Attractive and reliable career paths for excellent researchers

Our university strives for excellence in all our research, teaching and transfer activities, and we aim to provide outstanding conditions for top researchers at our university. One important aspect involves the structural framework conditions for academic careers, which remain a key point of discussion in national higher education policy. A problematic condition for doctoral researchers in particular is the difficult situation caused by successive short-term contracts or funding via scholarships. Our university competes for postdoctoral researchers with universities in other European countries that offer more reliable career perspectives. Postdocs also face great uncertainty with regard to planning their careers and starting a family. Researchers who transition to careers outside academia regularly do so at an advanced stage in their academic careers, which often makes this transition problematic.

Higher education policy frameworks, such as the increased importance of external funding, the Excellence Strategy and the Tenure-Track Programme have led to a larger number of qualification positions at German universities even as the number of openly-advertised positions for tenured professors has decreased. Academics thus face stronger competition (also due to the high number of doctoral graduates) for a smaller number of professorships. This situation and the universities' responsibility to adequately qualify graduates for the labour market outside the university mean that postdocs need to make their career choices earlier on. At the same time, the University of Konstanz needs permanent academic staff for its research, teaching, transfer and science management activities – positions for which there are currently no set career paths.

Our concept "Attractive and reliable career paths for excellent researchers" strengthens the competitiveness of the University of Konstanz in the context of the Excellence Strategy and in light of the emerging changes in the higher education system while underscoring our pioneering role as an institutional lab, particularly in the promotion of early career researchers. Ultimately, our goal is to establish a future-oriented, model system for academic career paths.

Freedom of scientific research and creativity form the basis for outstanding research, but they need reliable framework conditions to flourish. Thus, the key principles of our concept are early career decisions and performance-based, reliable career paths for excellent researchers, providing attractive, family-friendly conditions for researchers during their qualification phase. These principles also make the university more attractive in the competition for the best young minds while promoting greater diversity and gender equality at every academic career level. The quality of research and teaching at the university increases as a result, and each individual department can optimally position itself to complete outstanding research, teaching and transfer activities for decades to come. While implementing the concept, the university will ensure that everyone, in all career paths, is considered equally regardless of their gender or origin.

Our concept "Attractive and reliable career paths for excellent researchers" lays the groundwork for lasting change in academic culture, resulting in greater reliability in planning academic careers. The instruments described below provide the opportunity to create reliable department-specific framework conditions for doctoral researchers, early career decisions as well as attractive and reliable career prospects after the postdoc phase.

1. Reliable conditions for excellent doctoral research

Doctoral positions and scholarships are generally limited in time as they support qualifications for academic careers or career paths outside academia. In order to provide more reliable funding, the initial contract period for doctoral researchers whose positions are paid from general budget funds will usually last at least three years. An optional deposit system, subject to the budget, will provide the flexibility for externally funded positions to span at least three years. A matching fund will provide the opportunity to create positions for scholarship recipients that fall under social security obligation. Up to 13 percent of the funding for these positions can come from the central university budget. We aim to provide adequate contract scopes for doctoral researchers in all departments. In general, our aim is to shorten the duration of doctoral research. Starting in the doctoral phase, researchers will take part in regular feedback talks with their supervisors and get additional information and advice on career matters, including on potential career paths outside academia. This provides orientation for career planning and decision-making processes as well as transparency on academic career prospects.

2. Early career decisions

The decision about whether to continue pursuing an academic career should be made earlier in the qualification phase – after a first postdoc position, at the latest. For this reason, doctoral research should be followed by a time-limited postdoctoral phase. This period can be used for the purpose of career orientation, project preparations or the initiation of a new research priority as well as for fellowships or international mobility programmes. In particular, postdocs should apply for W1 professorships, junior research group leader positions or other permanent academic positions besides professorships in this phase. Funding can be provided by external funds or from the general budget with corresponding reasons for limiting the employment period. In the sense of promoting early career decisions, the duration of postdoc positions funded by general budget funds is limited as per the amended law on academic fixed-term contracts (WissZeitVG). If external funds that the postdocs did not acquire themselves are used for hiring, their career prospects should also be taken into account. To provide our researchers with orientation for planning their careers, we will establish feedback talks between them and their supervisors university wide, provide information and advice on career matters and career paths outside academia as well as transparency on career prospects in academia. We devote the highest possible degree of gender and diversity competency to supporting our researchers as they prepare and decide on their career paths.

3. Reliable career prospects

We need to establish long-term career perspectives for researchers after the postdoctoral phase. These positions will be filled on a competitive basis, and they include tenure-track professorships (W1) and permanent academic positions in addition to professorships. Externally funded positions as a junior research group leader provide a springboard for successfully applying for W2 or W3 professorships afterwards. W1 professorships without tenure track are no longer attractive for excellent candidates. This is why W1 professorships should be tenure track positions whenever possible. Departments can request intermediate funding for such positions from a central pool until a corresponding W3 professorship becomes available. In this context, the university aims to balance the amount of tenure-track professorships with the number of job announcements for W3 professorships university wide. Provided this is structurally feasible, junior research group leaders with suitable expertise can also be appointed to a tenure-track professorship.

Because of its subject-specific significance, the habilitation (postdoctoral qualification) shall be restructured in a sustainable manner to attract excellent researchers. To avoid personal dependencies, candidates will be selected by a commission, and positions will run for a period of six years with an interim evaluation. In general, researchers should switch academic institutions after either the doctoral or postdoctoral phase. To create another reliable career path besides the professorship, departments will set up permanent academic positions for specific tasks in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. These positions must be advertised openly, and a commission will decide which of the applicants to hire.

Until the end of 2025, the departments are called upon to develop non-binding proposals for adapting their job structures to reach the aforementioned goals in line with their subject-specific cultures and the given framework. The proposals should go beyond the period of time covered by the usual structure and development plans and apply for a period of at least ten years. Structural changes can be implemented either within the individual department's staffing plan or through cost-neutral job swaps. In the subsequent implementation phase, too, it will be possible to flexibly respond to current developments by creating positions for tenure-track professors or permanent academic staff members. Suitable transitional regulations will be created for researchers who are currently in a qualification phase.

Adopted by the University of Konstanz Senate on 5 July 2023