There is something called a habilitation* in Poland, Germany, Austria, and a number of other European countries.

How is a European habilitation viewed by people in the United States?

* "Habilitation is a qualification required in order to conduct self-contained university teaching, and to obtain a professorship in many European countries. Despite changes implemented in European higher-education systems consequent to the Bologna Process, habilitation is the highest qualification issued through the process of a university examination, and remains a core concept of scholarly careers in these countries."

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    I would guess hiring in the US would look at your publications and letters or recommendation, but not your habilitation (and not even your Ph.D.).
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 17:20
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    @GEdgar, looking at the publications, teaching experience etc. is more or less identical to looking at the habilitation, at least in Germany. Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 18:04
  • You are asking two questions, and it is not clear whether, and how, they are related. Or is your first question: How is a European habilitation considered in the US?
    – user151413
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 20:01
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    @user151413, Yes. That is the question.
    – user366312
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 20:41
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    The role of a habilitation is hugely dependent on your field of study. In the sciences, the habilitation is a dying breed. (If you apply to a job that requires it, you will typically staple together you post-Ph.D. publications and submit this in lieu, which will almost invariably work.) In the humanities, the "second book" (after the Ph.D. thesis) kind of lingers on. Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 16:58

4 Answers 4


An up-front comment: This answer has managed to attract a fair number of downvotes, as well as several very helpful follow-up comments (which have since been moved to chat). One hypothesis offered by a commenter for why so many have chosen to cast downvotes is that my answer maybe too focused on just one field (economics, which happens to be my field) while failing to explain what a habilitation is. Well, the question was not about what a habilitation is, was it? Instead, it was about how it's viewed in the US (and, presumably, Canada as well).

I've decided to shorten my answer drastically to make it focus on (a) what I believe are commonly held views among academics based in North America and (b) an explanation of why they are likely justified in holding these views.

I suppose any answer to your question will depend importantly on your field of study. My answer is informed by what I know is the state of affairs in my field, economics. However, I believe the views I state below are not limited to academics employed by North American economics departments.

  • Simply put, most academic economists based at North American universities have never heard of -- or are, at most, barely familiar with -- the concept of a "habilitation". To the extent that they think they know what it is, it's widely regarded as an awkward and even embarrassing device by which a person, after having earned a doctorate, enters an extended period of indentured servitude to some "big name professor", during which time the "habilitand" is supposed to acquire and demonstrate serious research skills and, ideally, manage to publish a couple of well-regarded papers in top-notch journals -- while also having to engage in such career-irrelevant activities as sprucing up the big-name-professor's lecture notes and fill in for the professor's lectures when the professor decide to be some place else.

  • To the extent that a European habilitation has any value at all in North American economics departments, the only thing that matters are the publications that (should) go along with the additional academic degree. The degree itself is pretty much irrelevant.

  • Is this state of ignorance willful and detrimental, or is it maybe entirely rational for these academics not to bother finding out a lot about what this habilitation thingy might be all about? I'd say it's the latter. In economics, there has been -- for many decades -- a huge difference in the perceived quality and status of a U.S. or Canadian Ph.D. degree in economics on the one hand and a (continental) European doctoral degree in economics on the other. (Aside: what matters, of course, is the thoroughness and breadth of learning and the research skills that come with the pursuit of the degree, not the nationality of the degree holder.)

  • Earning a Ph.D. degree from a high-quality North American graduate program was (and largely still is) seen as the vehicle that opens doors toward obtaining an assistant professorship at a selective university or college.

  • In contrast, most (all?) US econ department hiring committees know -- usually from painful first-hand experience -- that they needn't bother with considering applications from persons whose main qualification is that they have just received a doctorate in economics from a European university. (Well, there have been some notable exceptions to this rule of thumb in economics. However, they are the exceptions that prove rather than refute the rule.) If the European job applicant possesses both a doctorate and a habilitation, the only things that matter are the quality and quantity of the applicants' publications. Well, if the position entails some teaching responsibilities, the applicant's proficiency in English might also matter a bit... If anything, the European doctorate/habilitation candidates might be at a disadvantage relative to their peers with "just" a Ph.D. from a North American institution, who often have just one or two promising job market papers but no publications (yet) in top-notch journals.

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    This conversation about downvoting has been moved to chat. Comments below this one should suggest improvements or request clarification only; please see this FAQ before posting another comment. Let us also remember to be nice.
    – cag51
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 18:54
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    To be fair, if the question is "How is a European habilitation viewed by people in the United States?", and people in the United States view habilitations wrongly, then an answer containing those wrong views is still both correct and useful to the questioner, provided it does represent the prevailing view... Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 20:37

For the most part habilitation is restricted only to Europe.

No real equivalent exists in the United States or other parts of the world. The closest equivalent in the United States would be a promotion after tenure and before reaching a (Full) Professor rank. At many institutions I know, however, there would not be such a rank because the jump to Associate Professor happens before or with tenure.

