phd in germany

phd in germany

You are a master student, and your are looking for a job in research along with a PhD thesis. Find below some basic information about how and where to start a PhD thesis in Germany.


PhD candidates (Promovierende or Doktorierende) get a PhD by producing a written research paper (dissertation or thesis) and by defending their paper in an oral exam called Rigorosum or Disputation, very similar to a viva (voce). 


Recognized PhD titles (de: Doktor) are only awarded by one the 110 official universities (Universitäten mit Promotionsrecht). Companies do not have the right to award a PhD title. However, for the rest, i.e. the daily work, one is free to do the research work where he/she wants: at one of the universities, in a private company or at home. The deal is that the results of your research work have to be accepted by a professor at one of the 110 universities.


A PhD work is usually started immediately after the master’s degree (usually at the age of about 25 to 28 years). Unlike in the US, German PhD candidates are supposed to start the research project immediatly after beginning their PhD, and they do not have classes anymore. However, they might have a few advanced lectures, summer schools or PhD programs. "Fast Track Programmes" offered by some universities start after the bachelor’s degree.


There are no standardised regulations in Germany on which academic degrees are recognised for taking up a doctorate. The final decision on whether you are admitted to a doctorate lies with the research institution to which you applied. However, as a rule, you will be required to have spent at least eight semesters (four years) studying at a research university and must hold a degree that is equivalent in level to a Master’s degree. Only exception: Applicants who graduated from their Bachelor’s programme with particularly good qualifications may be able to follow up directly with a doctorate by entering one of the so-called "Fast Track Programmes" offered by some universities. Ask the university about the exact conditions.


Many universities offer graduate schools or graduate colleges (Graduiertenkollegs) or even whole doctoral programmes.

How long?

The duration of the PhD is not standard, and is usually between 2 and 6 years depending on the research field. PhD in natural and exact sciences are usually between 4 and 5 years. In arts and humanities, a PhD is done in 4 to 6 years.

How much?

Doctoral programmes are tuition free in Germany. However, the cost of living does need to be financed during the doctorate. PhD candidates generally have to raise their own financial resources. There are different possible sources of income: teaching assignments in the form of research assistantships at the university , financial support in the form of scholarships and grants, or temporary jobs outside university. Grants normally pay around 1,000 euros per month over a period of between two and three years. PhD candidates can apply for a scholarship or grant themselves, but often the supervisor (Doktorvater) proposes the doctoral candidate for a grant. Most scholarships and grants can be complemented by a number of one-off payments and subsidies, for example for families with children, for research trips, or consumables.

Financial issues are different when taking part in a doctoral programme or a Graduate School. If you are accepted in one of the so-called structured programmes, you automatically get funding. In some programmes, you get a grant (amounting to between 1,000 and 1,400 euros per month during two years) or a position as a research assistant. The universities in Germany are each creating more and more internationally-oriented and financed doctoral programmes, and there are also research agencies providing financed doctoral programmes (e.g. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation – DFG) or the International Max Planck Research Schools).

What language?

You do not necessarily have to speak or write German to be accepted as a PhD candidate in Germany. The required German language skills depend on which subject you want to do your doctorate in, and in which language you want to write your dissertation. Many departments also accept dissertations written in English. In international doctoral programmes, English is generally the working language and the language of instruction. The research institution of your choice will decide on exactly which language proficiency certificates you have to present.

How to proceed?

First figure out what subject you are interested in, then find out which university or company is doing research in this field, then find the professor or research group whose work interests you most and contact him/her directly to ask for opportunities.

The other way is to look at the job portal of


  • doktorandenforum: faqs, blogs and tipps related to PhDs (mostly in German).
  • thesis: network of PhD candidates and PhDs (only in German).


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