In the US, tenure-track (TT) positions seem a common and natural step in the progression towards an academic career and quite "stable" state-wise in terms of what one might expect from them, in that if nothing goes too wrongly, after the fixed X years in a TT position one can reasonably expect to get tenure (I've heard of horror stories of denied tenure from certain R1 universities, but I'm more concerned about the generic case here).

Now, I'm in the early stages of my academic career (I'm soon to start my first postdoc) and, more relevantly for the purposes of this question, I'm based in Europe and, unless I have absolutely no other options, I intend to remain in Europe in the future. My understanding of what the "natural" steps to take after the postdoc phase in Europe is, admittedly, pretty muddy and quite scattered.

My question(s) is (are):

Is there an equivalent (step-wise in the progression towards an academic career) in Europe of the tenure-track positions in the US? If so, is this equivalent step "stable" country-wise, or does it change considerably depending on the country? More generally, what is the "natural" progression in Europe after the postdoc phase?

Sorry for the many questions, but most of the advice I usually find is very US-centric.

EDIT: To make the question a bit more specific, I'm particularly interested in France, UK, Italy, and Germany. Also, I'm trying to pursue an academic career in mathematics, so I'm also interested in those aspects specific to the discipline, if there are any such.

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    This differs a lot, depending on the country. A reasonably complete answer to your question as it stands would be quite long.
    – Stefan Kohl
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 9:52
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    @StefanKohl Thanks for the comment. I'll add the names of the countries I'm particularly interested in so to make the question a bit more specific.
    – PostdocfromEurope
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 9:55
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    Leiden University, like many universities in The Netherlands, has adopted the US tenure track system.
    – Carlo Beenakker
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 10:13
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    @EmanueleTron I thought it was implicit that I'm interested in the aspects concerning an academic career in mathematics. I'll make this point more explicit in the question.
    – PostdocfromEurope
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 10:46
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    For Italy, the answer can be found in this question. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 11:31

6 Answers 6


In the UK there are four levels of permanent academic employment: lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor. These four positions between them are roughly equivalent to the three US positions of assistant professor, associate professor, professor. These days lecturer is often a probationary position for the first few years, but higher positions are permanent. Promotion to senior lecturer does not follow automatically upon being confirmed as a permanent member of staff. Apart from this practice of probationary appointment there is no formal tenure system. In my experience (which is limited to mathematics departments) it is quite unusual for probationary appointments to not become permanent.

In my understanding, not very long ago senior lecturer and reader were seen as roughly equivalent, but senior lecturer was seen as more heavily emphasising teaching and administration whereas reader was seen as a position which more strongly emphasised research. However, there is a developing tendency to see the two positions as having essentially the same nature, with reader simply being more senior.

Some British universities are in the process of adopting the three-tiered U.S. nomenclature, but such universities remain a minority at present.

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    Although lectureships in the UK typically have a probationary period, I think that it is quite uncommon for people not to have their contract made permanent at the end of that period. Certainly it is much less of a real hurdle than the US tenure process. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 12:55
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    This answer discussed job titles but omits the key piece of information: there is no tenure system in the UK. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 13:42
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    I've done my best to incorporate these remarks. Anyone who would like to directly edit my answer should feel welcome to do so :)
    – Ian Morris
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 14:15
  • Remember that under UK law an employment contract becomes permanent after a length of time (2 years if I recall correctly) even if a permanent contact is not issued.
    – Ian
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 21:47
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    @YemonChoi After two years a failure to renew a fixed-term contract is considered a dismissal, which British workers have some statutory protection against. The idea is to prevent employers from creating an effective permanent position through a succession of temporary contracts, without the same rights that attach to permanent employees.
    – Calchas
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 9:57

In Germany, the typical career progression after the Ph.D. is either a Habilitation or a Juniorprofessur, after which one can apply to full professorships.

The Habilitation is slowly decreasing in prevalence, with different fields being more or less quick about this process. It is still more prevalent in the humanities, where it often still is "the second book", after the Ph.D. dissertation. In the sciences and mathematics, AFAIK it is more common to collect a number of publications and submit these. This would typically be done in a standard postdoc position.

In contrast, the Juniorprofessur is modeled after the US tenure track. You are supposed to start it right after the Ph.D., or at least not too long after. A Juniorprofessor has pretty much the same rights and responsibilities as a full professor. After two positive evaluations, you are deemed berufbar and can apply to full professorships. Some Juniorprofessuren are actually tenure track, but whether this option even exists is up to the German Bundesländer. Conversely, this means that some - probably most - Juniorprofessuren are not tenure track, but time limited. You can tell a Juniorprofessur by its pay scale: W1.

In addition, there are a few other paths to a full professorship, like the Emmy Noether-Programm.

As above, once you have completed your Habilitation or the second positive evaluation of your Juniorprofessur, you can apply to full professorships. Typically, if you have a larger group or more responsibilities, you'll be paid more (W3 compared to W2), but there are no fundamental differences between W2 and W3 professorships, it's mainly a question of your pay. Normally, W2 and W3 professors are tenured Beamte. Some Bundesländer will not give you Beamter status if you are too old when you first reach eligibility. Then you are still a member of the public service and essentially unfireable, but there are differences in health insurance and social security.

