Career paths in Italian research

The national research system is composed of several public and private actors carrying out scientific and technological research. In Italy a researcher can work in the public sector, meaning in universities and public research institutions, or in the private sector, as in private research institutions, industrial companies, profit and non-profit services companies.


In Italian universities, you can work as a researcher only after passing a selection process that takes place through a competition. To participate in the selection, usually having a PhD or an equivalent qualification in another country is required. In universities being a researcher represents the first step of the academic career. The following steps are those of associate (or second level) professor and full (or first level) professor. Access is by public competition based on qualifications and tests.


The researcher operates within private companies usually with at least a master's degree in the subject area in which they want to carry out research. It is possible to carry out your activity as an employee with temporary or permanent contracts or as a self-employed consultant in private companies, consultancy firms and professional offices (for more information on the different types of Italian employment contracts, see the dedicated section).

Profiles in academic research

In Italian universities, the main structured (contracted) figures are researcher, associate professor and full professor. 

  • Researcher: s/he can be a permanent or fixed-term researcher. The fixed-term researcher can be either type A (RTDA), with a three-year subordinate contract that can be extended for additional two years, or type B fixed-term (RTDB), with a three-year non-extendable subordinate contract but on a tenure track (i.e. with the possibility of tenure without the need to win a public competition). In particular, type B researchers can become associate professors (with a permanent contract) if during the three years they obtain the National Scientific Qualification as associate (or full) professor and if, upon the expiration of the contract, they receive the approval of the university in which they work.
  • Associate professor (or second level)
  • Full professor (or first level) 

The functions of Rector, Dean of the Faculty, as well as the functions of coordination of research doctorate courses and coordination between research groups are reserved for first level professors.

The main non-structured figures (period limited from two to four years, depending on the case) are PhD or specialization student and research fellow. 

  • PhD or specialization student is a third level student after the specialization degree, who is trained to carry out research after passing a competition, based on qualifications and exams, and benefitting from a scholarship. In Italy a PhD programme is a course of study and therefore a PhD student is considered a student. On the basis of the Ministerial Decree of April 9, 2001 a PhD student is entitled to the same services assigned to students of second level degree courses.
  • Research fellow is a role normally held by a graduate who obtains a scholarship through a competition. Each research grant can have a minimum duration of one year and a maximum of three years.

For more information on the national system:

The research system in Emilia-Romagna

In Emilia-Romagna there is a well-established innovation and research ecosystem consisting of six Universities and several National Research Centres based in the region, the High Technology Network, composed of industrial research laboratories and innovation centres having Regional recognition, and a strong system of companies involved in research and development activities.


The regional university system is made up of six universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses, masters, specialisation courses, and PhD courses. Every year public funds are allocated for university scholarships.

University of Bologna (includes campuses in Cesena, Forlì, Ravenna and Rimini)

The University of Bologna has very ancient origins that indicate it as the first University in the Western world. The excellence of teaching, research at the forefront, presence in the territory, international openness, and information services: in these and in many other areas, the Alma Mater promotes and continues today on the path of innovation. For more information:

University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

This University is located in the two towns of Modena and Reggio Emilia and is among the national leaders in education and industrial fields. They boast strong and long-lasting relationships with local companies, including world famous automotive producers and food producers of typical products such as balsamic vinegar or Parmigiano Reggiano. For more information: 

University of Ferrara

Ferrara is a student-friendly university town, listed by UNESCO among World Heritage Sites. Ferrara University campus offers a varied educational offer suitable for facing the new challenges of a globalized world. For more information: 

University of Parma

The University of Parma promotes the creation, transfer and progress of knowledge to meet the needs of higher education and research of the companies or of the industrial sector, at national and international level. The town is also home to the European College which aims to train experts on European Union topics and to provide a unique contribution to the construction of a European and international society. For more information: 

Cattolica University (Piacenza Campus)

The Catholic University of Sacro Cuore (UCSC), founded in 1921, is a private Italian University, with headquarters in Milan and other offices in several Italian towns: Brescia, Cremona, Piacenza and Rome. The Piacenza branch offers study programs in the agro-food area and also in socio-economic and legal fields, and in formal-training and education areas. For more information:

Polytechnic University of Milan (Piacenza Campus)

The Polytechnic University of Milan is one of the most prestigious universities in Italy and one of the most recognized in Europe in the scientific and technological field, founded in 1863. The fields of study and research include three macro-areas involving engineering, architecture and industrial design. It is based in Milan and has decentralized branches in several Italian towns and in the city of Shanghai (China), in collaboration with Tongji University. In Emilia-Romagna the headquarters of the Polytechnic University is located in Piacenza. For more information:

National institutions and research centers

National agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development (ENEA)

The National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development is a body governed by public law aimed at research, technological innovation and the provision of advanced services to businesses, public administration and citizens in the sectors of energy, environment and sustainable economic development. Since its creation in the 1960s, its strengths are in applied research, technology transfer and technical-scientific assistance t0o companies, associations, territories, central and local administrations. In Emilia-Romagna it is based in Bologna and in the Brasimone area, in the province of Bologna. For more information:

National Research Center (CNR)

The National Research Council is the largest public research facility in Italy, founded in 1923. Since 1989, CNR has been a research organization aiming  to carry out research projects to promote the innovation and competitiveness of the industrial system on a national level, the internationalization of the national research system, and to provide technologies and solutions to emerging needs in the public and private sectors. In Emilia-Romagna it is based in Bologna, Faenza (BO), Modena and Ferrara. For more information:

