The "traditional" or "individual" path to a PhD remains the most common in Germany. An individual doctorate involves a thesis or dissertation that is produced under the supervision of one professor.
This form of PhD study offers a great deal of flexibility, but also demands a high degree of personal initiative and responsibility. A professor supervises a PhD student, who works on his or her subject in consultation with the professor, but largely independently.
How long a traditional individual doctorate takes depends on your own time schedule – or on the duration of your work contract. Three to five years are typical. Although a university is normally responsible for the doctoral process, you can also carry out your research at other institutions.
Find a PhD place
Depending on your subject, research area and interests, you can choose whether to work on a research project at a university or non-university research institute – or indeed in industry – for your dissertation. However, no matter where you conduct your research, a professor will always supervise your PhD.
You can obtain a doctorate by pursuing research:
- at a university
- at a non-university research organisation or
- in a German company
The "typical" PhD student in Germany works – usually part-time – as a research associate at his or her university. Although research is usually part of the job description, most of the associate’s own doctoral research usually has to be carried out outside working hours. How closely teaching, research and/or administrative duties are actually tied into the doctoral student’s own research depends very much on the individual situation.
Non-university research establishments – such as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association and Max Planck Society – offer an excellent research environment in which to conduct your research. These institutions do not have the right to award doctorates themselves, but collaborate with universities for that purpose. They offer PhD students scholarships and/or (usually fixed-term) contracts of employment – or a combination of the two. However, support is also possible in the form of regular research posts, which are especially typical of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Max Planck Society.
Graduates who decide to work in industry and study for a doctorate part-time – often with funding and support from their employer – also need a university professor to supervise their research. In some cases, the employer already collaborates with a university or research institute and will help the PhD student find the right person.
People who have PhD research posts within a company usually have part-time temporary contracts and work in a research project where they conduct their doctoral research under the supervision of a professor. When a university and an industrial company collaborate in specially established institutes, doctoral researchers usually work on their projects with their professor and a supervisor from the company.
You can search here for companies in your research area.