Many in the US may not have even heard of habilitation, but anyone with close European collaborators will likely know about it. I first learned about it, for example, when I was asked to support a colleague for their habilitation. For those who do know about it, I would not expect there to be any special awe, just a recognition that this is an academic rank and its approximate equivalence in their own system.

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    This answer is correct, but I would add that it's restricted only to parts of Europe. My European country does not bother with habilitation.
    – user116675
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 19:11
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    @jakebeal I think it is tricky to compare this to any kind of position in the US, whatever it is, because it does not link to any kind of position. It is more like a PhD: A stamp of approval, a degree of some kind, but it doesn't buy you a postdoc/professorship. Most importantly, if you are a professor, there is no need to do it. I think the vast majority of people doing a habilitation at least in Germany are not on any kind of permanent position.
    – user151413
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 19:29
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    @jakebeal I have a hard time believing that (the 2nd part). Everyone I know who does a habilitation has either no permanent job but a long-term postdoc, or - it they are lucky - a permanent assistent-level position (which is not the same as an assistant professorship - for instance, a university assistant in Germany is not allowed to offer courses without participation of their boss, unless they have a habilitation). I don't think I know anyone who has professorship yet is doing a habil. (There might be a point if you are on tenure track, but in fact the mid-term evaulation of a ...
    – user151413
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 19:59
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    @user151413 The people I have known were not in Germany, but in France and Italy. I don't know what the differences there may be, and I know them primarily from a research context. From the perspective of an American their positions all read as equivalent to "professor".
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 20:13
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    @Eric Indeed, that might very well be the reason! As a university professor, you automatically have the "venia" (which allows you to lecture & examine, including the right to act as a PhD examiner - of course you also need to be linked to a department for that), but quite likely not as an FH professor. So if she wanted to confer PhDs, it might very well be that a Habilitation is required, plus potentially a link to a university. (To be fair, I don't know much about FHs awarding PhD, but it is certainly nothing which they traditionally do; though there have been debates about that recently.)
    – user151413
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 16:56

How is European habilitation considered in the US?

It is considered a foreign custom with no relevance to the US.

  • The other answers seem to be responding to an earlier version of the question. "Considered" and "Status" are a bit different. Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 0:48
  • The question changed again. Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 4:46

Habilitation is not a term in common use in the US, but if the Wikipedia article is accurate about the meaning, then it would seem that a holder, with no other qualification, would likely be eligible for a faculty position at one of the lower ranks: Assistant Professor or Associate Professor, perhaps.

Most full professors only get there through promotion, not directly. Sometimes an associate professor will be hired as full professor if they are at the verge of promotion at the first university. And a few (very few) people might be hired directly at full if they come from outside academia with an exceptional research record. But in such cases the person can expect to have a short probationary period. So, with habilitation (and a PhD) in hand, more is needed to be hired at full rank. And without experience in academia other than as a student, even initial hiring at associate level is not assured.

But if the person had other relevant experience and held a position similar to full professor or associate, then they might be considered for full professor.

But the holding of it, alone, wouldn't likely be enough. It would further depend on the work done by the person, perhaps the same work that led to the awarding originally.

So, with respect to the final paragraph, most would consider the holder to be very proficient, especially in the German or Austrian case. But every holder of a doctoral degree would be considered very proficient, also. I have no way to guess whether the situation in Poland is the same.

If you hold a PhD or equivalent then habilitation probably doesn't mean much in the US. If you don't have a terminal degree and want to use habilitation to get employed, then you will need to explain in detail what it means in the country in which you earned it. For those jobs requiring a doctorate it might be hard to convince them depending on how firm the rules are. But don't expect that it will be automatically understood.

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    For the European countries I know of, habilitation is for the higher ranks rather than the lower, that is, Associate Professor or Full Professor. Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 14:52
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    Yes, it's a prerequisite, in the sense that once you get the habilitation a university can hire you in one of those positions (e.g. in Italy we need a habilitation for Associate Professor and another one for Full Professor, but not for Assistant Professor). I've never checked, but I suspect it's not defined in the Bologna Process because the details of the habilitation vary wildly from country to country (some require a dissertation, some do not). Indeed it's not equivalent to the title of Associate or Full Professor: it just means that you are eligible if someone wants to hire you. Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 15:07
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    I don't think it's even transportable from one country to another among those which require habilitation. Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 15:08
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    I suspect this answer is quite accurate, although comparisons between the different systems always are a bit off. In Germany, people having "only" a habilitation often are "Privatdozent" or "apl. Prof.". Those positions usually enable to officially supervise PhD students and to apply for faculty positions (usually at another university), but are not necessarily faculty positions themselves. I am not sure how equivalent this is compared to assistant professors. Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 17:57
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    At least in Germany (but I assume similarly in other european places) "habilitation" certifies your ability/right to teach ("venia legendia"). This might sound trivial, but this means that you have the right to teach a subject in the way you like, and basically define what is correct and not (no point in math etc., but relevant in humanities). Indeed, it used to be one prerequisite for becoming a professor, but at least in Germany, it is no longer required. In fact, being a professor gives you the very same right to teach.
    – user151413
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 19:26

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