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. For more information about funding opportunities, please see below.
Junior research groups are based either at universities or at institutes of non-university research organisations. As a rule, junior research groups are supported for five years, but funding can also be extended.
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.
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.
Junior research groups are usually very well equipped and have generous budgets. Thus, for example, the Helmholtz Association supports its Young Investigators Groups for periods of six years with up to 300,000 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.
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.
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.
Application and salary
How can you apply? What can you earn? Find out:
Usually there is a multistage application procedure that varies from institution to institution. Positions are advertised either by the relevant research 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.
The salary of the junior research group leader is often part of the budget available to the junior research group for staff and equipment. 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 roughly 3,900 and 4,800 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.
Job search & funding
Where are vacancies for junior research group leaders advertised? And who provides funding for international researchers? Here you will find more information: