University Glossary:
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The position of professor is one of the highest academic qualifications and positions at universities and colleges. Professors are not only experts in their field, but also play an important role in teaching, research and academic self-administration. Their tasks are varied and contribute significantly to the development of science and the training of the next generation of academics.

What is a professor?

A professor represents the highest academic position at universities and colleges. This role is not only characterized by extensive expertise, but also includes responsibility for teaching, research and often administrative tasks. Professorships are essential to the advancement of science and education by generating new knowledge, educating and guiding students and contributing to the academic community.

How do you become a professor?

Academic career

The path to a professorship is demanding and requires years of commitment to research and teaching. The first stage is usually a successfully completed university degree in a relevant subject area. This is followed by a doctorate, in which the candidate acquires a doctoral degree through independent research work and thus demonstrates academic maturity.
The doctorate is often followed by a postdoctoral phase, during which young academics deepen their research and build up an international network. The habilitation or the leadership of a junior professorship are further important steps in demonstrating teaching ability and scientific expertise.

Appointment procedure

Appointment to a professorship is usually made via a formalized procedure in which a university or University of Applied Sciences advertises a vacant professorship. Applicants must provide evidence of their academic achievements and teaching experience in the form of publications, courses and, if applicable, the supervision of theses. An appointment committee examines the documents and invites selected candidates to lectures and interviews. After a multi-stage selection process, the professorship is awarded to the most suitable person.


Path to a professorship

This detailed reflection and the table should provide a clear overview of the path to professorship and the challenges involved. It is a process that requires a lot of time, dedication and academic excellence.
Step Description Duration
Degree Completion of a relevant university degree 3-5 years
Doctorate Development of an independent research project and attainment of a doctorate 3-5 years
Postdoc Consolidation of research activities, often in an international environment 2-4 years
Habilitation/junior professorship Proof of teaching qualification and academic qualification 4-6 years
Appointment procedure Application and selection procedure for a professorship Variable

Duties and responsibilities of a professor

Professors play a central role in the academic world. Their responsibilities go far beyond the mere transfer of knowledge and include a variety of tasks that contribute to the advancement of education and research.


Teaching is a core aspect of a professor's work. This includes the planning and delivery of lectures, seminars and tutorials in their subject area. The aim is not only to impart specialist knowledge, but also to promote critical thinking, problem-solving skills and lifelong learning. Professors also supervise Bachelor's and Master's theses as well as doctoral students and support them in their academic and professional development.


In addition to teaching, research is an essential pillar of academic activity. Professors carry out independent research projects that contribute to the expansion of knowledge in their subject area. They publish their research findings in specialist journals, at conferences and in books, thereby advancing scientific discourse.

Administration and self-administration

Professors are also active in various administrative and self-governing bodies at universities. These include faculty councils, examination boards and appointment committees. These tasks require organizational skills and decision-making ability and help to ensure the quality of teaching and research as well as the strategic orientation of the institution.

Academic supervision and advising

The academic supervision of students is another important task. Professors advise students on their study plans, career goals and research projects. This mentoring activity is crucial for students' personal and professional development.
Involvement in the academic community

Many professors are also involved in the academic community beyond their university. This includes attending specialist conferences, participating in academic associations and reviewing research papers for specialist journals.  These diverse tasks show that the role of a professor is demanding and multifaceted. They require a high level of specialist knowledge, commitment and teaching skills.

Types of professorships and career paths

There are various types of professorships in the academic world, which differ in terms of their focus, tasks and career paths. This diversity allows academics to choose a position that best suits their interests, skills and career goals.

University professorship

The university professorship is often the most prestigious form of academic career and involves extensive research and teaching responsibilities. University professors are usually leading experts in their fields and contribute significantly to scientific progress through their research work. The path to this position is demanding and, in addition to a doctorate, usually requires a habilitation or equivalent achievement as well as success in a competitive appointment procedure.
University of Applied Sciences professorship. In contrast to university professorships, professorships at universities of applied sciences focus more on practice-oriented teaching and applied research. Candidates for a University of Applied Sciences professorship often have practical professional experience gained outside the university in addition to a doctorate. This professorship is particularly suitable for people who want to provide students with practical training.

Junior professorship

The junior professorship offers early independence in an academic career and is often limited to six years. It is intended to serve as a springboard for a further academic career and is offered without the traditional habilitation. Junior professors lead independent research projects and gain teaching experience.

Types of professorships and their characteristics

This table summarizes the main characteristics of the different types of professorships and provides an overview of the respective focus areas and career paths
Type of professorship Type of professorship Career path Special features
University professorship Research & teaching Doctorate, habilitation/appointment procedure Leadership role in science
University of Applied Sciences professorship Practice-oriented teaching & applied research Doctorate, practical work experience Strong connection to industry  
Junior professorship Independent research & teaching Doctorate, temporary employment Early academic independence
Honorary professorship Recognition of special achievements Awarded without formal requirements No regular teaching obligations

The importance of the professorship in higher education

Professors play a central role in the academic world. Their responsibilities go far beyond the mere transfer of knowledge and include a variety of tasks that contribute to the advancement of education and research. The role of professors in higher education is invaluable. They are not only carriers and mediators of knowledge, but also key figures in the development of science and research and in the training of the next generation of specialists.

Contribution to science

Professors make a decisive contribution to scientific progress through their research work. They develop new theories, improve existing technologies and contribute to the global exchange of knowledge through publications and conference contributions. Their research findings not only influence the academic world, but often also find practical application in industry, healthcare and other socially relevant areas.

Education and mentoring

In teaching, professors are responsible for designing and delivering courses that teach students not only specialized knowledge, but also critical thinking, problem-solving skills and ethical principles. In addition, they supervise students in their final theses and research projects, offer guidance and support in career planning and act as mentors.

Development of higher education

Through their participation in academic self-administration and decision-making bodies, professors have a direct influence on the development of study programs, the introduction of new teaching methods and the shaping of university policy. Their experience and expertise are crucial for maintaining high educational standards and adapting higher education to changing societal demands.

Interdisciplinary cooperation

Interdisciplinary collaboration, often initiated and led by professors, encourages innovation and creative problem-solving. They build bridges between different subject areas, promote the exchange of ideas and enable research projects that transcend the boundaries of individual disciplines.

The professorship is therefore a central element in the structure of higher education that contributes to the quality and further development of the academic system. Professors are pioneers of knowledge who, through their work, enrich not only their subject area but society as a whole.


FAQs on the job description of a professor

The job description of a professor often arouses curiosity and raises questions. Here we answer some of the most frequently asked questions to give you a clearer picture of this academic position.

Can I pursue another professional activity during my time as a professor?

Professors may consult or lead research projects in industry alongside their academic work as long as these activities do not conflict with their obligations at the university. It is important to maintain transparency and avoid potential conflicts of interest.

How long does it take on average to become a professor?

The path to a professorship can vary depending on the subject area, country and individual career path. As a rule, it comprises several years of study, followed by a doctorate and further qualification phases such as a habilitation or a junior professorship. Overall, the process can often take 10 to 15 years or longer.

Do I need a habilitation to become a professor?

The requirements may vary depending on the country and institution. In many cases, a habilitation or equivalent is required, but some countries and universities offer alternative qualification paths such as junior professorships or tenure-track positions.

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