Whether you are in the final stages of your doctorate or have just finished, you will probably be planning your next career move. One of the questions you will be asking yourself is whether to stay in your native country or embark on an academic career abroad. If you decide on the latter, Europe will almost certainly be on your shortlist of possible destinations. This eBook is for postdocs interested in starting or continuing their academic career in Germany.
In recent years, Germany has emerged as the largest and most diverse research nation in Europe. The world-leading research infrastructure, universities, and highly developed private and industrial sectors attract thousands of international doctoral students and academics each year.
In this eBook, you will find out about the different higher education systems, and gain valuable insights into funding options, career advancement, the job market in each country and practical ways to get a foot in the door.
The Higher Education System
Germany is home to some of the oldest and most respected universities in the world. There are almost 400 higher education establishments, which include 110 traditional universities, 221 universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen) and a number of arts and business colleges. Around 95% of universities are publicly funded, the highest-ranking being the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. A diverse range of courses are offered, with an increasing number taught entirely in English. Compared to most countries, degrees in Germany take a longer time to complete, with an undergraduate degree typically taking at least four years and postgraduate qualifications at least another year or two.
Responsibility for basic funding and overall management of higher education lies entirely with the individual German federal states. Tuition is free to all students, regardless of citizenship, excepting some postgraduate courses. Doctorates are offered by universities only and take an average of four years to complete. A range of funding options exists for local students, international students and postdocs through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) national funding organisation and other public bodies.
Research and Funding
Germany is at the forefront of research activities worldwide and is ranked fourth in the world in terms of investment, above the UK, France and Canada. In 2013, Germany’s gross domestic expenditure on research and development was in excess of €80 billion. The German research landscape is characterised by outstanding facilities and investment in all disciplines. The country’s prominence on the world stage is further strengthened by the establishment of key enterprises such as the Excellence Initiative, which aims to promote top-level research within all German institutions.
Research is concentrated within universities, internationally renowned research institutes and a strong private and industrial sector. Overall responsibility for research lies with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The largest awarding organisations are the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which offer a comprehensive range of scholarships, grants and bursaries.
Germany is one of the most attractive countries in Europe for international researchers and academics. Postdocs receive a level of support which is second-to-none, and close to 40,000 international researchers are currently receiving funding in Germany, either through universities, research institutes, companies or EU initiatives.
A notable difference in German academia is the absence of the post of Lecturer/Assistant Professor, and there is no tenure-track system. Postdocs applying for a position in the German higher education sector should be aware that jobs are generally temporary, and only a small proportion of non-professorial academic positions at universities are offered tenure. There exist two ‘classes’ of academic: Professors and non-tenured, temporary staff, and those not used to this system can find the chasm between temporary and permanent jobs frustrating. The academic system comprises a postdoctoral role known as the ‘Habilitation phase’, or ‘second PhD’ which involves teaching as well as research, and lasts for 3-6 years or more, followed by Senior Researcher (broadly similar to Associate Professor, not tenured) than a permanent Professorship.
Recent reforms have established the position of ‘junior professor’ as a type of fast-track Habilitation phase. Junior professorships allow postdocs to bypass traditional routes to professorships, however, these appointments are rare and available only to the most outstanding doctoral scholars.
Academic salaries follow a fixed pay structure but can include bonuses for those who take on extra administrative or teaching duties.
Average academic salaries in Germany (gross monthly salary):
- Postdoctoral researcher: €3,100
- Junior Professor: €3,450
- Associate Professor/Senior researcher: €4,600
- Professor: €5,100
Compared to many other European countries, Germany’s cost of living is relatively low. However, this depends on where you choose to live, as costs are much lower in the East of the country than in the West. Food and accommodation prices are also much higher in major cities.
To find out more about living and working in Germany, visit our country profile here.
The Job Market
Whether you opt for a traditional career route in a university or choose to work for a research institute or private company, you will be well supported by Germany’s excellent funding network. Following the completion of a PhD, more than half of Germany’s research and development specialists work in universities, which represent a significant proportion of postdoctoral career opportunities. However, competition for university positions is fierce and those applying often face a system where jobs are taken by those who have personal links with the university. It’s worth bearing in mind that while Germany is keen to attract international postdocs, only those with outstanding research achievements and qualifications are likely to be considered.
For those interested in a non-university career, a range of opportunities and funding initiatives are offered by Germany’s network of prestigious research institutes, such as the Max Planck Society or Fraunhofer Society. Elite fellowships are also available to postdocs, senior researchers and academics through organisations such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation or the DFG.
Germany is a world leader in the automotive, aeronautical, manufacturing, chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. The majority of larger companies operate their own research and development programmes, attracting highly qualified and talented researchers from around the world. For instance, car manufacturers Volkswagen and BMW, and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer offer scholarship programmes and internships for postdocs looking to further their careers within German industry.
Job Application Process
When applying for a postdoctoral or other research position in a company, university or institute, you will generally be asked to provide a detailed application form, a CV/resume and cover/motivation letter, as well as copies of your qualifications and publication list. It is acceptable to apply in English, as fluency in English will often be a job specification. You may also be asked to provide details of references and proof of language ability (if your first language is not German or English). A German resume is similar to the UK/US model except you should attach a passport-sized photo of yourself – your application may be discounted without this.
When compiling your application, keep in mind that German employers will be looking for outstanding PhD qualifications and experience above anything else. So keep your resume and letter short, avoiding buzzwords and phrases. Once your application has been submitted, it will be scrutinised by a committee of senior academics. If you are shortlisted, you will be invited to a personal interview in Germany and may be asked to give a presentation or trial lecture.
Include a personal letter of recommendation with your application. The letter can be from your PhD supervisor or another academic who understands your research goals and knows you as a person. Having a publication in your name would also be a major advantage when applying for jobs.
Non-EU citizens will need to apply for a residence permit if they plan to stay in Germany for more than three months. Highly qualified workers may be able to apply under the Blue Card Scheme.
EU nationals do not need this permit but must register with their local residents’ registration office. To find out more about work permits, visit the Federal Foreign Office website.
About this article
Europe is one of the most popular destinations for freshly-minted doctorates. Ancient and prestigious universities, excellent funding opportunities and diverse research networks attract thousands of international students, postdocs and academics to Europe each year. Add to this the prevalent use of English as a working language and a commitment to international cooperation in research which is unparalleled worldwide, Europe has much to offer aspiring academics.
Combined, the European Union member states invest almost €300 billion in research and development each year. There is a strong tradition of cross-border collaboration, providing a unique research perspective as well as offering ample opportunities to work with colleagues across the continent. Whether you choose a job in a European university, research institute or company, you will experience fantastic research facilities, generous funding and progressive working conditions.
The Global Academic Careers Guide – Essential advice and top tips for academics looking to expand their horizons overseas. This ebook will tell you more about the scale of the new global market, help you consider the pros and cons of seeking employment outside your nation of origin, and give you important information that will improve your success rate if you do decide to give working abroad a try.