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I'm a non-EU citizen, currently doing a postdoc in mathematics in Europe, and I'm thinking of doing a habilitation. Since my google search didn't yield much, I'd appreciate if you could please answer my following questions regarding habilitation:

1) If I understand correctly, habilitation is the highest academic degree you can receive and people do it for getting a permanent academic position in Europe. How many years or how much/many publication does it normally take to obtain a habilitation degree?

2) Since you could be admitted as a PhD candidate, but not as a 'habilitation candidate' (but instead, say, as a postdoc) can you publish in your postdoc and write the paper(s) as a book and submit it for the defense of habilitation?

3) Suppose you do a one year postdoc in university A, and a second in university B, can you apply to university B for habilitation? How about university A?

4) If you do your PhD and postdoc in unrelated areas, or say even if you switch from pure to applied math, would that be a problem for getting the degree?

5) (Kind of vague question, somewhat opinion-based too) How much does the chance of getting a European tenure increase if you do a successful habilitation?

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    Which country are you interested in? – Memming Feb 6 '14 at 16:59
  • If the answers depend on the country, then I'm interested in France, Germany, all of Scandinevia plus Finland, Netherlands. Germany and Finland are my best choices, but thought I'd list all. Sorry if that made answering more difficult! – Science Man Feb 6 '14 at 17:05
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    The Netherlands doesn't have anything comparable to Habilitation, and therefore I don't think it's really relevant for getting a permanent position there (but I'm no expert on that). – JanJ Feb 6 '14 at 19:10
  • In Finland we don't have habilitation. However, you can get the title of Docent if you want. The requirements for a Docent are roughly 2 x as many publications as what is expected for a PhD degree. The process is fairly lightweight: some paperwork + a short demonstration lecture. – Jukka Suomela Feb 17 '14 at 22:56
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I'm starting this by answering some questions for Germany:

1) people do it for getting a permanent academic position in Europe.

Note that even being a professor does not imply a permanent position:

  • junior professorships run 6 years, and according to Wikipedia only 8% of the junior professorships can be considered proper tenure track (applying for a permanent position at the same university without a public job advertisement), for another 4-10% of the junior professorships it is possible to apply for a permanent position at the same university, the remaining majority will not be considered for a permanent position.
    "Hausberufungen" ("in house appointments" = offering the professorship to someone from the same university) are somewhere between extremely uncommon (having a fishy taste) and forbidden.

  • Also regular professors can have a probation period before getting a permanent position.

How many years or how much/many publication does it normally take to obtain a habilitation degree?

A junior professorship is 6 years and is supposed to be an equivalent alternative to the habilitation, I think that gives a first rough estimate. Besides, I'd recommend that you look into habilitations in your field: they are published in the respecive university libraries and nowadays usually available electronically.

2) Since you could be admitted as a PhD candidate, but not as a 'habilitation candidate' (but instead, say, as a postdoc) can you publish in your postdoc and write the paper(s) as a book and submit it for the defense of habilitation?

Cumulative habilitations are very common. Again, look at some in your field.

3) Suppose you do a one year postdoc in university A, and a second in university B, can you apply to university B for habilitation? How about university A?

No idea. But the habilitation is supposed to show that you can teach the whole field and one distinguishing criterion (from dissertation) is that also the presented research must cover some breadth.

4) If you do your PhD and postdoc in unrelated areas, or say even if you switch from pure to applied math, would that be a problem for getting the degree?

Not sure, but as a habilitation in maths means that you are allowed to teach all kinds of maths I guess that would not be a problem. I know physicists and engineers who habilitated in chemistry (though doing the scientific work in a chemical institute).

5) How much does the chance of getting a European tenure increase if you do a successful habilitation?

Well, in practice in order to become a professor you either need a habilitation or become junior professor (for 6 years) and then successfully apply for a professorship.

  • number of habilitations / year is about 1600. Approximately 650 professors are pensioned / year, so approximately 1/3 of the people who habilitate actually become professor
    Update for maths & natural sciences: ca. 160 profs pensioned / ca. 260 habilitations per year => would correspond roughly to a 60 % chance.

  • roughly 3% (total: 1439) of all professors (43 862) are junior professors, that is aproximately 240 new per year.
    Maths & natural sciences: 305 of 7500 = 4%, corresponding to ca. 50 / year.

  • Wikipedia says that somewher between 1/3 and 2/3 of the junior professors work at their habilitation despite being junior professors.

Here's what the Statistische Bundesamt says about these subjects.

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    That's pretty comprehensive. However, I should add that (for persons coming from the outside) it is indeed possible to apply successfully for professorships without habilitation, given equivalent qualifications. However, those people likely already were (assistant) professors elsewhere before. – xLeitix Feb 7 '14 at 14:24
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I'll answer for France, but some answers may be field-dependent (I am in mathematics).

1) If I understand correctly, habilitation is the highest academic degree you can receive and people do it for getting a permanent academic position in Europe. How many years or how much/many publication does it normally take to obtain a habilitation degree?

It is the highest academic degree, but in France permanent positions are available earlier: "maître de conférence" (a kind of associate professor) and "chargé de recherche" (same but without any teaching duty) are tenured positions that only needs a PhD. Also In mathematics, I'd say that nowadays people are usually hired within 2 to 4 years after their defense.

Habilitation is need for Professors positions, which are more or less equivalent to full professor positions.

It takes usually from 6 to 12 years to complete a Habilitation (this is probably field dependent, and mathematics are certainly on the junior side).

2) Since you could be admitted as a PhD candidate, but not as a 'habilitation candidate' (but instead, say, as a postdoc) can you publish in your postdoc and write the paper(s) as a book and submit it for the defense of habilitation?

Yes, this is common. In fact, usually one even only write a survey of their results and quote the articles. May be strongly field dependent, I do not know.

3) Suppose you do a one year postdoc in university A, and a second in university B, can you apply to university B for habilitation? How about university A?

I would say that you would apply to university B. Most people apply when "maître de conférence" or "chargé de recherche" rather than postdocs, but it is not impossible to apply as a postdoc, there are famous examples.

4) If you do your PhD and postdoc in unrelated areas, or say even if you switch from pure to applied math, would that be a problem for getting the degree?

Probably not an issue. You'll need to find referees and a jury that complements well if you want to present everything, but usually you do not include your PhD work. I chose not to present my earlier post-PhD work to get a more consistent Habilitation.

5) (Kind of vague question, somewhat opinion-based too) How much does the chance of getting a European tenure increase if you do a successful habilitation?

In France, it would help to get a professor position; if you work abroad I do not think it is mandatory, but good referees report and the composition of the jury can help an application. It would actually hurt an application to a Maître de conférence position, as you would be seen as too senior for the job.

Beware that Professor position are rather rare these years, and that Maître de conférence position do not have an internationally competitive salary (but outside the region of Paris, one lives quite well on it).

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As for France, you should rather google for the whole name ("habilitation à diriger des recherches") and look e.g. here for starters:

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habilitation_universitaire

(note that the contents is quite different from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habilitation ).

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