Working as an Academic in Germany

January 13, 2024
5 mins read

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

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

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

“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

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.

External links: is
not responsible for information provided by external websites.

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


  1. Hi! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d
    ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing
    a blog post or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same
    topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Are You a Fake Listener?

Next Story

The Caribbean: Of Equality and Social Mobility Barriers

Latest from Blog

A virgin’s quest

A Short Story by Bunmi Fatoye-Matory Wednesday, May 22, 2024.   Somewhere in Rọ́lákẹ́’s childhood, she learned about Mercedes Benz, but not