what the hell is an akademischer rat?


My position of Akademischer Rat is unusual for Germany itself, let alone for those abroad. Even native German students ask me what an Akademischer Rat is and, according to where you are from, explaining what an Akademischer Rat is might become complicated.

Let’s immediately clarify one thing: The literal translation of Akademischer Rat would be academic advisor. My position, however, has nothing to do with counseling students and their study plans1.

The German Wikipedia provides a concise definition for Akademischer Rat, which I will use to explain my position:

Akademischer Rat (AkadR bzw. AR) ist eine Amtsbezeichnung für einen deutschen Beamten im höheren Dienst, der an einer wissenschaftlichen Hochschule (z. B. Universität) in Deutschland als wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter tätig ist.

Let’s break it down: an Akademischer Rat is a title for an office holder (Amtsbezeichnung) who is a civil servant (Beamter) who provides service as scientific employee (wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter).

The concept of civil servant can be weird for some already. I come from Italy, and if you ask people who a civil servant is, they will most likely answer that a civil servant is a public employee2. That is not the case for Germany.

Germany has both public employees and civil servants. PhD students, as well as postdocs and researchers, are public employees in Germany most of the time. I do work for the public sector, but I am not employed. Civil servants in Germany (Beamte) do not have a contract, but a letter of appointment which is given after the civil servants swear their oath of office over the Constitution. That is, I serve members of the public under my office functions, which are about university research and teaching. There is more to it, and the English Wikipedia does a fair job to explain who Beamte are and what they do. In short, I have more duties as well as more advantages regarding a public employee. The best advantage for us academics is that Beamte are tenured for life3. One of the disadvantages (also for academics) is that my teaching load is the same one of a Full Professor4.

There is no English equivalent for my position. Some universities, including mine, suggest to use lecturer for Akademischer Rat and senior lecturer for Akademischer Oberrat (the status just above my current one). Others suggest to use the term researcher. I prefer to use senior researcher because my main duties are still about research, and senior researchers abroad are oftentimes permanent positions. I might switch to senior lecturer if I ever become Akademischer Oberrat. Senior lecturers abroad are also tenured and perform both teaching and research activities. Senior lecturer is usually understood to be equivalent to an Associate or Adjunct Professor, which the Akademischer Oberrat is equivalent to once s/he obtains a scientific habilitation.

  1. And nothing about rodents, alas. 

  2. If you are Italian, the closest concept we have is the funzionario). 

  3. After a probationary period of 3 years. 

  4. It is actually slightly higher because Full Professors deduct 2 hours of weekly teaching from their colloquium. 

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