At universities in Germany, there are the following standardized job titles that I find difficult to express in English in a useful manner:

  • Studentische Hilfskraft: a student who does not yet hold a degree and is paid to perform tasks often only remotely related to their field of study (such as data entry, helping older professors with digital technologies, etc. I was myself once paid to be the driver to a group of visiting scientists during their stay). This is the lowest pay grade and there's a time cap of 20 hours of work per week at most universities. The max average (it varies between the various federal states) salary is around 12000€ per year before taxes, so let's say it'd be 24000€ if they were allowed to do the 40h/week which are kind of seen as the country-wide default. The most common English translation is student assistant.

  • Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft: a student who could either be holding a Bachelor's degree, which is one pay-grade higher than a Studentische Hilfskraft, or even a Master's degree, which is the highest pay-grade for this job title. There's quite the discussion in some circles about these employees being underpaid and overworked, both in the sciences as well as the humanities. From my own experience I know that their tasks often (but not always) far exceed anything one could see as "unskilled" labour, as the "Hilf-" in "Hilfskraft" would imply. This is especially true if the employee has had non-academic vocational training or even work experience before going to university. Up to around 18000€ (would be 36000€ for 40h/week, but same or similar time cap of around 20h/week). It is permissible for employers to keep employees in these positions for 5 more years after removal from the register of students ("Exmatrikulation"). The most common English translation is student assistant.

  • Wissenschaftlich/technischer Mitarbeiter: the least-known of the bunch; these could be employees who are not academics at all and instead hold a title they gained by doing an "Ausbildung" (the traditional German vocational training system held in high regard by many employers; in an English-speaking country someone might write "did a 3-year degree to become a state-certified chemical-technical assistant"). Others might have done an Ausbildung in one field and then studied at University in some other field and end up as a Wissenschaftlich/technischer Mitarbeiter because of a combination of skills from both fields. Obviously there is a wider range of salaries for this title, perhaps somewhere between 38000€ and 62000€ per year (if you happen to be really good at something that's in high demand, such as, say, performing PCR tests). Unless the employee manages to attain a Master's degree, even better yet a PhD, there's little chance of climbing the ladder any further, but if you get real lucky you might end up with a life-time job in government service, which does provide a high degree of perceived social security. The only English translation for this that I'm aware of is scientific-technical staff.

  • Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter: things seem to become more comparable from now on. It's difficult-ish, but not impossible, to land one of these jobs with only a Master's degree. Normally, you'll hold a PhD degree, though. I've known Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter in their early 20s who I feel might best still be described as research assistants, but the most common, and probably most apt, English translation is research fellow. You can end up holding this job title for the rest of your (working) life and your salary will increase based on how long you've been employed, anything between 42000€ and 57000€ if "the internet" is to be believed.

  • after that, and only achieved by very few, there's Juniorprofessor and Professor, of course. I won't get into these as they're so easily and aptly translated into English.

My question is: for the above-mentioned job titles, what are the best English translations in terms of conveying, without much explanation, to a prospective future employer or an academic colleague from an English-speaking country, what your job encompasses and what salary level you're roughly at?

  • 2
    Usually in my experience a resume includes a list of duties/responsibility in each job; these are at least if not more important than job titles, which are frequently meaningless especially across companies. If you think these things vary a lot in academia, wait until you find out how much it varies in industry.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 22:11
  • That might be true for a resume. What about a conversation, though... but you might have a good point. Germans are big on standardized vocabulary. The rest of the world, perhaps not so much. This might be an inter-cultural issue, too.
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 22:13
  • 4
    I think it would be even more unnecessary to mention a title in a conversation. People mostly want to know what you've done, not what you're called.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 22:23
  • I totally agree with Bryan. Descriptions, list of papers and projects, supporting documents, etc are more important. In my experience, many people come with long resumes full of great titles. When I investigate the details, I see they were doing a job as a graduate engineer, but because the company was small, the applicant got the self-confidence to call himself an engineering manager! Similarly, there were applicants who called themselves professional engineers, but their qualification were not internationally recognized, just a local nonsense test! Details are more essential than titles.
    – enthu
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 5:40
  • 1
    The first one is more like a "personal assistant" which implies to an English reader their duties were administrative (scheduling, driving, etc.) rather than related to the field of work. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


I was faced with the same dilemma. I just used the original German together with my attempt at a literal translation.

If your experience is pertinent, you will have to elaborate on what you did anyway. If you are applying for a job involving teaching for instance, you better lay this out. If you had Übungsgruppen as a Hilfskraft to supervise, this would be useful to you in the teaching context and you describe elsewhere what you did. In this case, you would be closest to a Teaching Assistant.

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter are not exactly the same of post-docs, since they usually have different tasks. At the FernUniversität, we wrote exercises and their solutions, organized the grading, and drove through Germany in order to supervise exams and to give tutorials. If you were on a grant doing research, then researcher would come close.

TLTR: I propose using the German with a literal translation. If you are applying, describe your pertinent job experience elsewhere.

As you move on with your life, this problem becomes moot.


In my experience, no-one really distinguishes between Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft and Studentische Hilfskraft, the difference is in the pay: in general, the pay of university employees (even student ones) is fixed on a federal (or in some cases national) level. For students, some places there is no differentiation between student employees with a degree (BA) or without, in other places there will be salary tiers: without BA, with BA, with MA (although if you already hold an MA and are not enrolled in another MA or BA program, the time that you can actually work under student conditions is very short). The translation for such a position would be either student assistant or student researcher.

As for Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter (WiMi), it is quite common that those positions go to recent MA graduates that get their PhD while being fully (or, quite often only at 50%) employed as a WiMi. There are also people with PhDs that hold WiMi posts. The salary here is also regulated and normally at Level E13, with your salary increasing with time. The best translation is either research fellow or simply researcher.

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