professorship: tenure-track position, or "good" assistant professorship. Basically, a position that upgrades the postdoc status, and gives a much higher chance of a future permanent position.

I'm currently going to start a postdoc in applied mathematics and I wish to land a permanent position at some point in my life. Naturally, the situation seems dire, and albeit I'm highly confident of my skills, one never knows.

So, my plan is to fix a deadline time to do my best, and if I don't get a professorship by that time, I should start, without a question, to seek for a job at the industry.

The natural question arises, which is this optimal stopping time? According to my advisor, I should land a professorship in 3 years, but I'm not sure if this is true.

So my question to academia.stackexchange: What is, in your experience, the postdoctoral length of a freshly hired professor at your institutions?

For sure my question is highly dependent on country and research area, I would appreciate answers for my specific case (Germanic world, Applied mathematics), but I think the presented answers could be meaningful for a lot of other fellow postdocs.

For what is worth, I would love some sort of database on newly hired professors, as it would also make possible to compare "strengths". But I've briefly scanned the internet with no positive results.

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    I am not sure if this is a language or concept problem, but a professorship in English implies to be a Prof., something that takes very long years in academia. I assume you mean to get in what is generally called "tenure track", an assistant professorship, or a lectureship. Commented May 31, 2018 at 17:06
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    It's a language issue, I'll fix it. Thank you.
    – pancho
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 17:07
  • @AnderBiguri In UK English, in the US, a lectureship is something different. Commented May 31, 2018 at 17:14
  • @AzorAhai ah yes, I am aware, just giving some examples, as OP is probably close to UK culture than US, just mentioning that Profesorship is quite definitely not the word Commented May 31, 2018 at 17:19
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    Three years is (in the U.S. and I think also elsewhere) a standard length for a postdoctoral appointment. There are many good mathematicians who had more than one postdoc position before getting a tenure-track job. So your adviser's estimate of 3 years looks somewhat too optimistic to me. Commented May 31, 2018 at 18:09

3 Answers 3


Speaking for Germany: in former times, a "Habilitation" war required for a full professorship - which you usually wrote during your post-doc phase. It usually took about 6 years (of course with strong variations). Now, you can qualify for a full professorship by being a "Junior Professor" - which takes 6 years with an interim evaluation after three years. In some cases, junior-professorships can be transformed to full professorships after six years, but if this really happens depends strongly on your university and faculty (in fact politics says it should be the norm, but in fact universities are having much more junior professorships than full professorships).

So the general norm in Germany is 6years+, since you usually won't get a position right after your PhD.

  • Thank you for your answer, I was talking with a Professor in Berlin, and he said that there are these "levels" (M1,M2,M3) if I recall well. And that, legally, you can only be hired into the M1 bracket un to 6 years of Postdoc, afterwards, you can go directly for the M2. And this could prolong the postdoctoral length... Another question: You would say that there is an issue with too many assistant professorships opening? seems like the postdoc issue, but one level above.
    – pancho
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 12:31
  • @pancho You should ask additional questions as new questions, not as comments.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 13:42
  • You mixed this up with W. Ask a new question. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:13
  • Well, it's W1, W2, W3, and those are salary groups. Depending on your institution you can be W2 and be head of a independent group, in other universities W2s are associated to a W3. W1 (Junior Professor) are ment to be independent, but in fact they need rooms / ressources and therefore are usually at least co-loacted with a W2/ W3. In fact it is a similar problem like the postdoc issue, but it's a bit worse since you already spent even more time out of the "real" job market. In my field (CS) this is not an issue, in others it might be.
    – OBu
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 6:00

The range of scenarios I have seen (mostly in the US) for “postdoctoral length before landing a professorship job” is 0-8 years, with anywhere between 3 and 5 years being fairly typical. This should be understood with the following caveats:

  • Some people actually enjoy doing several postdocs, or preferred prolonging their postdoc to get a really good professorship (or to achieve some other goal) when they had an option of taking a less good one earlier. You should not assume that someone taking 6 or 8 years means something terrible (but you should also not assume that it means something wonderful; basically you just shouldn’t make assumptions about what it means).

  • Some people do longer postdocs because they switched fields part way through their postdocs.

  • Not all jobs fall neatly on the postdoc/professorship spectrum. E.g., there are research labs (both government and industry) or other jobs from which a postdoc might transition to, and from which one might realistically transition to a professorship at some point.

The bottom line is that both statistics and anecdotal data can be very misleading. Each case tells a unique story which may, or quite possibly may not, have any relevance to your own situation.

Another thought about what you wrote:

So, my plan is to fix a deadline time to do my best, and if I don't get a professorship by that time, I should start, without a question, to seek for a job at the industry.

The natural question arises, which is this optimal stopping time? According to my advisor, I should land a professorship in 3 years, but I'm not sure if this is true.

While it’s certainly good to make plans, no offense but I think fixing a deadline in advance is not a good plan. The true “optimal stopping strategy” would include being open to adjusting your plan dynamically to fit circumstances. E.g., if you are doing great work and for random reasons just didn’t manage to get a tenure track position by year X, or if some really cool opportunity came up to go to some prestigious place for a year, it might make sense to do another year as a postdoc even if you hadn’t originally planned to. By contrast, if after 1-2 years you have not produced any research (I’m sure that won’t happen, it’s just a hypothetical scenario), it might be better to leave early rather than wait out the allotted 3-year postdoc period.

Good luck!


As the poster mentioned that answer for other fields and regions might be useful:

In the English speaking biology/biomedical world, a really good researcher will do one 3 year postdoc, followed by a 3-5 year independent or semi-independent fellowship before beginning to look for permanent positions.

Also normal would be to have worked in a 1-3 postdocs totaling around 10 years in total. After 3 postdocs or more than 10 years people will start to ask questions.

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