Professorships in the German Academic System

Professorships in the German Academic System

In the German academic system, there are several different professorships. In the academic world, professors are responsible for research and teaching, supervision of young academics, academic self-administration/committee responsibilities, and the administration of the professorship.

The career steps on the way to a university professorship are often as follows: Completed university studies - doctorate - employment at a university or non-university research institution as a scientific employee or (junior) group leader - habilitation (including award of teaching authorization) - activity as a private lecturer - appointment as a university professor.

*Other professorships, such as those at technical and private universities, as well as honorary and senior professorships, are not disclosed here.

Worth reading: The guide to professorships by DIE ZEIT academics (German only); Information about working in science from the University of Bonn 

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Volker Lannert / Universität Bonn

Professorships at a Glance

Full professors (ordentliche Professur, „Ordinarius“) at universities are civil servants in the higher civil service and, as heads of their own professorships, assume responsibility as university teachers with a teaching load that varies according to the federal state. A professorship is usually filled through an elaborate and legally formalized selection procedure (appointment procedure), which is intended to ensure that the choice corresponds to the best selection required by law, i.e. based on aptitude, performance and ability.

In addition to the full professorship, there are so-called extraordinary professors (professor without a chair; außerplanmäßige Professor*innen, apl. Prof.), who do not have a professorial employment relationship with the title-awarding university. This title is often awarded to private lecturers (PD, habilitated scientists with teaching authorization without their own chair).

An alternative qualification on the way to a full professorship is the so-called junior professorship (which is equivalent to the position as assistant professor that is often elevated to associate professor before turning into a full or tenured professorship). After completion the doctorate, additional achievements, which are determined by the universities in each case, replace the traditional German habilitation. Junior professorships can be advertised with the addition of a tenure track, which guarantees conversion into a lifelong, full professorship after successful completion of the probationary period (after interim and final evaluation) without further appointment procedures. This is intended to provide young scientists with more predictability in their careers.

Joint professorships (S professorship, special/sectoral professorship, joint appointments) are advertised with non-university research institutions (institutes of the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations and the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Societies). In most cases, joint appointment committees make the decision on filling the professorship, which is often in a leading position in non-university research (institute director, group leader or department head). The special feature compared to the university professorship is the strong research focus of these professorships, whose teaching duties are much lower.

The joint professorship can be structured according to three cooperation models: (1) Berlin model (reimbursement model; reduction of duties at the university and reimbursement of personnel costs for this loss), (2) Jülicher model (leave of absence model; leave of absence from the university and conclusion of a service contract with the respective research institution), (3) Karlsruher model (part-time model; full university duties with part-time work at the respective research institution). Within BORA, the first two models are pursued.

Endowed professorships (Donor-named Distinguished Professorships, term chairs; Stiftungsprofessuren) differ primarily from other professorships in their funding; they are supported entirely or in part by third-party funding sources (foundations, institutions or companies; incl. the DFG Heisenberg Professorships) and are limited in time. Such professorships must then be taken over by the respective university.

Adjunct professors (or adjunct associate professors; Honorarprofessor*innen, Hon.-Prof.) are part-time university teachers whose achievements in the respective field are equivalent to those of their colleagues. They are often appointed to universities on the basis of their scientific or artistic achievements and teach a small number of courses on a voluntary basis (free of charge). They continue to work full-time in their activities outside the university.

Visiting professors (guest professors, guest scientists; Gastprofessor*innen) temporarily assume a professorship at a university other than their home institution as part of an exchange for a guest semester or a research project. Private lecturers can also take on visiting professorships.

Temporary or replacement professors (Vertretungsprofessor*innen) take over the administration of professorships that are temporarily vacant due to leave of absence, retirement or departure of the actual holder of the position. They must be active in teaching, research and academic self-administration, which is why they must have a habilitation or comparable academic achievements.

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Joint Professorships

The University of Bonn and BORA members have a large number of joint professorships. Some of these joint professorships are joint appointments


Learn all about your pathway to a university professorship or assistant professorship at the University of Bonn.


If a professorial post is advertised as a tenure track position, the successful candidate will be eligible for tenure if they successfully complete the probationary period and final evaluation.

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