I plan to apply for PhD in Finance/Statistics next semester, and hence searched for potential supervisors.

An issue I have is that many interesting candidates are above age 60, and in Germany Professors retire at 65, such that a subsequent post-doc/habilitation would most likely require a different supervisor after PhD. One Professor just started his position at age 40, but so he has not many notable publications and I am unsure whether he might change university soon (he just changed it from another 4 years position).

Could someone advise me on the importance of age for selecting a PhD supervisor in context of a long-term future academic career?

The time for PhD would be 4-5 years, and PostDoc/Habilitation/AssociateProf usually again 4-6 years, with goal of potentially becoming Full Professor in Finance/Statistics.

  • @PeteL.Clark "Future academic career"(also habilitation/PostDoc). I think it would be hard to find a different professor for habilitation if I had not had my PhD with him?
    – emcor
    Jul 6, 2014 at 8:02
  • Formally it requires a supervisor, but the research is more independent, with a final examination in the end.
    – emcor
    Jul 6, 2014 at 8:36
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    You should also mention the field you are in; traditions vary wildly (for example, habilitations are becoming very rare in some, but are still more or less expected in others). Jul 6, 2014 at 8:49
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    emcor: "I think it would be hard to find a different professor for habilitation if I had not had my PhD with him?" I'm not sure why you think that. I checked several examples just now and in none of them was the Habilitation supervisor the same as the PhD supervisor. Moreover, from all that I know (but again, I am talking about a different academic system from my own), thinking seriously about your Habilitation before you begin your PhD program is almost uselessly premature. Jul 6, 2014 at 8:57
  • @PeteL.Clark Thanks good point.It is truly premature in a sense, but I was just unsure that I could make a mistake now if I cannot change it after. I realized that when the supervisor retires/passes away, at least I would definetely not be able to habilitate there (it happened to some people I know).
    – emcor
    Jul 6, 2014 at 9:05

2 Answers 2


First: a few people commented that thinking about your postdoc/Habilitation before even starting your Ph.D. is premature. I disagree. I have seen too many people coast along during their Ph.D. time without ever knowing what they are going to do afterwards, and certainly not preparing for their post-Ph.D. time, whether in academia or in industry. So I would say you demonstrate good long-term thinking. Already thinking about your academic career will help you prepare to work out a research program, network (more on this below) etc.

Second: there is no problem whatsoever with changing advisors between the Ph.D. and the postdoc period. To the contrary! If you stay at the same place for almost ten years, you will need to explain why you never moved, never checked out other places to work, other approaches to research. Many, many (most?) people will switch advisors at least once, or possibly even do postdocs in two different places.

Incidentally, this is why I think it is a good thing you are already thinking about your long-term future now, because it is never too early to start meeting people at conferences with your future in mind. You may just meet someone at your first conference who you could collaborate with or spend your postdoc time with.

So I would definitely recommend that you consider the older potential advisor. He sounds like he could introduce you to lots of people, and you will likely not need to pack up and move somewhere else during your Ph.D. period, which seems possible with the younger professor and which could somewhat mess up your personal life.

Of course, these considerations are all not the highest priority. You should definitely keep other aspects in mind in choosing where to do your Ph.D., like the kind of project you would be doing for either of the two professors, or whether the two of you "click" on a personal level, or what financing there is, or lots of other things you should discuss with your potential advisor ahead of time.

Finally, there is no Habilitation in Germany any more. Nowadays, Germany has moved to a more American style in academic careers. You will do a Ph.D., then a postdoc, then usually a Juniorprofessur (roughly, assistant professorship - not tenured and limited to six years), then get your Ruf to a tenured position. It's quite possible to skip the Juniorprofessur, though.

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    There still is a Habilitation, but it is losing importance. Often it is enough to have something equivalent, such as a Juniorprofessur, leader of a Emmy-Noether-Gruppe, or similar positions abroad. Jul 7, 2014 at 7:32
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    I am puzzled by your equation of "postdoc" with "Habilitation". In my understanding these are not the same at all: e.g. (i) a postdoc is a job, whereas a Habilitation is a written document followed by an exam. (ii) A postdoc is what you start right after a PhD ends; a Habilitation cannot be done at this point. Could you clarify who commented that thinking about postdocs before starting a PhD was premature? Jul 7, 2014 at 14:12
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    Also: "Finally, there is no Habilitation in Germany any more." I am not German, but from all the information I can find that does not seem to be factually correct. Jul 7, 2014 at 14:13
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    Finally, I think you are taking my comment in the wrong spirit. Someone who is starting a PhD should absolutely think about their longterm academic career. But there is a big difference between thinking about the future and trying to plan a decade ahead based on the (understandably) rather naive assumptions of someone who hasn't even begun a PhD program. The whole premise of this question is that the OP is afraid to choose a PhD advisor who will not be around in 10-15 years to direct a Habilitation (which by then really may not exist). This is not a useful kind of planning ahead. Jul 7, 2014 at 14:13
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    I am more familiar with the French system than the German system: I once witnessed a French Habilitation defense. The candidate -- who was older and more eminent than I am, though at the time I had a tenure-track job -- must have been at least 10 years past his PhD, and he was doing this so as to be able to officially (rather than de facto) direct PhD students. As I said before, something that you cannot start until several years after your PhD seems quite different from a postdoc. BTW, a Juniorprofessur is not the same as a postdoc either: that position has no equivalent in the US. Jul 7, 2014 at 16:32

As others have mentioned, planning the trajectory of your academic career past your PhD is very premature at this point. (After all, one of the jobs of your PhD advisor is precisely to help you with this.)

Something that -- surprisingly -- has not been mentioned so far: Talk to the professors. Taking on a PhD student is a serious commitment no advisor will make lightly, so if they have any doubts whether you can complete the thesis with them (either because they plan on retiring completely from academic life, or moving next year to a different continent), they will tell you so. We can only guess at the likelihood, but they will (hopefully) have a much clearer idea.

  • Yes I have no doubt to finish PhD if I start it, but if after retirement the Prof. is no longer active this might be a problem for future connections, and for a young supervisor they switch university more likely which might also be to considered. I will also 'talk to the professors', just thought this forum might also be a good source.
    – emcor
    Jul 8, 2014 at 10:09

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