My research group’s head is currently completing his habilitation. He was surprised that I knew about habilitation as it is not an academic qualification universally required for tenured positions. However it is definitely an academic qualification which is widely looked up to.
Habilitation is the highest academic qualification in Germany. Variations of its concept are also used in other European countries. It is not only considered the next step after PhD but also generally serves as a requirement for a tenured position or professorship. So how is the habilitation different from PhD? Unlike a PhD, where the PhD supervisor may have a guiding hand, a habilitation is a test for sustained independent high quality research for a few years. It is also an indication of research and scholarship which is higher than a PhD. Just like the PhD, a habilitation involved an academic committee and a defence of the research. This also includes a public lecture.
Although, a habilitation may consist of cumulative research after the PhD, it generally focuses around a specific theme. Therefore the eventual habilitation thesis turns out to become a good researcher an impressive monograph of the research area. I have encountered many great books which were the outcome of some well know German researcher’s habilitation.
The habilitation is not immune from politics and debate. Although a stamp of high quality research, the habilitation is also considered a burden and obstacle for researchers to get a stable position. There is also a move in Germany towards ‘junior professorships’ which are essentially lectureships.