Doing a Doctorate

Online Guide to a PhD in Germany

The classical route to a doctorate

The production of a doctoral thesis or dissertation is the core element of the traditional doctorate. Students agree on their topic with a supervising professor and then produce a thesis or dissertation as a piece of independent research. Since there is no curriculum, there is also no set length for doctoral studies and no obligation to attend courses. This very liberal, traditional system has its advantages and disadvantages. It is in any case very important that the doctoral student is independent and personally motivated and that a good and trustful relationship exists with the academic supervisor.

Structured Doctoral Programmes

In recent years, a lot of Graduate Schools, so called Research Training Centres, Graduate Centres or Graduate Colleges have been developed. Many of these programmes have an international focus. They offer doctoral students the following advantages:

  • flexible admission for foreign applicants
  • very often integrated scholarship programmes
  • often English is used in courses and everyday work
  • arrangements for team-based doctorates, frequently involving joint research projects, which ensure that a constant process of exchange takes place with other doctoral students and supervisors
  • often supervision agreement between the university and the doctoral student which allocates at least two supervisors to each doctoral student
  • interdisciplinary approaches through the participation of several faculties departments
  • intensive supervision under the institutional responsibility of the university
  • curricular programmes, both in the core subject and in cross-disciplinary fields
  • soft skills training (e. g. presentation techniques and scientific writing)
  • extra-departmental supervision and guidance, such as joint leisure activities, and assistance with everyday problems

Currently the following structured programmes are available:

Information about structured PhD/doctoral programmes here.

Further information here.

Finding a Supervisor

The first step on the way to your doctorate is to find a supervisor and/or a suitable PhD programme. You can conduct your search using the databases listed here. See also these guidelines here.

A new tool that can help you find a supervisor is PhDGermany, an online platform for doctoral positions and research opportunities in Germany. Here you will find PhD positions specifically for foreign applicants.


Many structured PhD programmes also offer scholarships. Apart from that, many universities and non-university based research institutions offer jobs specifically for doctoral students. A useful platform where you can find these offers is www.academics.de.

In order to apply for a scholarship or a job you will mostly have to write a research proposal. Guidelines are provided here.

For DAAD scholarships for  doctoral students see here.


Additional information