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By Shola Adenekan



Wednesday, September 03, 2014.


For some, the possibility of racial discrimination is a factor that dissuade them from exploring career potentials in many West European countries like Germany, but many expats say racial discrimination is no more worse and neither is racial tolerance better across Western Europe than in Britain, Canada and the U.S. They say it is East European countries that offer major concern to people of African descent with regard to racism.


But while the idea of internationalism has long taken strong roots in British and North American universities, German universities and research institutes are beginning to challenge the countries of UK, USA and Canada in terms of talent recruitment.

Experts say researches are best carried out within an international context and that German universities now want to be competitive in recruiting the best researchers from around the world. Germany, they point out, offers academics a highly viable environment to work and develop, and for those with young children, nursery school places are heavily subsidised.



Doing a PhD in Germany


One of the few ways into an academic career in Germany is the PhD route. Several universities offer scholarships and training contracts, which are often supported by funding organisations, most notably the German Government-run Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).The DAAD website offers comprehensive guidelines on admission requirements as well as possible funding. You may also want to know that PhD candidates are also sometimes employed by a university as part of a research group. Information about such opportunities is available on individual university website.


The Postdoc Option

Postdoctoral research fellowships are the commonest route through which many foreign researchers and academics enter Germany. The German Research Foundation- Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) - is an umbrella body that funds various programmes to support researchers in the sciences and the humanities at all stages of their academic careers. The Emmy Noether Programme is the most well-known of the DFG's postdoctoral funding programmes. It aims to promote academic independence by supporting early career researchers, between two and four years of prior research experience, in conducting their own research projects and in leading a team of junior researchers. Applicants must also have international research experience.

Other major funders include the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the DAAD, the Marie Curie Foundation, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, and the Volkswagen Foundation. Information on these schemes is available online and often advertised on Jobs.ac.uk.


The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation says it welcomes researchers and scholars of all nationalities and disciplines.


“Every year, approximately 600 foreign academics come to Germany as fellows of the Humboldt Foundation in order to spend one or two years working with colleagues here,” says a spokesperson for the foundation. “Over 90 percent of the fellows gave a positive overall assessment of Germany and would be interested in another stay in the country. 93 percent of the fellows rated their stay “very good” or “good” from a scientific point of view.”


For many of these funders, postdoctoral candidates usually need to contact a potential mentor based in a German university who will serve as host for their stay in Germany. This person is usually a senior academic whose research interest is related to that of the applicant.  Salaries for early career postdoctoral fellows are often in the region of 2500 Euros but each fellow may have to be responsible for their own health insurance and that of their family.


It also worth mentioning that many German universities and research institutes also offer postdoctoral positions that are usually attached to a particular department, a research group or a particular professor. With regard to such positions, successful applicants will be employed on a state government contract, are placed on a civil servant salary scale and are subjected to the same tax conditions as the other civil servants. Suffice it to say, this route is normally more cumbersome than securing a research fellowship through a funding organisation because you will have to negotiate Germany’s notorious civil service red-tape. For example, you may be unable to know the exact amount of your salary until you receive your first paycheque, and the amount will depend on several factors that include your marital status, the number of children you have, your spousal earnings in Germany and your work experience prior to starting the new position.


Life Beyond Postdoc


If you decide to stay in Germany beyond your postdoctoral work, you may need to go through the Habilitation or the Junior professorship route in order for you to secure the only permanent position within German academia - the professorship. The Habilitation pathway is usually assumed by many universities as the traditional route to becoming a professor. It  usually involves the researcher working within a university or a research institute for up to six years after the PhD, at the end of which you have to produce a collection of work or a major piece of work - the habilitation thesis -  and an examination that ascertains whether you are qualified to teach an academic subject. Please note that it is not compulsory to have undertaken a postdoctoral position before embarking on a Habilitation. Moreover, you can also work your way up into the professorship ladder without the habilitation by becoming head of a research group after your PhD.


Senior Academics


Those with considerable experience as well as mid-career academics are also not excluded from many of the aforementioned funding schemes. As a matter of fact, the terms and conditions are better for experienced academics than for early career candidates.


The Volkswagen Foundation for example, points out it lends support to outstanding scholars and scientists with forward-looking ideas who are not afraid of taking risks – at correspondingly “courageous” universities – and then relies on the interplay between the two to generate not only new knowledge, but also to develop alternatives to entrenched processes and structures.


“Our funding activities enable outstanding researchers to concentrate on topics which break new ground in their respective disciplines,” it says.


Further things to ponder

Foreign scholars and researchers who want to work in Germany may be pleased to know that many universities and research institute have both English and German as their working language. These institutions also often offer help learning the German language and may even offer help with relocation cost.


However, you may also want to know that there is a lot of bureaucracy within the system - immigration rules and working practices - much more so when compared to the conditions in countries such as the United States, Britain and Canada. There is also far less career security for people who enter academia after the age of 40, when compared to many countries around the world.


The good news is that German universities and politicians say they want to change some of these drawbacks and point out the government is putting a lot of resources into research projects with funding that often beats those available in Britain and the United States.


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Shola Adenekan is an academic and a journalist. He is the publisher of Thenewblackmagazine.com



Working as an Academic in Germany

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