National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN)

The National Institute for Nuclear Physics is the Italian research institution dedicated to the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the laws governing them, under the supervision of the Ministry of University and Research (MUR). It conducts theoretical and experimental research in  subnuclear, nuclear and astroparticle physics. All the INFN research activities are undertaken within a framework of international competition, in close collaboration with Italian universities on the basis of solid academic partnerships spanning decades. In Emilia-Romagna it is based in Bologna and in Ferrara. For more information:

National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF)

It is the main Italian research organization for the study of the universe that promotes, realizes and coordinates, both within the framework of the European Union programs and international organizations, research activities in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, in collaboration with universities and with other public and private entities, at both national and international level. In Emilia-Romagna there are three branch offices in Bologna. For more information:

National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV)

The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) was created in 1999 from the merger of five institutes already operating in the field of geophysical and volcanological disciplines. The institutional mandate of the Authority includes the pursuit of the objectives of the observation of phenomena and development of scientific knowledge on the Earth System as a whole, in strong interaction with the technological activity, management and development of research infrastructures and the realization of activities with a potential significant impact on the population and on the various components of society. In Emilia-Romagna it is based in Bologna. For more information:


Cineca is a non-profit inter-university consortium formed by 67 Italian Universities, 9 National Research Institutes, 3 polyclinics and the MUR - Italian Ministry of University and Research Education, that was established in 1969. It is the largest computing center in Italy and one of the most important in the world. Operating under the control of the Ministry of Education, University and Research, it provides support to the activities of the scientific community through supercomputing and its applications, creates management systems for university administrations and the MUR, and designs and develops information systems for public administration, health services and businesses. In Emilia-Romagna it is based in Bologna. For more information:

European Centre for medium-range weather forecasts (ECMWF)

European Centre for medium-range weather forecasts is an independent intergovernmental organisation supported by 35 states. The ECMWF is both a research institute and a 24/7 operational service, producing and disseminating numerical weather forecasts to its member states. These data are fully available to the national meteorological services of the Member States. The Centre also offers a catalogue of forecast data that can be purchased by companies worldwide and other commercial customers. The ECMWF supercomputer (and associated data archive) is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and member states can use 25% of its capacity for their own purposes. The ECMWF is based in Bologna, with other offices in Bonn, Germany. For more information:

Industrial Research Laboratories – High Technology Network  

The High Technology Network is a regional network that, with its industrial Research Laboratories and Innovation Centres located in the region's technology hubs, supplies competences, tools and resources for the companies’ development. The Network brings together public and accredited private organisations, universities and research centres. Network coordination is entrusted to ART-ER, a consortium comprising the Emilia-Romagna Region, universities, research centres in the region and Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna. The Laboratories’ working methods are guaranteed by a Regional accreditation process, which is periodically opened up to new entrants by means of competitions. Industrial Research Laboratories and Innovation Centres are present throughout the region. For more information:

Other useful links

Funding opportunities and policies for research and innovation

In order to meet the innovation needs of companies and promote higher education and industrial research, innovative PhDs have been established. These are highly specialised post-graduate courses that aim to train professionals with advanced scientific research skills and high-level vocational expertise, characterised by strong industrial interest and the involvement of enterprises. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) provides for the allocation of scholarships - 50 per cent financed by companies - for innovative PhDs that meet specific company needs and projects with the aim, at the end of the course, of recruiting researchers into the workforce. These are actions on which public and non-public universities and companies work together, strengthening the collaboration between the public research system and the private system.

A digital platform has been set up in cooperation between the Ministry of University and Research, Confindustria and the Conference of Italian Universities Chancellors (CRUI) to facilitate the match between university supply and companies demand. Enterprises, by accessing the platform, will be able to identify a PhD programme offered by a university that meets their needs or propose a further training programme project that meets their research and innovation requirements. To this end, for each PhD programme, it will be possible to contact the interested university, participate in the funding of a scholarship, view the details of affiliated companies and any new participating companies.

Another opportunity is offered by PhD networks. PhD networks implement doctoral programmes through partnerships between universities, research institutes and infrastructures, companies, including SMEs, and other socio-economic actors from different European countries and beyond. These PhD programmes will address well-identified needs in various research and innovation areas, introduce researchers to academic and non-academic sectors and provide research training and transferable skills and competences relevant to innovation and long-term employability.

In addition to standard PhD networks, incentives have also been introduced to promote joint PhD: this is a type of international, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration that is highly integrated in PhD education and leads to a joint PhD or to several PhDs issued by the participating institutions. PhD students must be enrolled in a joint programme and be jointly supervised to obtain it.


First (only in Italian) is ART-ER's free information service on research and innovation funding. It is aimed at companies, universities, research institutes, science and technology centres and other stakeholders interested in European, national and regional opportunities. On the First website you can find information on calls for tenders, deadlines and direct links to official websites as well as a list of events to discuss the most relevant research and innovation topics. Funding programmes and specific topics are also illustrated in detail.


EuropaFacile (only in Italian) is ART-ER's free information service supporting the Emilia-Romagna Region with in-depth information on policies, programmes and funding opportunities coming from the European Union. Moreover, through the bi-monthly newsletter EuroLettera it is possible to receive updates on European policies and funding programmes.

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