Postdoc at a university

Universities are the most popular employers for postdocs. People who want to continue working in research often decide in favour of a job at a university.

The postdoctoral phase at a university (or even a non-university research institute) usually serves the purpose of further academic qualification. During this period, early career researchers hope to meet the requirements for a professorship or a position in (academic) top management. That is why positions for research associates are usually temporary.

Type of employment

As a rule, postdocs work as research associates at a professorial chair or as members of research staff in a research group or a third-party-funded project.

Generally, research associates at a German university not only work as researchers and teachers, but also perform administrative duties. They conduct seminars and practical exercises, carry out tasks relating to undergraduate examinations and are involved in the self-government of the university. In addition, they usually work on their own research/habilitation project.

Postdoctoral researchers can also work in research groups or third-party-funded research projects. That is normal practice at German universities. Roughly 60 percent of all positions for research staff are funded in this way. Naturally, the main emphasis here lies firmly on research. The relevant (research) duties – and as a rule also the duration of the contract – are usually tied to a concrete project. It is nonetheless possible that teaching duties are also involved.

If you are not appointed to a permanent university post, you will either receive a grant or your salary will be financed out of research funds. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) plays the most important role here as provider of third-party funding.

The DFG also funds university Collaborative Research Centres (CRC) and research training groups at which postdoctoral researchers can work as grantees, as research staff or as project leaders within a CRC .

You must bear in mind the so-called 12-year rule, which limits the employment of early career researchers at higher education institutions and publicly funded research institutions. It means that research associates can generally only be employed at a university 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 universities 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. The deadline can also be extended if there are children in the researcher’s household or if the researcher has a disability or serious chronic medical condition.

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, the application procedures for a university job are no different from those in other sectors, for example, in industry. The requirements generally include a good to very good doctorate in the appropriate subject area and, depending on the job profile, experience in research and teaching, methodical expertise and a relevant list of publications.

You should read the job advertisement very carefully and ensure you meet its requirements. Do not forget to mention your soft skills and additional qualifications. A letter of recommendation from a professor can also be helpful.

Procedures can differ considerably when it comes to whether your application should be submitted electronically or delivered by mail or whether or not contacting your potential superior is desired and meaningful before you submit your application. That is why it is important to read the advertisement very carefully and obtain as much information as possible in advance. Do not forget to meet the application deadline!

Employed research associates at German higher education institutions are paid in accordance with the collective agreement for state public employees. The gross monthly salary for a full-time position depends on experience and amounts to roughly 4,700 to 4,900 euros. As a rule, the salaries of employees in third-party-funded projects are also based on this scale.

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.