I came across a Senior Research Associate position at a German university. This role is permanent and is classified within the E14 TV-L salary scale. It is situated within the department head’s group, which includes PhDs, postdocs, and technicians. The requirements include a PhD and at least 3-4 years of postdoctoral experience. Responsibilities entail supervising PhD students, postdocs, and technicians, writing grant proposals, assisting in grant writing, and overseeing two projects. It seems that the role also requires direct involvement in project work, either through laboratory work or by supervising students in their laboratory activities. Would you consider this position equivalent to that of a group leader or a senior postdoc?

  • 2
    Postdocs, pretty much by definition, are not permanent positions. I would also not say it is a 'group leader' position. That position would be research staff.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 1 at 12:21
  • Thank you for the answer. Apr 1 at 14:37
  • Well, I'm not an expert on the German system. There are other questions here (search on "TL-V" above) which give some insight. Postdocs are 13, maybe 14. And "group leader" appears to have a different connotation that I would use here in the US.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 1 at 14:43
  • Regarding the third sentence: I'm wondering what a "department head" is at a German university. Could you add the German notion? Apr 2 at 9:54

2 Answers 2


This is most likely what in other countries would be called a "lab head" and/or "project manager". You would be running the lab, managing externally funded projects, perhaps supervising everyone who works in the lab from a technical perspective, and probably do some of the project work yourself.

But -- at least as part of your principal role -- you would not independently apply for external grants, come up with research projects, or write your own papers separate from those that the lab produces. Of course, in practice, the boss might allow you to work on some of your own projects for part of your time, but that will not be your main responsibility.


A postdoc is a temporary position, typically meant to provide additional training and experience to qualify for a faculty appointment later. Thus, this position is not some kind of postdoc position, as it is permament.

Calling a position group leader emphasizes that there are subordinate researchers, and that directing them is a significant part of the responsibilities. However, a group leader would also be expected to be independent, to set their own research agenda. The position described here is about directing others to execute an agenda set by the professor in charge. Thus, it is not some kind of group leader position.

Overall, this kind of position isn't really located on the trajectory to professorhood. While it involves most facets of a permanent faculty appointment, the person will probably remain in the shadow of the professor as their second-in-command. This can make it difficult to get enough of the credit to be a strong enough candidate for professorships. However, for a someone less interested in personal glory it can be a very satisfactory job in itself - provided they get along very well with the professor.

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