traditionally, many appointments here go to engineers with doctorates who research and work in industry. Working for a company is also a good qualification for appointment to a professorship at a university of applied sciences.

Professorship at a university of applied sciences

In addition to the universities that have the right to award doctorates and habilitation, which focus primarily on academic research and teaching, Germany also has universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) , which have a more application-oriented approach. As a rule, a doctorate and several years of relevant practical professional experience outside higher education are sufficient to qualify for a professorship at one of these institutions of higher education.