If you don't aim for "real" universities, but for Fachhochschulen, you don't need a Habilitation or a Juniorprofessur. Instead, you will be expected to bring a Ph.D. and five years experience outside academia. AFAIK, most Fachhochschulprofessoren are not tenured, although their contracts are typically not time-limited and essentially for life.

These earlier questions may be helpful: Do professors in Germany have other payment than their standard salary? and Is it possible to write a proposal to get a junior professor position in Germany, when existing openings seem far from my research interests?

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    I am pretty sure that only one positive evaluation is needed to be eligible for a professorship (at least in Lower Saxony, but I think that this is the same all over Germany).
    – Dirk
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 17:43
  • Juniorprofessur is not modelled after the US tenure track, since there (usually) is no tenure option, i.e. the position terminates after six years. There is also only one interim evaluation, not two.
    – MKR
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 13:31

In French universities, both "maître de conférence" (≈ assistant/associate professor) and "professeur" (full professor) permanent position levels are effectively tenured: they are fonctionnaires, i.e., have government employee status, and as such, enjoy a very high degree of job protection. The same holds for "chargé de recherches" and "directeur de recherches", which are the corresponding positions in pure research organizations (like the CNRS), with no teaching duties. Things might be slightly different in other French educational institutions, like the grandes écoles.

There are also a number of non-permanent positions like "ATER", "moniteur" or "vacataire", with contracts for a specific time.

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    I would also add there is a number of permanent staff scientist positions. They also offer strong job protection, but would make career subsequent progression difficult.
    – Alexlok
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 21:23

In Italy the tenure-track equivalent position is called RTD-B. RTD-B is an acronym for Ricercatore a Tempo Determinato tipo B. That is to say, fixed-term researcher of type B. The term is three-years, by the end of it you are supposed to have passed a national habilitation based on a few key metrics, and then become Associate Professor (Professore Associato).

The "Ricercatore" title is the italian nominal equivalent of a USA Assistant Professor. I specify nominal because, contrarily to USA positions, you are not expected to start a group of your own, your are not given any research money to do so, you are not expected to supervise BS, MS, or PhD students. You do are expected to perform high-class research; the independence of your research will largely depend on the ability to attract funds on your own. In that regard, your moral standing is more like a Research Scientist in USA, unless you are capable of attracting large national grants, or large AND prestigious European grants. With those funds, you will be able to gather all resources you would need for fully independent research.

You will be expected to teach, and the teaching load will vary a bit depending on the institution that hires you. Typically one course per year, that amounts to 50 to 80 hours of formal lectures, to a typically a large number of students, grading exams scattered throughout the year.

One thing to keep in mind is the selection process. In the USA, an institution will receive several applications, make a short list, and invite the shortlisted candidates for one or two full-days interview. In Italy, institutions nowadays use shortlisting as well, but interviews last only 20 minutes or so. Also, recommendation letters are not needed in Italy, although some places are starting to ask them.


There is now a trend towards offering assistant-professor-level positions explicitly with tenure track. Recent examples can be found for Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Germany. This trend seems to be supported by some political initiatives. For example, Germany recently started a program to establish 1000 tenure-track professorships (the so-called "Wankaprofessuren", after the former minister of education Johanna Wanka).

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    It's a useful answer (+1), but for the record the example given for France is an exception to the rule: "grandes ecoles" such as Mines ParisTech are not bound by the same rules as the regular universities, that's why they can offer this kind of position. Regular universities and public research institutions can only hire on immediately tenured positions (and of course temporary positions, e.g. postdocs).
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:57

The Netherlands have 3 different grants, specifically the Veni - Vidi - Vici level of grants provided by the NWO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek). The three levels work as follows (info taken from here on 4-4-2017):

  1. Veni - For researchers who have recently obtained their PhD - Maximum of € 250.000.
  2. Vidi - For researchers who have gained several years of research experience after their PhD - Maximum of € 800.000.
  3. Vici - For senior researchers who have demonstrated an ability to develop their own line of research - Maximum of € 1.500.000.

None of these grants comes with a permament position perse as all PIs are expected to fund themselves (by acquiring additional funding from various (e.g. EU) sources). However, most researchers that become full professor have used one (or more) of the above mentioned grants while "settling down" in a research institution.

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    I would appreciate if someone told me why this answer is 'wrong'? I know that the OP illustrates particular interest for some countries but does not rule out the others.
    – Bas Jansen
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 11:14
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    I did not downvote. But, I can explain why you receive that. The question is about tenure track. Your answer is about research grant. So, your answer is not an answer.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 4:25
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    To my knowledge the typical 'tenure' track is very (extremely) rare in the Netherlands. Therefore, I answered the question in a way of 'how would one go about getting a more secure position' in the Netherlands, which is the closest that I can think of that one can get to an answer for this question using the Netherlands as a country. However, if people feel that it doesn't add anything (I will wait a few days before judging that), I will remove the answer.
    – Bas Jansen
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 11:56
  • Please do not remove the answer. That's the reality in the netherlands. Can you elaborate on permanent positions and proffesorship? I heard that it is possible to have permanent position but no grant money to finance anything Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 13:29

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