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I'm a postdoctoral researcher in physics in the USA right now (my Ph.D. is in physical chemistry). I want to move to Germany and eventually become a research professor. I am aware that one route I could take is by applying for Junior Professor positions, but my understanding is that a Habilitation is a bit more collaborative with your advisor. As I am planning to move to an entirely new system, I think it would be good for me to have a few years working closely with someone who already knows the system so I will be in a better place to help my students navigate it. Anyway, I can find Jr. Prof. positions on the job boards, but I have no idea how to find Habilitation positions. Can any of you help me with this?

Many thanks!

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The following is about habilitation and junior professorships in general, not particularly about physical chemistry.

A few things about junior professorships first:

  • Depending on the field, a habilitation is no longer a strict necessity. Having done a successful junior professorship is formally sufficient for a professor position as well. You of course don't know in advance if the hiring committee for the position you will be interested in at some point isn't preferring candidates with a habilitation, though.
  • There are nowadays also tenure-track junior professorships. They ensure that if you do good work, you get a permanent professorship afterwards, without the need to have a habilitation. Once you showed that you can do a good job on a permanent professorship, the habilitation should then cease to be important if you apply elsewhere later.

But more importantly:

  • There are no designated "habilitation positions" in Germany. Rather, there are positions as "wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter" (scientific employee) that you can hold while working towards your habilitation. The possibility to write a habilitation thesis while holding the position may be mentioned in the job advertisement, but is also often not. If you see a position that may be suitable offered somewhere, you will have to ask (the respective professor) if he/she thinks if you should apply as someone interested in working towards a habilitation.
  • The important part for writing a habilitation thesis is that you have a position with a perspective to stay for a longer period of time, as necessary for this purpose. A position in a newly started EU starting/consolidator/advanced grant would be suitable, for instance. A "Landesstelle" (not directly attached to a third-party funded project) is suitable, too - but you will have to convince the professor having such a position that giving it to you is a wise investment for him/her.
  • Sometimes you see a position for an "Akademischer Rat", which is a permanent somewhat glorified postdoc position and should be suitable for writing a habilitation thesis. These are very rare, though.

Note that positions suitable for habilitation are not always publicly announced, and it's not uncommon to have your current professor/advisor phone up a few colleagues in the area you want to move to in order to check if there are any suitable not yet announced free positions upcoming in their research groups.

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  • According to the GDCh (as the relevant professional society), there were about 3x as many people doing a habilitation than junior professors (end of 2019). The ratio is even more in favor of habilitands in physical chemistry.

    So you definitively want to discuss the possibility of doing a habilitation.

  • According to wikipedia 1/3 of the junior professors is working towards their habilitation in parallel.

  • In addition to the job descriptions mentioned by @DCTlib, (Nachwuchs)gruppenleiter is something to look at as well.

  • You may find that some professors tell you that they'd want to collaborate for a while with you (there) before proposing you to start a habilitation.

  • Habilitations are (in their beginning) possibly somewhat informal. Like for a PhD, the German system allows one to show up with basically a finished thesis. You still formally need to find a mentoring professor, though, and of course you need to get the required teaching experience. But the formal procedure really starts only when you hand in the thesis.
    As always, details are specified in the local Habilitationsordnung.

    Thus a professor may suggest to their PI that the work already done there may be used also towards habilitation, in which case the Habilitand will seem to start halfways through the habilitation.

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