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Ground-breaking change in Germany: TUM introduces international tenure-track system

Real career opportunities for young researchers

From Post Doc to Full Professor - TUM offers young researchers excellent career oppotunities. (Photo: Eckert / TUM)
From Post Doc to Full Professor - TUM offers young researchers excellent career oppotunities. (Photo: Eckert / TUM)

Campus news

The Technische Universität München (TUM) has started a career system for young scientists that will serve as a forerunner in Germany. The TUM Faculty Tenure Track System offers outstanding talents early independence as assistant professors and clear prospects based on performance: If they meet demanding evaluation criteria, they advance after six years to the status of associate professor, which brings with it a permanent position at the W3 salary level.

Universities are in worldwide competition for the best scientific talents. Yet in the German appointment system, young researchers remain in uncertainty for a long time as to whether, when, and how they will be able to work independently at a university – no matter how good they are. Now TUM is breaking up the rigid German appointment system and rebuilding it into a real career system oriented to international standards: TUM Faculty Tenure Track offers young researchers concrete career opportunities that depend only on their own performance, according to reliable criteria.

This career path is open to exceptionally qualified postdocs who must have, for the most part, at least two years of research experience outside Germany. Honors already achieved, such as for example Emmy Noether and Heisenberg fellowships or ERC Starting Grants, will improve candidates' chances of winning a first appointment. With the resources provided at the W2 salary level, the young assistant professors come into full independence and accountability: They are not subordinate members of a chair and have the same rights and duties as all other professors. Joined to this freedom is the expectation that they will, early on, develop their own research profile. TUM assists them in this effort with intensive support through mentoring and continuing education in cross-disciplinary competences, such as for example personnel management. The teaching workload is reduced from 9 to 5 contact hours per week.

Attractive for young researchers from all over the world

After two and four years, the assistant professors' progress will be assessed by independent experts. In the sixth year an evaluation takes place that is decisive for career advancement. For this there are binding, transparent criteria based on international standards. With a positive evaluation a candidate gains not only a permanent position as associate professor, but also a promotion to the salary grade W3; failing this, the career at TUM is ended. For those who succeed, advancement to full professor with higher pay and expanded resources is possible through extraordinary performance in the further course of the career.

"We want to spur a cultural transformation in the German recruiting system," says TUM President Wolfgang A. Herrmann. "We can't afford to lose the best research talents to universities abroad simply because these offer foreseeable career prospects. On the contrary, we can only be attractive for the best young researchers from all over the world if they see, from the time of the first appointment, a continuous path for advancement in the TUM faculty – as has long been the case at the Stanfords and MITs of this world."

TUM Faculty Tenure Track is a central strategic element of the institutional strategy with which TUM recently won renewed recognition as a "University of Excellence." With funding from the German Excellence Initiative, but predominantly from the university's own resources, TUM will establish 100 new professorships by the year 2020 that will be staffed through the tenure-track process. That will expand the TUM faculty by around 20 percent – an enormous boost for research and teaching. From now on, around 30 percent of the vacant W3 professorships and all vacant W2 positions will be staffed according to the tenure-track process.

Help with integration into the Munich region

TUM is using professional headhunting to search worldwide for qualified young researchers. The target is to fill 40 percent of the new positions with top talents from abroad. TUM Faculty Tenure Track should also contribute to bringing outstanding German scientists back to Germany after postdoctoral residences in other countries. A portion of the assistant professors will be jointly appointed by TUM and the Max Planck Society ("MaxPlanck@TUM"). Thus TUM will broaden its talent pool by integrating young research group leaders from the Max Planck Society into the university as assistant professors, applying the same quality standards. For recruitment and evaluation, TUM has established a rigorous quality management system together with its own code of conduct. It is on this basis that the state has endorsed the new recruitment and career system.

TUM places great value on the family-friendly features of its new system. Assistant professors have the possibility, among other options, of part-time professorships and free semesters for parental leave. In these cases, the evaluation phase will be extended or interrupted. These options are flanked by the new "Munich Welcome!" network, through which scientific institutions and enterprises can offer the families of top talents practical help with their integration into the Munich region.