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I have recieved the grades for my PhD, and the defense is yet to be done. I have a magna cum laude for the course work, and a cum laude for my dissertation. Do I have an academic career in Germany if I end up with a cum laude for the PhD? Is there any way I can salvage a magna cum laude? The defense remains. Neither of my supervisors read any of my drafts. They said that I should submit, and then gave me cum laude, which is the second-to-lowest in Germany. (There is rite, cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude.)

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    Is your profile (papers) otherwise good and do you get support from them? It's imo unlikely anyone cares. – user111388 Nov 19 at 15:28
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    "cum laude" is generally not the lowest in Germany ("rite" exists), but it's not good either. I know that some job openings have a dissertation with at least "magna" as an explicit requirement. The details will depend on your field and could change within years, as universities are in an ongoing process of becoming more internationalized, leading to a greater role of publications instead of the PhD grade. – lighthouse keeper Nov 19 at 15:34
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    What's up with grade inflation? I thought cum laude was exceptionally hard to get. – gerrit Nov 19 at 17:11
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    @gerrit Perhaps another country. In Germany, "cum laude" is traditionally the third-best of four possible grades and indicates a rather mediocre thesis. – lighthouse keeper Nov 19 at 18:35
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    This was at least partially addressed here. – Wrzlprmft Nov 19 at 19:04
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Well, yes, but also no.

Permanent academic positions that are not professorships are relatively rare in Germany. Since most researchers want to eventually have a permanent position, it is in the interest of all long-term researchers to eventually become "berufungsfähig" (suitable for becoming a tenured associate or full professor).

The vast majority of the universities are public in Germany, and hence the laws of the respective state regulate hiring in the universities. All(?) "Landeshochschulgesetze" (law on higher education) list mandatory requirements for candidates for professor positions.

For instance, the respective law of the state of North-Rhine Westfalia (that has the largest population) states as a requirement:

besondere Befähigung zu wissenschaftlicher Arbeit, die in der Regel durch die Qualität einer Promotion nachgewiesen wird;

In English, this means that the candidate must show a substantial/remarkable/special ability to research work, which is normally indicated by the quality of the PhD. Given that PhDs are thesis-only in Germany (while the defense may also include more general questions about the field of work), this means that the PhD thesis should be particularly good and have a corresponding grade. The state of Lower Saxony has in their law that the PhD should be above average, and given that there are four passing grades, "cum laude" is probably below average.

Now what does should mean concretely? It means that if a hiring committee wants to hire somebody with a bad PhD thesis, they risk the overall hiring process being delayed or even canceled. There may be objections, candidates not snatching the precious professorship may sue, or the respective ministry of education may intervene or simply refuse to send the offer letter to the successful candidate. There have surely been cases of pea counting as far as the formalities of candidates to be hired are concerned in the past, and this adds to the risk. Hiring committees and universities will probably take the risk if there is a very good and demonstratable reason for why the candidate is excellent despite a bad PhD thesis, depending on their legal interpretation of the should and how much they are willing to risk it. In any case, certainly, those candidates with a good PhD thesis have a substantial head-start, and it's quite hard to catch up for candidates with a grade lower than "Magna Cum Laude".

Having said this, there are also other permanent academic positions, such as in Fraunhofer or Max Planck institutes that may or may not have similar requirement. So a Cum Laude may not be a big deal if they want you for a different reason.

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    Thank you so much for that detailed answer. I have 1.3 in my course work. Is there anyway I can get a magna through my defense. Neither of my professors ever read a draft. They said submit and I did, now this. – user78397 Nov 19 at 22:46
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    @user78397 I overlooked that you have course work in your PhD studies. This is rather unusual. Please see your PhD regulations to determine how the final grade is derived - there are substantial differences between the departments and universities in this respect. For instance, getting a Summa cum Laude may require a higher number of reviewers than other grades. Most likely the coursework grade doesn't matter, but for certainty, reading the regulations is a necessity. – DCTLib Nov 20 at 9:39
  • @DCTLib These days, course work is becoming more and more usual. However, it will usually not enter the grade, it will just be a prerequisite to have obtained a certain number of ECTS points. – user151413 Nov 21 at 21:45
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I don't know the specifics of Germany, but in general an academic career doesn't depend that much on the PhD, let alone on the level of honor given to the degree.

If you apply for postdoc positions at the international level, people are unlikely to even look at the level of honor because these differ a lot by country so they do not provide a standard objective indication. Traditionally the publication track record is considered more important, and of course how well your profile fits the specifics of the job.

If you get a postdoc position and do a good job during the postdoc, nobody will care about the PhD level of honor.

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    "I don't know the specifics of Germany" Then it's, unfortunately, essentially a non-answer, since Germany tends to have very custom/archaic rules in this department. – lighthouse keeper Nov 19 at 16:40
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    @lighthousekeeper I think I interpreted the question as "does cum laude in Germany mean the end of one's academic career?" as opposed to "can one have an academic career in Germany with cum laude?". I realize now that I was probably wrong indeed. – Erwan Nov 19 at 16:58
  • so does it mean that I cannot find a job or post doc in Germany with this grade? – user78397 Nov 19 at 17:13
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    In Germany it depends on the field. I heard that in management/ business administration the thesis grade is still the dominant hiring criterion. In economics, publications in top journals and your home institution are important. – Chr Nov 19 at 17:16
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    "If you get a postdoc position and do a good job during the postdoc, nobody will care about the PhD level of honor." - The problem is not at the postdoc level, it is when trying to snatch a professorship later. Then the PhD grade will suddenly become important again despite the postdoc performance being more recent. – DCTLib Nov 19 at 21:53

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