Junior research group leader
Leadership of a junior research group allows an early insight into the tasks of a professorship, while allowing for independent research. In the German academic system, junior research groups hold a position of some renown and represent a significant step, although not a guarantee, on the path to a later professorship.
Junior research group leaders can focus on their research projects, controlling their own budget and guiding their own staff (usually 1 or 2 doctoral researchers, more where required). The groups usually run for 5 to 6 years. Junior research group leaders usually enjoy better working conditions than junior professors, who must finance their projects and staff via external funding. This extra administrative load means less time to concentrate on research. As the award of junior research groups is highly competitive, they are generally seen in a very positive light by search committees during the appointment process and may, depending on the culture in the field, take the place of a Habilitation (postdoctoral qualification).
How do I set up a junior research group?
The Emmy Noether-Programm run by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) is the largest grant program. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) also regularly issues tenders for subject-based research programs. The European Union provides ERC Starting Grants. Universities also often establish research groups, particularly in conjunction with the Excellence Initiative and the current Excellence Strategy, or as part of their own programs. Additionally, there are quite a few junior research groups within some non-university research institutions, such as the institutes within the Helmholtz Association or the Max Planck Society. In addition to these programs and organizations, some foundations also offer junior research group programs. This includes the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
The Emmy Noether Program sets out the following conditions for applicants:
- early career researchers from all disciplines generally within 4 years of completing their doctoral studies
- usually at least 2 years of postdoctoral research experience
- substantial international research experience
- researchers who have already obtained an appointment, particularly those who have completed or are about to complete their Habilitation (postdoctoral qualification) are excluded from consideration as the goal of funding has already been achieved.
For Emmy Noether Program and ERC Starting Grants, a university or research institute must commit to appointing you to their staff and equipping you with an office and the research infrastructure required should your application be successful.
What is the role of a junior research group leader?
Junior research group leaders have similar tasks to those of a junior professor. They conduct research, supervise doctoral students as well as students’ final theses, and deliver approximately 2 classes per semester. Depending on the doctoral degree regulations, junior research group leaders may be authorized to examine doctorates. The financial freedom offered by a junior research group gives junior research group leaders a relatively high level of independence, as they are usually less involved in university processes and committees than junior professors.
Interim evaluation of junior research groups
An interim evaluation must be carried out, usually half way through the planned life of the group, depending on the funding program. This evaluation assesses whether the research group should be continued and the funding for the remainder of the project released. Further information on interim evaluations is available from the individual funding providers.