I have a friend from Germany who was a foreign exchange student in the US for a couple of years. She has a master's degree in Political Science from a German university and several years of experience managing academic programs at a university in Frankfurt.

She would really like to work and live here, so I did some some searching and found an opening for an Assistant Professor of German at a local university. As you might imagine, one of the requirements is a Ph.D. However, I'm guessing that this assumes that the candidate is not a native speaker of the language.

Do you think an average university would consider her native speaker status a suitable substitute for a Ph.D. in a relevant field? The teaching responsibilities of the position involve teaching German. Would it be worth applying for similar positions at other universities, or will the absence of a Ph. D. be a deal-breaker regardless of the institution?

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    Would you consider "native English speaker status" an alternative for having studied English to the postgraduate level?
    – Nij
    Jan 13 at 5:14
  • Certainly, provided that the person has a graduate level education and that their primary responsibility is teaching English. Jan 13 at 5:36
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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Your above comment was truncated; please see our code of conduct so you can avoid issues in future.
    – cag51
    Jan 13 at 7:04
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    As for the question: are you sure that the "primary responsibility" is teaching German language classes? I ask because I'm not sure how familiar you are with what professors do; typically "assistant professor" is a position that requires much more than just teaching intro-level courses. But things vary widely.
    – cag51
    Jan 13 at 7:08
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    On a different note, being a native speaker doesn't make you a good teacher without further study. After all, in your native language, you need to know next to nothing about grammar.
    – user151413
    Jan 13 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


Professors do much more than just teach. Their job mostly consists of research, and a PhD is in fact a bare minimum requirement for a position as an assistant professor. It is expected that person has published significant work in their field, for instance.

If you get a PhD in a foreign language, you don't just spend the whole time learning how to speak the language really well. You're writing and researching constantly, and produce a thesis in your specialty that consists of substantive research. So no, being a native speaker is in absolutely no way a replacement for this necessary training, in the same way (as pointed out in the comments) being a native English speaker is not sufficient training for teaching literature.

There is a caveat, however, in that some universities might hire lecturers whose primary responsibility is to teach foreign language courses, and those might not have a PhD. My university (a top private school in the Northeast) does seem to employ several non-PhD holding lecturers for foreign languages (though a cursory glance suggests they do all seem to at least have an M.A. in literature for their respective languages, or a Master's in foreign language education). These positions would not be listed as "assistant professor" in the U.S., and may not exist at many institutions. Such a position might be a possibility for your friend depending on her background.

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    Northeast in which region?
    – Tommi
    Jan 13 at 9:24
  • Thank you! This is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Jan 13 at 13:46
  • I suppose native proficiency in the language was not the only thing I was considering. I certainly wouldn't expect that an average German taken off of the street could serve as a German professor. But this is far from an average German taken off of the street. Jan 13 at 14:02

You’re overthinking this. If an academic position description says that a PhD is required, then a PhD is, well, required. Your friend does not qualify, sorry.

  • Maybe that's how things work in academia, and ultimately that's all that matters, since this is an academic position. But that's not how things work outside of academia. Depending on how much the position relies upon "hard skills," the "requirements" can just be a wish list for the perfect candidate. But if the perfect candidate does not apply, then the employer has to settle for the best they can get. Jan 14 at 13:01
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    @DanielArant absolutely. That’s why I wrote “academic position”.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 14 at 16:29
  • What does an institution do if they just can't find someone with a relevant Ph. D? Do they just shrink the department? Jan 14 at 17:24
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    @DanielArant I’m not aware of this ever happening — there is almost always an overwhelming excess of candidates who are qualified (in a formal sense at least) rather than a deficit of them. But if it did happen, the department would either keep looking and make do with fewer staff in the meantime (which is usually possible if undesirable), or relax the PhD requirement. The latter might mean having to re-advertise the position.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 14 at 17:28
  • After a bit more research, I think what she should really be looking for, if she really wants to teach at the college level, is an adjunct faculty position. Jan 14 at 17:35

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