One path to becoming a professor: The habilitation process

In many academic disciplines, the habilitation process is the most common way to become a professor. It requires several years of excellent academic work and outstanding teaching abilities.

One – and certainly not the only – way to qualify for a professorship in Germany is through the habilitation process. The post-doctoral habilitation degree is the highest degree a university can award. While there are several avenues that lead to a professorship, the habilitation plays an important role.

The habilitation process includes a habilitation treatise and a high-level examination. When successful, it certifies that the candidate is able to teach an academic subject with the required depth and breadth. It is an important step toward becoming a professor but not the only one.

Steps involved in the habilitation process

When you decide to habilitate, you are clearly committed to an academic career and love to spend your work life at a university or research institute.

First, find out about the subject-related and formal requirements in the state university law (Landeshochschulgesetz) of Baden-Württemberg and in the habilitation regulations of your university and department.

You also need to find an advisor. Consult with the advisor to see whether you will have to write a monograph as your treatise of whether you can submit a series of scientific articles published in international journals.

During the habilitation process, you are often employed by the university in a research position. Funding may also be available through habilitation scholarships. Information is available on your university’s website or from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German research foundation, DFG).

If your treatise is almost complete or you have reached a certain number of peer-reviewed publications, you can apply for habilitation with the dean of your department. Whether the habilitation is successful is usually decided by a committee consisting of eight professors or scientists at your university. At least three experts will review your treatise. In addition to your treatise, you also have to deliver a scientific presentation with a subsequent colloquium. Also required is a teaching evaluation in a seminar or another discourse-based teaching setting.

The habilitation is often mandatory in medicine, law and the social sciences. In these disciplines, it is likely that you have to complete the habilitation process, even if you held a position as a junior professor or a junior research team leader beforehand.