UN Day: Science needs women!

11 February is UN Day of Women and Girls in Science – Humboldt Foundation promotes equal opportunities

The proportion of women in science worldwide is less than one third. With the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science”, the United Nations wants to draw attention to the importance of promoting women researchers at all career stages. “The world needs science and science needs women”, says Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO: “Humanity cannot afford not to use half of its creative potential”.

Humboldt Foundation welcomes applications and nominations from women scientists

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is firmly committed to equal opportunities in science and scholarship and expressly welcomes the applications and nominations of highly qualified female scientists and scholars for its programmes: “We want to attract the most promising talents worldwide – regardless of their gender. Many female researchers are already part of our network, whose achievements are exemplary for the excellent scientific work of women,” emphasises Ulrike Albrecht, Head of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Strategy and External Relations Department.

Excellent female researchers in the Humboldt Network

In 2016, for example, the ecologist Tiffany Knight, the Judaist Katrin Kogman-Appel and the Islamic scholar Judith Pfeiffer, three outstanding researchers were awarded a five million EUR Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. In 2015 and 2016, 58 percent of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorships awarded were held by women. The Humboldt Foundation’s other award programmes also honour outstanding female scientists and scholars and sponsor junior researchers in their fellowship programmes.

Hostesses for international research teams

“However, we also observe that women are still underrepresented, especially at the demanding levels of the science system,” says Ulrike Albrecht. The overall proportion of women in the Humboldt Foundation’s academic sponsorship and award programmes is around 30 percent, which is about the average for the German research landscape. “We monitor current developments in this field very carefully in order to continually optimise our own sponsorship programmes and further increase the proportion of women we sponsor,” says Albrecht. The Humboldt Foundation also encourages female academics in Germany to internationalise their research teams as hosts.

28 percent of the scientists and scholars in Germany are women

This year’s “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” is being celebrated by the United Nations with an exhibition, workshops and conferences in Paris and New York. In order to provide more detailed information on the proportion of women in science, the UN has also created the interactive web platform “Women in Science”, where the proportion of women in science can be viewed for different countries, disciplines and career stages. Among bachelor students, it shows a proportion of women in Germany of 45 percent, which drops to 28 percent among scientists. With this figure, Germany is on average worldwide.

The 6 Most Interesting University Science Jobs for Women

Many students dream of working at one of the 218 universities in Germany after their studies. But what jobs are there there? And how do you set the course for a successful university or FH career during your studies?

All students know the professor and the private lecturer*. But what other opportunities are there to work at the university or FH?

Student assistant

The classic path often begins during the course of studies with a position as a student assistant (Hiwi or Tutor). Students with such positions help in research, teaching or service, although the exact field of activity can vary greatly and depends on the subject and position. Anyone who earns an extra income in this way – admittedly not very substantial – immediately gains initial experience in teaching and/or research, which they can use later. The chances of getting a job vary according to the respective subject area.

Requirement: as a rule, studies at the same university

Application: Vacancies are usually posted on the notice board or published on the institute’s website.

Research assistant

Research assistants are employed in a specific research project or at a chair or (rarely!) are temporary civil servants.

Their exact field of activity varies according to department and position, but always includes research in the respective area and often also teaching. Depending on the position, teaching participation is about two to 18 hours per week. Often these are doctoral students or postdocs, as this position is ideal for financing a doctorate after graduation. It should be noted that research assistant positions are limited in time: The maximum duration of employment is 12 years (medicine: 15 years). In concrete terms, this means that by the end of this period, the job holders must have moved up to a new position in the university sector.

Prerequisite: usually a degree; the exact degree required is stated in the respective job advertisements and varies according to the position.

Application: Numerous job advertisements can be found.

Academic Council

There are two variants of this position: as a temporary civil service position (qualification position, during which the habilitation is often completed) or for life (permanent position). The main task of the Academic Council is teaching; in Bavaria, for example, the permanent position involves 13 to 18 hours of courses. There are opportunities for advancement, for example to the position of Academic Councillor and Academic Director.

Prerequisite: Doctorate and usually work experience of about two to four years in the respective department.

Junior Research Group Leader

The funding programme enables young scientists to spend five to six years in research after their doctorate and a postdoctoral phase (e.g. as research assistant). The freedoms are enormous: the research field can often be freely chosen, the junior research group leader is allowed to select his or her own staff, supervise doctoral students, and bears independent responsibility for the project. He or she also decides how to divide the time between teaching and research. Funding is secured and the position is equivalent to a habilitation. This means that the person concerned can then be appointed directly to a professorial chair. A possible disadvantage: abroad this position is less well known than a junior professorship.

Requirements: Doctorate (must not be more than four years old) and postdoc phase (should have been completed partly abroad).

Application: Directly to the funding programmes.

Junior professorship

The junior professorship has existed in Germany since 2002. The aim was to pave the way for young researchers to obtain a professorship within a total of six years: without a lengthy habilitation and with the possibility of direct transfer (so-called tenure track).

It is still questionable whether this has worked out so well, because many junior professors play it safe and also habilitate, so that they finish later rather than earlier. In addition, very few of the advertised positions still have a tenure track, so that junior professors are still not sure when and whether they will be appointed professor. The advantage, however, is that the job holders already belong to the professorial group. They have a teaching obligation of about four semester hours per week. In addition, they do research. In contrast to the junior research group leader, they have to collect the research funds themselves.

Prerequisite: Doctorate and postdoc phase

Application: complex appointment procedure (application, assessment and trial lecture) at the university.

University professor

Teaching and research by profession distinguish the professor. However, the division of these two tasks in everyday professional life can look quite different: For example, while professors at universities of applied sciences have a teaching obligation of about 18 hours per week, university professors only teach about eight hours per week. The focus of the latter is rather on research.

Prerequisites at the university: Doctorate and habilitation or doctorate and junior research group leader position or doctorate and junior professorship.

Requirements at the university of applied sciences: Doctorate, at least five years of solid practical work experience, proof of pedagogical aptitude (e.g. through teaching experience).

Application: Lengthy appointment procedure for a position that is often advertised internationally; an appointment committee consisting of representatives of the faculty, other university staff, non-university experts and students meets for this purpose.

Merit: A distinction is made between W-2 and W-3 professors (often chair holders). There are opportunities for advancement from W-2 to W-3, although the university must be changed.

Tips and information for students who want to make a career on campus

By 2020, the number of students is expected to increase to up to 2.7 million, which means that lecturers, professors, etc. will be needed in the long term.
Starting early pays off: Already the Marburg study of the GEW 2005 has shown that the number of doctorates is much higher among former holders of a Hiwi position than among the remaining students. Thus, a job as a Hiwi increases the chances of a university career noticeably!

International experience is worthwhile! A period abroad can pave the way for a career later on, especially if the paths to a professorship are more seamless there.

Above all, students with a subject for which there is no clearly defined professional field often consider staying at university.

In the humanities, the range of applicants is often very large. In the natural sciences and engineering, on the other hand, it is often easier to find a job.


The career paths in science are long, most of those who take them work for long periods of time in temporary positions, and in free industry there is certainly much more money to be made … no question, science is not the safest and most convenient career choice! But where else are learning and knowledge promoted in such a way? Where else do job holders have so much freedom, e.g. with regard to their research projects, the choice of course offerings and their own realisation? Careers on campus can involve many professions. But in any case, it appeals to people who feel called to such a job.