Israel’s scientific researchers and academics boast a disproportionate number of accomplishments and internationally-recognized breakthroughs, which disguise the small size and nature of the community and its limited resources.

The world of scientific research and academia in Israel is highly competitive. The number of positions is limited and funding for research is unusually tight. However, the Olim who succeed in joining the ranks of Israeli researchers find an incredibly impressive group of academics with strong international standing and a significant number of accomplishments.

Considering Israeli Graduate Programs

Personal connections are a critical element in helping you obtain employment in the small and competitive Israeli academic scene. Therefore, if you are in the early stages of your career and you are thinking about starting a Master’s or Ph.D. program, consider graduate programs in Israel. By doing your Master’s or Ph.D. work in Israel, you will have a chance to develop relationships with the people in your field and, more importantly, these people will develop relationships with you. After completing an Israeli Ph.D. program, you might want to join the considerable number of Israeli doctoral students who choose to do post-docs overseas. Combining an Israeli Ph.D. program with a post-doc at a prestigious university overseas, puts you in a strong position vis-à-vis employment in the Israeli university system.

While studying in Israel is usually to your advantage, the exception to this rule is if you have been accepted into a highly prestigious graduate program such as Harvard or Yale, where the prestige of the university may compensate for your lack of Israeli connections once you come on Aliyah.

If you are under the age of 36, you can apply for financial assistance to cover the cost for your Ph.D. studies through Misrad Haklita’s Student Authority, within the first two years after making Aliyah. Those who are approved to receive funding, are given approximately 30,000 NIS a year for three years from Misrad Haklita, provided that the university also contributes 30,000 NIS a year for the same three year period. The total stipend should cover the cost of tuition and at least partial living expenses. For more information, see www.moia.gov.il/English/Subjects/ResearchAndScience/Pages/R-and-D-In-Israel.aspx. You can also contact Omri at Misrad Haklita by email at omrii@moia.gov.il or by phone (02) 621 4597.

For additional questions about studying in Israel, please be in touch with Nefesh B’Nefesh at nbnstudents@nbn.org.il.

Applying for a Senior Position at a University

If you are accustomed to the procedures found at most universities abroad, the application process at Israeli universities will seem fairly informal. Universities in Israel are divided into multiple faculties (such as Life Sciences), which are then divided into departments (such as Genetics or Biological Chemistry). In order to apply for a position at a university, you will want to develop a personal connection with the dean of a faculty.

The best way to start the process is by planning a trip to Israel and offering to give a seminar at a university, while you’re visiting. Write a letter to the dean, including a CV with a list of your publications. Explain that you’re planning an upcoming trip to Israel and would like to give a seminar at the university.

After you’ve visited the university and given a seminar, the dean will handle the rest of the application process. There is a hiring committee within each department which will collect information about your background and handle the technicalities of the hiring process.

If you have a contact at the university, that person can help smooth your way by introducing you to the important individuals on the university staff.

Combining Scientific Research with Teaching

In addition to scientific research, most Israeli universities (with the exception of the Weizmann Institute of Science) expect you to teach about 8 hours a week. In the sciences, this usually translates into less than 8 classroom hours, but it is a significant course load that impacts on your time in the laboratory. New Olim are usually given a reprieve, and most universities will only ask you to teach one or two graduate courses in the first year – possibly in English.

University Salaries

Salaries at Israeli universities for scientists and lab technicians are paid directly through the university and are not dependent on grant funding, though grant recipients are usually rewarded with an addition to their salaries.

If you are accepted by the Alon program or the Merkaz l’Klita b’Mada (described below), your salary will be paid by these external sources for a limited period of time. Through the Alon program, the university commits to continuing to pay your salary after you complete the program. Through the Merkaz l’Klita b’Mada, you have no guarantee of continued employment once you complete the program.

The Alon Program

As a newcomer to the Israeli university system, the best way to join a university staff is by obtaining an Alon fellowship. As an Alon fellow, your salary is paid for an initial period by Misrad Hachinuch’s Council for Higher Education. In exchange for your salary, the university commits to establishing an official, permanent position for you within your faculty, which ensures that you continue to be on the university staff once your Alon fellowship expires (assuming that you maintain an appropriate level of productivity, as measured by your publications). University faculties usually love hiring Alon fellows, because through these fellowships, the size of their staff continues to grow.

While an Alon fellowship does not ensure that you will receive tenure, in practice, it usually does turn into a tenured position. Keep in mind that the university (not the applicant) applies for the fellowship; and that the fellowship is tied to a specific university and is not transferable. The Alon program is open to all Israelis (and is not limited to new Olim).

