What's a Habilitation or a juniorprofessur? German job titles and their accompanying responsibilities are slightly different from their American equivalents. While there will be some differences university to university, here's a general overview of the most common German academic job titles.
Unlike the American system where applicants apply to a program, in Germany applicants must apply for a specific doctoral position that is usually tied to a professor’s research projects. Students do not do coursework; they start working on their project immediately. They are also required to take on some teaching responsibilities. The time it takes to earn a doctorate depends on the field, but three to five years is typical. The degree is awarded through a process called “Promotion” after the student has defended their dissertation to a committee. Rather than the broad PhD, German doctoral degrees use specific latin designation for the field, for example Dr. rer. nat (natural and sciences), Dr. phil (humanities), Dr. oec (economics), Dr. rer. pol. (business admin and political sciences), and Dr.-Ing. (engineering).
After earning their doctorate, researchers go on to a postdoc. A postdoc is a continuation of the researcher’s training that allows them to further specialize in a particular field and learn new skills and techniques. It may require them to take on teaching responsibilities. German postdocs typically last two to four years.
Traditionally to qualify for a professorship, a German academic must first do another stage of qualification called the Habilitation. The Habilitation is almost like a second doctorate, though it is not a degree. It is a four to six year period of independent research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities that culminates in writing either a monograph or a several articles of outstanding quality. While writing their Habilitation, the scholar is usually employed as a academic assistant or senior research fellow (Wissenschaftler or Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter). After completing the Habilitation thesis, the academic gains the designation Dr. habil or PD/Priv.-Dot. which establishes their ability to teach their academic subject. The Habilitation can be seen as analogous to the tenure process since after Habilitation an academic can apply to full professor positions.
The Habilitation used to be the only path to becoming a professor, however an education reform in 2001 established the Junior Professorship as an alternative to the Habilitation. Many researchers still opt to write the Habilitation though.
Junior professors don’t have to write a habilitation. Instead, these positions offer early career academics the opportunity to research, supervision, administration, and teaching experience on equal terms to other university instructors. Junior professorships are usually for three to four years with the possibility of being extended for a total of six years. It is often a temporary position, however, certain universities offer a tenure track option. Germany has recently signed an agreement to create 1,000 tenure-track junior professorships by 2032.
To become a professor, an academic needs to have completed the Habilitation, have a positive evaluation as a junior professor, or have led their own junior research group. W2 professors are considered independent researchers and generally have permanent positions. Internal promotion to these positions is not encouraged in Germany. With the exceptions of junior professors, academics can not be appointed a professor at the university they did their Habilitation. W2 professors don't retain their civil servant status past the age of 49.
The requirements to become a full professor are very demanding. It requires many years of academic experience and an outstanding reputation. As a consequence, there is often a minimum age requirement to become a professor. Professors in Germany are public servants and as such have permanent positions at their universities.
Start your academic career today by searching all available positions in Germany.
*the W denomination in brackets refers to the position’s place in the salary table for civil servants. As all German professors are civil servants, it has become a common way to refer to the different professorships.