What Is HiWi?
HiWi stands for Hilfswissenschaftler which means ‘research assistant’. Students have the possibility to work at their university alongside their professors and Ph.D. students, in the field of their study. Master’s students can work for a maximum of 19 hours per week while Bachelor’s students can work up to 12 hours per week during the study.
HiWi or Research Assistantship is a great way to gain practical exposure in your areas of interest which helps in job search after your study in Germany. It also increases your chances of being hired for a Ph.D. position in the lab you work. Further, it also helps you cover your monthly expenses.
The Competition For HiWi
The smell of Doner Kebab and Lahmacun while walking along the streets of Pontstraße near the RWTH Aachen gives you a clear sense of the changing demographics of the German population. The Turkish restaurants have now overtaken the number of shops that sell Bratwurst or Currywurst in Aachen.
Let’s look at a few stats and numbers that can give you an estimation of the competition and your chances of getting a HiWi in Germany without the German language proficiency.
- Almost all Chinese students I met during my study at RWTH Aachen had at least B1 level of proficiency in German. 16 out of the 18 Chinese students I surveyed in Aachen had at least B1 proficiency or higher. According to WorldCrunch, Germany sees over 25,000 Chinese student influx every year.
- Over 15% of the German population is composed of immigrants, largely from Turkey, Syria and Eastern Europe. These immigrants have already started to integrate into German society and can speak German quite fluently.
Is It Difficult To Get A HiWi?
Your chances of getting a HiWi or Academic Research Assistant job without German language requirement at German Universities, especially the TU9 universities is high. I got it and so has every international student in Biomedical Engineering and almost all international students in Simulation Sciences at RWTH Aachen. Let me tell you, I am learning German A1 now and I can hardly order food at a restaurant.
So, what it takes to get a HiWi job and why do you have a chance despite the two frightening statistics about the immigrants and Chinese students (your competitors) I pointed out earlier.
Factors Affecting Your Chances Of Getting HiWi
These are the 3 factors which have worked out right for the success of international students in finding a HiWi without German language proficiency.
- Networking and Class Performance
- Lack Of Interest For HiWi Among Germans and Immigrants
- Pursuing STEM fields in demand
1. Networking And Class Performance
German lectures are usually monologues and less interactive than their American or British counterparts. Some of the classes in the undergraduate level have a sprawling student population exceeding over 500.
However, the Master’s level classes often have less than 50 students per class as there is a wide range of options for electives. Although I graduated in Mechanical Engineering, I am pursuing my Master’s in Biomedical Engineering at RWTH Aachen. The class strength is around 20, giving ample scope for interaction with the professors. Usually, proactive students have a better chance of being noticed by the professor.
Many of the Student Assistant jobs are not advertised on the common job portal. The professors often announce the availability of HiWi positions in class and usually take in enthusiastic applicants. Sometimes, you may need to communicate about your interests directly with the professor and very often, professors help you out with a research position.
2. Lack Of Interest For Academic HiWi Among Germans and Immigrants
Germans are very particular about their interest. I have seen my German classmates unwilling to work in a field which is slightly aligned (but not exactly) with their areas of interest. Further, many of the German students prefer working in industries or startups as the remuneration is usually higher.
A HiWi student in a University of North Rhine Westphalia is likely to be paid €11 or €13 per hour (Bachelor’s or Master’s pay scale) while in the industry, he is likely to be paid around €15 per hour at postgraduation level.
I have observed that Arabic immigrants are interested in finding less intellectual jobs and usually focus on running businesses because many of them lack a specialized degree in STEM fields. Although Germany has seen massive immigration, very few of the immigrants actually pursue postgraduation.
That leaves enough scope for other international students for specialized academic jobs.
3. Pursuing STEM fields in Demand
Most South-East Asian students in Germany don’t study music or arts. Further, Indian students rarely study medicine in Germany because the entire curriculum is in German.
Germany currently lacks ICT Developers (Software Engineers and IT specialists), Electronics Engineers, Biomedical Engineers and Mechanical Engineers with expertise in emerging fields like Energy Engineering, High-Performance Computing for Simulations and Robotics. If you are studying one of the above courses, your chance of being hired is more.
Tips For Finding A HiWi
Although I cited 3 factors which suggest that finding a HiWi job may not be as hard as it may seem without German language proficiency, the opportunities for HiWi is very less beyond the 11 German Universities of Excellence due to the lack of sufficient Federal Government funding.
Here are a few tips that may help you in finding a HiWi.
- German CV: Your CV is likely to go down in the dustbin if it’s not in the right format. One of your first steps before applying for a HiWi is to get it verified at the Career Centre. Usually, the CV in Germany carries a professional photograph of the applicant, contrary to that in India or America. There are some other minor differences as well.
- Apply, apply and Apply: Be resilient with the applications. I applied for 7 HiWi positions, received a response in 5 of them, got interviewed for 3 of them and converted 2 of them.
- Long-term commitment: The only HiWi interview in which I was rejected is likely because of my lack of motivation for the long-term commitment. In most HiWi jobs, you are likely to assist a Ph.D. student. So, Ph.D. students may want you to stay until the time they are done with their dissertation and publications.
- Motivation: Trust me, the motivation for research was the biggest factor that outweighed my skills during my interview. The supervisors care about your career goals, say your commitment to pursuing a Master’s thesis or Ph.D. in the lab. So, be speculative with your replies.
- Show your eagerness to learn German during the interview: I was asked if I am making any efforts to learn German. Making an endeavor to learn German helps in the interview and gives a positive impression to the interviewers regarding your efforts to adapt to the new work environment.
Thank you for reading this. I have also written on some other aspects of studying in Germany on this blog, which you may find helpful.