For more information about the Alon program, see: http://www.che.org.il. The site is in Hebrew. You can do a search on the site for  the Alon fellowship (in Hebrew: מלגות אלון); alternatively, a link to this information is available from their home page (on the side bar) – see “קרנות ומלגות”.

Merkaz l’Klita b’Mada (Center for Absorption in Science)

Misrad Haklita provides assistance for new Olim by paying a scientist’s salary for a defined time period through the Merkaz l’Klita b’Mada (Center for Absorption in Science), also known as Keren Shapiro.

The primary disadvantage of the Misrad Haklita funding, in contrast to the Alon program, is that it does not ensure that you will have a position, once the program ends. In contrast, the Alon program is likely to provide you with a permanent position as part of university staff.

One of the advantages of the Misrad Haklita funding is that it is only open to new Olim, and is therefore less competitive. The Merkaz l’Klita b’Mada specifies limitations on who is eligible for funding. For details, please see: HEBREW | ENGLISH

To apply for funding, you must submit a resume, list of publications, copy of Teudat Zehut, copy of Teudat Oleh (page 1 and 2), and copies of your diplomas to:

Ministry of Aliyah and Integration
Center for Absorption in Science
2, Kaplan St.
POB 13061 Jerusalem 91130

For additional details, see http://www.gov.il/firstgov/English. If you have further questions, please contact:

  • Social Sciences and Humanities: Contact Yanna Gordon at 02-675-2607 (email: yannag@moia.gov.il).
  • Exact sciences: Contact Nunu Ben-David at 02-621-4547.
  • Biological sciences and medicine: Contact Alla at 02-621-4631 or Ela at 02-621-4654 Ela (email: elab@moia.gov.il).

Obtaining Funding for Research

For scientists who are accustomed to NIH funding, the grants that are available in Israel are relatively small and may last for shorter time periods. To compound this problem, the expense of research is much greater in Israel than it is overseas, for example, companies that sell perishable goods usually charge 30% more in Israel than they do in the U.S.

For biological researchers, the following are the primary funding agencies:

  • United States – Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), http://www.bsf.org.il/, Tel: 972-2-5617314 Email: bsf@vms.huji.ac.il. Located at the Bynet Building, 8 Hamarpeh Street, Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem. The BSF supports bilateral, cooperative research between U.S. and Israeli scientists for research conducted in either country. Grants tend to be about $50-70,000 a year.
  • German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), http://www.gif.org.il/. Established by the Federal Ministry for Research and Technology of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the State of Israel, and must involve active collaboration between Israeli and German scientists. Generally projects will be accepted for a three year period with a budget frame of EURO 225,000.
  • Israel Science Foundation (ISF or, in Hebrew, Hakeren Haleumit L’Mada), http://www.isf.org.il/(Hebrew language site). Phone 02-567-6250, Email israkeren@isf.org.il. Located at Albert Einstein Square, 43 Jabotinsky St., POB 4040, Jerusalem 91040. Provide support for projects of up to 4 years, including individual research grants (equipment that costs up to $150,000 may be requested as part of the personal application) and laboratory equipment for new researchers (a maximum of $300,000 may be requested).
  • United States – Israel Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund (BARD),http://www.bard-isus.com/. Phone: 03-968-3834, Fax: 03-966-2506, E-mail: bard@bard-isus.com. Provide support for mutually beneficial strategic and applied research of agricultural problems, jointly conducted by American and Israeli scientists.
  • Minerva Foundation, http://www.minerva.mpg.de/. Contact Herr Felix Kahle, Tel.: +49-(0)89-2108-1420, E-Mail: kahle@gv.mpg.de. Located at Gesellschaft für die Forschung mbH, Hofgartenstraße 8, D-80539 München, Deutschland/Federal Republic of Germany. Fax: +49-(0)89-2108-1451. The Minerva Fellowships and Minerva Short-Term Research Grants enable Israeli and German scientists and researchers to complete a research residency at institutions in the respective guest country lasting from one week to thirty-six months. This is a foundation that tends to fund more senior research, and the funding is renewable.
  • European Union, http://ec.europa.eu/research/future/index_en.cfm. Funds very large-scale projects but is difficult to obtain. See the EU’s new Research Framework Programme 2007-2013:http://ec.europa.eu/research/press/2005/pr0704-2en.cfm

If you are researching a specific disease, there are also private foundations that offer funding.

NIH funding is not usually available in Israel as the NIH gives priority to research done in the U.S. Exceptions are made for projects that are sufficiently unique.

