Academic career: the path to a professorship

    -     Deutsch
Niels Petersen © WWU - Laura Grahn

Niels Petersen © WWU - Laura Grahn

It was while I was an undergraduate that I had the idea that an academic career might be something for me. At the time I was studying at Münster University and was working as a student assistant at what was then the Chair of Public, International and European Law. I was fascinated by the idea of being able to make a career out of satisfying my curiosity. Nevertheless, entering the academic world was anything but straightforward. After passing my state examination I first moved from Münster to Wiesbaden, where I embarked on my period of practical training. I didn’t get a lot of pleasure from this, and it confirmed my desire to seek an academic career.

It was, then, with great expectations that, after my second state examination, I started on my PhD. On the face of it, the conditions appeared to be excellent. I had a fascinating topic for my dissertation - on democracy in international law. Also, I had been awarded a scholarship and had a “quarter-job” at the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. And yet, despite all of this, I soon began to have doubts about the calling I had felt for an academic career. The more I read and researched, the more I became aware of what I felt was my own imperfection. Immersing myself in theories of democracy and in the fundamentals of international law showed me how little I knew. Also, I was putting myself under pressure: if I wanted to start an academic career, then - or so I imagined - my dissertation would have to be really good. But every sentence I wrote fell short of my own standards. As a result, I noticed that I was slowly saying goodbye to the idea of an academic career. I started looking around for alternatives. I went to recruiting events and got information about working in management consultancies and law firms. I also took part in selection procedures for the German Foreign Office, because during my legal training I had worked at the German Embassy in Bangkok, which I had enjoyed most of all.

I had organised a research stay at New York University (NYU) for the second year of writing my PhD - and it was this that triggered the decisive turning-point. At NYU I enrolled in a seminar on current issues in international law. In this seminar, the discussions were so stimulating that at the end of every session I left with the feeling that it was an academic career that really fascinated me. At the same time, I managed to get over my writer’s block and proceed with my PhD.

After I returned from New York and submitted my PhD, I went to Bonn, to the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, where I spent a total of seven and a half years. This period left its mark on me, fundamentally changing my understanding of law. I familiarised myself with methods relating to the social sciences and focused my research more on descriptive than on normative questions.

After completing my habilitation in 2014, there followed a period of uncertainty - the search for a professorship. But I was fortunate: shortly after I had submitted my habilitation thesis, the University of Münster advertised for a position which matched my own profile well. There was equal interest on both sides, with the result that since 2015 I have held the University’s Chair of Public, International and European Law and Empirical Legal Research. The fact that I have returned to the place where I studied - and, on top of that, to the Chair at which I worked as a student assistant while I was an undergraduate - is one of those strange-but-true stories from real life.

Prof. Niels Petersen holds the Chair of Public, International and European Law and Empirical Legal Research at the University of Münster.

This site uses cookies and analysis tools to improve the usability of the site. More information. |