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Perspectives inside and outside the university

Career and success factors

The academic career path begins with the doctorate, which can lead via postdoc and Junior Faculty to a lifetime professorship. While only a few doctoral researchers eventually progress to a professorship, most of them leave the academic career path and pursue other professions within and outside the university. The Graduate Center supports all these career plans to the same extent.

Academic career: The path to professorship

An academic career enables a professional life in the service of research and teaching with an exceptional degree of professional autonomy. Academic career paths are diverse and strongly influenced by the respective professional culture. As a rule, however, they include these phases:

  • The doctorate as proof of the ability to carry out independent research projects.
  • The postdoc or assistant phase, in which researchers sharpen their own research and qualification profile.
  • The attainment of professional status as Junior Faculty, a generic term for researchers who pursue independent, self-reliant research (advanced postdocs, possibly pursuing habilitation, leaders of junior research groups, and junior professorships with and without tenure track).
  • The appointment to a lifetime professorship.

Employment below the professorship is usually based on fixed-term contracts; a permanent position in research is usually only opened up by a lifetime professorship. However, there are also permanent research positions, for example as a research associate or senior lecturer.

Success factors of the academic career

The academic career path is extremely competitive and is determined by a variety of success factors. Like all careers, it cannot be planned in a narrow sense, but strategic development of your own research profile and the most relevant career factors can greatly enhance your personal chances of success. Depending on the culture of each discipline, different criteria are applied or weighted. In most cases, however, the following factors are considered particularly relevant:

  • Excellent research results documented by publications in high-ranking journals or publishing houses and the frequent citation or reference of these works;
  • Acquisition of third-party funding, especially in formats with a high reputation and large funding volumes (varies according to subject culture; in principle, funding is available to all subject areas);
  • Research prizes and awards, both subject-specific and interdisciplinary;
  • (International) cooperation and mobility, as evidenced by cooperative projects and publications as well as research stays at other research institutions, or by international guest researchers;
  • Proof of academic independence, i.e., fulfillment of these criteria even without ties to the supervisors of the doctorate or later mentors.

These factors can be strategically developed in all career phases including the doctorate. The Graduate Center or the Research Support Services will be happy to support you in this with personal advice.

Non-academic career paths: Almost infinite possibilities

Whether directly after the doctorate or after a few years as a postdoc – in the long term, most doctoral candidates pursue a career outside of the universities. Graduates with a doctorate have very good career prospects on the non-academic job market. Despite major differences between the disciplines, doctoral candidates have higher incomes on average and are overrepresented in management positions. In addition, academic qualifications are the only way to gain access to certain professional fields, for example in research and development departments, think tanks, or positions of outstanding responsibility.

Wegweiser mit drei hölzernen Schildern, die in unterschiedliche Richtungen zeigen © Greg Montani​/​Pixabay

Depending on the culture of the discipline, non-academic career perspectives receive varying degrees of attention within the framework of scientific qualification. The Graduate Center and the Research Academy Ruhr therefore offer a variety of orientation formats to complement personal advice (such as Karriereforum, Wirtschaftskolleg, Dialogue). Career prospects are also often the subject of unofficial exchanges within the framework of the various networking formats.

Planning your personal career

Personal career planning is highly individual and depends on a variety of professional and personal factors: Competencies and performance, personal life goals and priorities, and expectations of work and life design create a framework within which careers develop in a more or less planned manner. A systematic analysis of these factors, repeated at regular intervals, enables strategic career development, which may not guarantee success, but can make it more likely.

To support personal career decisions, the Graduate Center offers advice (for Junior Faculty and postdocs also coaching) and a variety of information and transferable skills formats.

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