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As a follow-up to this question, I am wondering whether or not there are intermediate positions between a postdoc and a tenure in the German academic system.

I was told that there isn't really a step up from postdoc (like an assistant professor) until you get a professorship (for which you have to do habilitation among other things). If I understand things correctly you can be a postdoc for 12 years (?!) in Germany, and if you're successful (and lucky) you can get a professorship.

Is this accurate? Or are there more intermediate positions? Specifically I noticed there is a "junior professor" position, which would seem to fit the bill. What are the differing qualifications of a junior prof (W1) and a senior postdoc (either E13 or E14)?

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    For a junior professor position you need to have achieved an excellent and competitive PhD and usually it's expected that your PhD plus subsequent postdoc position(s) were less than six years in total. In practice quite a few junior professors have not achieve tenure. – Roland Aug 1 '19 at 11:00
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    @Roland "excellent and competitive PhD" are not quantifiable merits. Does that mean it's a bit of a case-to-case decision? As I mentioned in the other question (linked) my question stems from the fact that there is an offer on the table for a postdoc and I am told there really isn't anything in between a postdoc and professor, which I find kinda difficult to believe. I could understand for example if the difference is such that for a junior prof you need to bring in your own money in form of a start up grant or something of that sort. – posdef Aug 1 '19 at 11:04
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    If you have a German PhD it's generally quantifiable, as it is graded. E.g., "summa cum laude" is the best grade you can get. Further criteria might apply (depending on the Bundesland and university). They are right, there isn't anything between postdoc and professor unless they have already created a junior professor position (and that's not something you can negotiate for). – Roland Aug 1 '19 at 11:09
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    After a postdoc in Germany, generally you hop from one short-term soft-money position to the next, until you realize you want to have a life and a family, and then you drop out of academia. – henning -- reinstate Monica Aug 1 '19 at 16:01
  • @David sure, are you hiring a staff bioinformatician by any chance? :) – posdef Aug 2 '19 at 9:24
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I was told that there isn't really a step up from postdoc (like an assistant professor) until you get a professorship (for which you have to do habilitation among other things).

In Germany, there is generally a greater variety in career paths than, say, in the US, where the vast majority of new full profs have been assistant profs at some point. It's indeed common to go from post-doc to professor (W2 or W3) directly. Other options include a junior professorship (W1), and a "research group leader" position, based on grants like the Emmy Noether and the Heisenberg stipend.

Habilitation is still mandatory in some fields; others will accept "Habilitation-equivalent achievements", like a strong track record in research and teaching.

If I understand things correctly you can be a postdoc for 12 years (?!) in Germany, and if you're successful (and lucky) you can get a professorship.

The 12 years probably refer to the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG). According to WissZeitVG, you cannot be employed more than 12 years as a scientific assistant, which includes both the pre-doc and post-doc phase, without a specific reason. However, there are various exceptions, including field-specific ones (in Medicine it's 15 years), personal circumstances (you get an extension for each child), and the case that the research institution is willing to hire you permanently (which almost never happens).

What are the differing qualifications of a junior prof (W1) and a senior postdoc (either E13 or E14)?

A junior professorship is similar to an assistant professorship in the US. The main practical difference is that most junior professorships (90% or so) are not equipped with a tenure track, which makes them considerably less attractive. However, there is now a trend to change this situation towards more tenure-track junior professorships.

In comparison to a post-doc, a junior prof will usually have more teaching duties. The benefits of a junior professorship are the higher prestige, the usually higher salary and the longer time span, typically 6 years (with an intermediate evaluation after 3 years).

Junior profs may also be offered more freedom to build their own research profile. But this really depends on the interpretation of the associated department and research chair, and should be brought up as a topic in the hiring process. I've seen both "glorified post-doc" junior profs that were hired to bring special knowledge to some larger research group, and post-docs who were given the opportunity to build their own small research group.

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    Let me add a remark to this very good answer: In the last couple of years there has been a considerable increase of tenure-track professorships both at the W1 and at the W2/W3 level in Germany. The intent is to close the mentioned gap and to allow to hire younger candidates for a professorship without immediately committing to a life-time appointment. – MKR Aug 1 '19 at 13:57
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    To add another little thing to this excellent answer: in my field a successfully evaluated junior professorship counts as a more or less automatic "Habilitation-equivalent achievements". – Maarten Buis Aug 1 '19 at 14:55
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    In support of @AnonymousPhysicist, paths from PhD/post-doc to full professor might go through industry or a national lab before moving to a university. That is not uncommon at all (well, industry less so now that Bell Labs and other industrial research labs are not as common as in the past). – Jon Custer Aug 1 '19 at 19:26
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    The "Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz" does not mean you can't be employed longer than 6/12 years, but it prohibits fixed-term contracts without specific reason ("sachgrundlose befristung") after that deadline. You can still work on research projects with fixed-term contracts (common) or on permanent positions (less common). It is an exception to the general law which prohibits fixed-term contracts more strictly. – Zulan Aug 2 '19 at 14:46
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    It is even stronger than what @MaartenBuis says: The successful evaluation of a junior professorship is by law equivalent to a habilitation. Some committees would like to disagree, but courts would rule differently. – Dirk Aug 2 '19 at 20:02

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