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Press Release No. 62 | 11 November 2010
DFG Awards 100th Heisenberg Professorship

Reliable career perspective for outstanding early career researchers – Opportunity for universities to sharpen their scientific profiles

Among the many funding instruments provided by Germany’s central research funding organisation to early career researchers, the Heisenberg Professorship sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) can be found at the far end and likewise at the very top of the list. It offers outstanding early career researchers the prospect of unlimited professorship while offering their sponsoring universities new ways to sharpen their scientific profiles. Named after the physicist, Werner von Heisenberg (1901-1976) who became a professor at the young age of 26 and was honoured with the Nobel Prize at the age of 32, it was introduced at the end of 2005. Now, just five years later, the DFG has awarded its 100th Heisenberg Professorship. It is going to the physician Dr. Stefan Fichtner-Feigl of the University of Regensburg. The 37 year-old outside lecturer is conducting research on chronic inflammatory diseases such as Morbus Crohn and Colitis ulcerosa. At the same time, he serves as a senior surgeon at the University Hospital of Regensburg.

“One hundred Heisenberg Professorships – those were and are 100 distinguished and dependable perspectives for the professors of tomorrow”, said DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner on the occasion of the anniversary. Kleiner highlighted the special meaning of the professorships as individualised funding for particularly promising early career researchers in their final stage of academic qualification. At the same time, their respective universities also receive significant additional value. “Hence the Heisenberg Professorship is without question a win-win situation”, Kleiner emphasised.

The Heisenberg Professorship is a further development of the DFG’s successful Heisenberg Programme which has funded more than 2,000 researchers with fellowships since 1978. Just like the Heisenberg Fellowships, the Heisenberg Professorships are directed towards candidates that are qualified to be appointed to professorships, but have not yet received a call. Their qualifications can have been achieved through habilitation (qualification as a teacher in a German university) or through such comparable achievements as junior professorships, as leaders of their own working group under the DFG’s Emmy Noether Programme, in DFG-funded project staff positions, as mid-level academic faculty, or through industrial research. This funding instrument is directed towards local researchers as well as early career researchers in foreign countries and German researchers working abroad who wish to return to Germany.

The basic principle behind the funding is that the DFG will finance a professorship for five years after which, assuming successful evaluation, it will be converted into a regular professorship. According to DFG President Kleiner, “This is, on the one hand, the entry into the internationally successful and often demanded “Tenure Track System” and on the other, a big stride forward for the researchers as well as for the German research system.”

As a rule, the initiative to establish a Heisenberg Professorship is taken by the researchers themselves. They look for a university at which they can establish a new area of research through their appointment.  The most important criteria concerns the university in question: It must explain to the DFG how a new reseach focus will be established through this new Heisenberg Professorship. Given such a perspective, many universities become active themselves in order to realise their development plans together with young researchers through this programme. The award of professorships through the DFG follows strict scientific quality criteria. Successful competitors must supplement their particular qualifications and prior experience by conceptualising an ambitious research plan and presenting it convincingly.

The first Heisenberg Professorship was awarded in mid-2006 to the pharmacologist Dr. Stefan Schulz from the University of Würzburg who had already made an early name for himself with his research on neuronal signal transmission. In October 2007, just one year after the start of his Heisenberg Professorship, Schulz was appointed Professor at the University of Jena and now heads the Institute for Pharmacology, Toxicology and Clinical Pharmacology at the university hospital there. Like him, a number of Heisenberg Professors have received professorships well before the end of their five-year funding.

Of the 100 Heisenberg Professorships to date, more than half (54) have gone to the life sciences, 23 were awarded in the natural sciences, 16 in the humanities and social sciences and 7 in the engineering sciences. Seventy-seven went to male researchers, 23 to female researchers.

Several Heisenberg Professors have in the interim been awarded significant research prizes. The gastroenterologist from Ulm, Professor Karl Lenhard Rudolph who had received the fourth Heisenberg Professorship in 2006, received the Leibniz Prize, the most prestigious science award in Germany, in 2009. Professor Holger Gies, since November 2007 Heisenberg Professor for Theoretical Physics in Jena, was singled out for the Heinz Maier Leibnitz prize, the most distinguished prize for early career researchers in Germany, before his professorship began. Other Heisenberg Professors, such as the social anthropologist Professor Erdmute Alber of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, hold leading positions at institutions selected by the Excellence Initiative of the German federal government and the German states.

Further Information

Detailed information of the DFG’s Heisenberg Programme (professorships and fellowships) may be found at:

Contact at the DFG Head Office:

  • Paul Heuermann
    Quality Assurance and Programme Development Group
    Tel. +49 228 885-2398
    Paul.Heuermann@dfg.de