Israel’s scientific researchers and academics boast a disproportionate number of accomplishments and internationally-recognized breakthroughs, despite the small size and limited resources of the community.
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. 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, where the prestige of the university may compensate for your lack of Israeli connections once you make Aliyah.
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 (e.g., Life Sciences), which are then divided into departments (e.g., 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 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 your CV with a list of your publications. Explain that you’re planning a 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 that 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 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.
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 additional salary.
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 resources 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 search the site for the Alon fellowship (in Hebrew: מלגות אלון); alternatively, a link to this information is available from their home page (on the sidebar) – see “קרנות ומלגות”.
Merkaz L’Klita B’Mada (Center for Absorption in Science)
Misrad Haklita assists new Olim by paying a scientist’s salary for a defined 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 the 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
The Center for Integration in Science assists new immigrant and returning resident scientists in integrating into Israeli R&D. For more information please see the following article on our Nefesh B’Nefesh website: The Center for Integration in Science.
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 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/. The BSF supports bilateral, cooperative research between U.S. and Israeli scientists for research conducted in either country.
- 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.
- Israel Science Foundation (ISF or, in Hebrew, Hakeren Haleumit L’Mada) – http://www.isf.org.il/(Hebrew language site). Provide support for projects of up to 4 years, including individual research grants and laboratory equipment for new researchers.
- United States – Israel Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund (BARD) – http://www.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: [email protected]. 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 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 sufficiently unique projects.
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 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 Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Contact Center for Israeli Researchers
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.