Start-up funding is a matter of negotiation with the Israeli university that hires you.

Combining Academic Research with Clinical Work

In Israel, the hospital system is usually not integrated into the university environment, in the way you might find at an American university hospital. Israeli hospitals may offer the opportunity to do clinical research, but academic research is basically limited to the university system.

The exceptions to this rule are Hadassah Hospital (associated with Hadassah Medical School) and Soroka Hospital (associated with Ben Gurion University), where you can have a hospital position and still be involved in academic research.

Large tertiary hospitals in Israel, like Beilinson Hospital, do hire MD-PhDs to do academic research (as opposed to clinical studies) if the department has a basic science grant, or enough discretionary money to partially support a research program. In most cases, the physician who is conducting the research is expected to write grants to supplement the basic budget.

The Contact Center

A division of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Contact Center was established to assist Israeli researchers employed or studying abroad in finding appropriate positions within Israel’s scholarly community. The Contact Center assists researchers in all academic disciplines, including the natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences. Their services include a job board specific to academia https://contactcenter.academy.ac.il/jobs/Boards

Listing of Israeli Universities

For more information, see www.science.co.il.

Degree Recognition through Misrad Hachinuch

If you are working for an Israeli university, you must have your Ph.D recognized by Misrad HaChinuch. Recognition of your Ph.D will affect both your rank and salary. For information about the process of degree recognition, see Ph.D. Recognition.

Special thanks to Dr. Don Katcoff, professor of biological sciences at Bar Ilan University, for his professional contributions to this article.

Interview with Professor Colin Price

Thank you to Dr. Price for participating in this interview. Dr. Price runs the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

Please describe your field.
I work in the Department of Geophysics and Planetary sciences at Tel Aviv University. We study the science of the solid earth, atmosphere, and planets. Physics is the base, and our studies branch out from there. The topics that we study include seismology, geophysics, global warming, weather forecasting, severe weather, planets in the solar system and exploration of natural gas, oil, and underground water.

What is your current position?
I am the Head of the Department. It is a small department under the umbrella of the Department of Exact Sciences, with twelve professors and about 120 students. I am a full professor and I teach both undergraduate and graduate classes. Additionally, I conduct research related to lightning, thunderstorms, climate change and measurements of electromagnetic radiation in the atmosphere.

How did you find your job?
I started studying physics and geology as an undergraduate. I got my MSc degree in Israel and then continued my studies and research towards my Ph.D. in the United States at Columbia University. After my post-doc in California, a position opened up at Tel Aviv University. A lot of it is based on luck, the right position opening at the right time. I started as an assistant professor and worked my way up to associate professor and then to full professor.

What experience do you need to get into your field?
You need to have a good track record in scientific research in the Earth Sciences.  Publications are a must. It is also important to have experience in a diverse range of studies when looking for a new position. 

What are the benefits of working in this field?
The work is very interesting. Once you become a faculty member at a university, you can choose your own direction for research and explore different topics in your field. The conditions are good. The hours are not the conventional 9-5 you find in most jobs; you can make your own hours as long as you get your work done.

What is the salary range?
The starting salary in Israel is around 2,500 dollars a month, and it goes up from there.

Is there a professional organization in your field?
I am a member of the Israel Meteorological Society (http://met-society.org.il/). There are similar organizations for other fields. You can find them and join online.
 
What recommendations can you offer Olim who are looking to work in this field?
Hebrew is important. If you come to Israel with a reasonable knowledge of Hebrew, it will be easier for you to integrate into the field and into the university. Papers, proposal writing, and documentations, however, are in English, so English speakers have an advantage there.

If you are looking to work in a university, be in contact with other people in your field at an Israeli university. Research the departments using their websites, and then speak to someone directly. A personal connection is always best. Ask the university departments if there is a research project that you can work on for a year or two to begin with.  Once you are there in person, it is easier to get a permanent position.

How do you feel about working and living here in Israel?
Good! The salary can be frustrating, but there are other things that you can’t put a price tag on. When you live in Israel there are some things that you give up, but you gain much more.

Another advantage of working in Israel is that Israel is closely connected to Europe and European research. Israeli researchers have access to funds from Europe for research as well as the opportunity to collaborate with European researchers.

Working in Israel, you feel that you are contributing to the country and to the next generation of researchers and scientists.
 
Other advice?
It is very helpful to learn Hebrew. It is also important to have a good CV with published papers, and a recommendation letter from an advisor or senior scientist in your field. Letters are very helpful because grading scales vary from school to school.

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