Candidates who do not pursue the traditional path of a career in academia still have several possibilities to work in high quality research positions – for instance in the industry or federal institutes. Other professions with less or no research work involved might also hold attractive career prospects – depending on a candidate’s personal profile and interests. The options presented here only represent a small fraction of the professional spectrum that is open to graduates holding a doctoral degree. There are many more options such as working in the management of a company or as policy consultant.
Career options in research and development
Besides universities, there is another major employer for postdoctoral researchers who wish to continue to work in research while keeping their options open to become a professor: non-academic research institutes funded by the state. Candidates who are chosen to lead a (junior) research group at these institutions are given the opportunity to conduct high quality research and broaden their leadership skills. Career prospects might also open up within the respective research institute. As is the case at universities, the German Fixed Term Research Contracts Act (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz) is applicable to employment contracts at these institutes so that each individual candidate should consider to what extent this career option offers professional prospects in the long run. Candidates should also engage in teaching to gain the necessary teaching experience in order to keep the option open to become a professor.
Another career option for graduates with a doctoral degree is to work in institutes at federal or state level which engage in research and development – so called departmental research – as the staff’s research expertise is indispensable to these institutions. Departmental research institutes also provide the opportunity to become a junior research group leader, thereby attaining the necessary qualifications for an academic career path. In this case, too, candidates have to acquire additional qualifications which go beyond research.
Industrial companies also offer research positions for postdocs – an option that is of great importance to young scientists in the MINT disciplines. In industrial research, postdocs will have to face new challenges regarding the presentation of their results or products as the results’ practical application and relevance is given high priority. Where the postdoc’s position also involves leadership responsibility, personnel management skills will be required in addition to research expertise and sales skills. Larger companies in particular give their new members the opportunity to acquire or improve these skills in training and educational courses.
The term academic management covers a broad range of functions that are close to and support research. These positions are often at the interfaces between research and administration. Academic managers organize and steer processes, projects or sometimes entire institutions or support third-party fundraising. In addition to know-how on the particularities of academia and its stakeholders, management skills are crucial to work in this field. The degree of professionalization remains rather low in large parts of academic management, so that candidates will often enter this field from a prior academic position and learn on the job, irrespective of whether they used to work at a university, funding organization (such as the German Research Foundation) or as policy consultant in a ministry. For some years now, there have been Master’s degree programs and other training options in order to receive academic management education.
The move to self-employment is another career option for researchers from all disciplines. One possibility to do so are start-ups or so called spin-offs from research, which means that a company is founded to market and exploit research results – or even specific products. Creative ideas for services can also lead to the foundation of a company.
Every leap into self-employment requires careful planning. Where research results are made use of, founders will have to make sure they have the right to exploit them. Once this question is resolved, planning the actual practical implementation of the founder’s idea can begin, including among other aspects the company’s legal form, drafting a business plan and ensuring the project’s (initial) financing.
JGU and the University of Applied Sciences Mainz provide advice and information for researchers in their joint Mainz Office of Entrepreneurship. Moreover, there are several regional and national contact points and funding programs which support the projects of prospective founders financially and conceptually. Further information is provided on the following websites, among others:
EXIST – University-Based Business Start-Ups: the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s support program
Gründungsbüro Mainz: this website provides a first overview of numerous contact points for information, advice or funding (in German only)
Gründungsoffensive Biotechnologie (GO Bio) (in German only)
Startup Week Germany
Funding data base: support programs and funding at federal, state and European level (in German only)