How to become a professor in Austria
There are various routes to becoming a professor in Austria, depending on your educational background. Within the Austrian academic system, the usual process post-MA is to complete a PhD while holding a position known as Universitätsassistent. The academic may then be permitted to apply for the post-doc tenure track (Laufbahnstelle) and become an assistant professor. During the next six years, the academic is required to reach the goals agreed in a qualification agreement (Qualifikationsvereinbarung), which usually include specific research goals and, in some cases, obtaining the teaching qualification known as ‘habilitation’. Once the academic has achieved their goals, they automatically progress to the permanent position of associate professor.
Full professorship is not an automatic process, as positions are often limited, and there is a special appointment procedure. To be appointed as a professor (Universitätsprofessor), the academic must have an excellent record of post-doc research and teaching. Professors are selected by an appointment committee organised by the University Senate, and can be offered contracts on a part-time or full-time basis. The relationship with the university may be temporary or tenured. After signing the employment contract, the professor obtains a teaching qualification (Venia Docendi).
Outside of universities, professorships are also occasionally available at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) near Vienna. To be considered for the position of professor at the IST, candidates are expected to have a minimum of six years of experience as an independent group leader.
International candidates for professorship in Austria are rarely required to be fluent in German at the time of application, as the use of English in scientific research and teaching is becoming increasingly common. However, universities generally expect proficiency in German in a short time, so it is advisable for any academic considering a career in Austria to begin learning the language beforehand.
Habilitation in Austria
Habilitation is a qualification that is required in order to teach at many universities in Austria. Although it is no longer essential for becoming a professor, and is gradually declining in popularity, it is still a requirement for a scientific career in universities such as the University of Vienna.
Habilitation in Austria is regarded as proof of the highest level of achievement in an academic subject. Obtaining habilitation is a lengthy process that involves writing and defending a thesis and being able to prove your competence as an academic and a teacher. The Habilitation Committee, which is set up by the University Senate, awards the qualification subsequent to a successful thesis defence (colloquium).
Once the academic has successfully achieved habilitation, they are given the authorisation to teach (Venia Docendi), and awarded a title known as Privatdozent (for men) or Privatdozentin (for women). The academic is then able or obliged to teach and supervise the work of MSc and PhD students within their own university.
The position is non-tenured and is not considered a professorship; while there may be a change in salary post-habilitation, this is not guaranteed. The equivalent of a Privatdozent would be an associate professor in the USA or a senior lecturer in the UK.
Assistant professor in Austria Scientists who have completed their PhD are eligible to apply for a tenure track position (Laufbahnstelle). At the start of the contract, a qualification agreement (Qualifizierungsvereinbarung) is made, to agree on aims for the next six years, and the academic then works as an assistant professor (Assistenzprofessor). Requirements vary, but often include the habilitation or another teaching qualification, and a good publication record. Progress is evaluated annually.
Once the academic has achieved their goals, they automatically progress to the permanent position of associate professor(assoziierter Professor), and can eventually apply for a full tenured professorship as a Universitätsprofessur.
Assistant professorships are available at a range of universities and the IST. The IST is especially focused on attracting international applicants, as its working language is English, and its job advertisements emphasise the competitive salaries and international and interdisciplinary working environment.
Although entering the academic system can be challenging, a short-term position as a tutor or assistant on a research project may increase the academic’s chance of getting accepted as an assistant professor. Participation in research programmes and conferences, networking and flexibility are all important factors for a successful start to an academic career in Austria.