Research opportunities for international mechanical engineers

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Mechanical engineer Rim Zerriaa

Cars come in every conceivable colour: black, silver, red, green, metallic white – even purple or orange. Many car owners care a lot about the colour of their vehicle, which is why manufacturers and subcontractors take the quality of the paint finish very seriously. 30-year-old Rim Zerriaa also has a weakness for car paints. A mechanical engineer from Tunisia, she is doing her PhD on the subject. For her thesis, she is looking at how the paint is applied to the car: most companies use a robot which sprays the paint onto the vehicle. How can the best outcome be achieved, and how could the process be optimized? How should the robot be configured to produce the best possible finish? These and other questions are the focus of Rim Zerriaa’s PhD.


Graduate school for engineers

What makes her doctoral programme special is that she is able to study her research subject not only at the university but also in an industrial setting. She is doing her PhD at the University of Stuttgart’s Graduate School of Excellence advanced Manufacturing Engineering (GSaME). Until 2017, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding 45 graduate schools, all of them leading scientific institutions and internationally competitive centres of excellence in Germany.

Combining theory and practice in one PhD

The GSaME model at the University of Stuttgart is innovative, as it applies the dual vocational training principle to research. Doctoral researchers in engineering, business or computer sciences combine theory and practice, technology and management, and research and direct practical application. “This concept is ideal for mechanical engineers, as it gives me a detailed insight into research and industry. I have four years in which to explore my research subject from different perspectives. I also appreciate the chance to decide for myself exactly when to conduct research at the institute or in industry.” Rim Zerriaa feels that she is in good hands at the GSaME, and values the good support she receives from the university and from the company where she pursues her research. “I feel that I am being prepared in the best possible way for the employment market”, she adds. Another advantage is that the GSaME secures the funding for its doctoral researchers.

Outstanding research and development in mechanical engineering

“Germany is known the world over for its outstanding research and development in technical disciplines, and especially in mechanical engineering. Which is why I knew that I wanted to do my PhD in Germany”, explains Rim Zerriaa. She also completed her degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Stuttgart. Another thing the young researcher appreciates is the fact “that your achievements are recognized. You can be sure of this in Germany, but cannot take it for granted elsewhere.” As she emphasizes: “Irrespective of gender, origin or religion, everyone receives very good support.”

All kinds of opportunities for young researchers

All over Germany, universities, academic institutions and companies offer the best possible conditions for young researchers in the field of mechanical engineering. In addition to structured doctoral programmes such as those offered by graduate schools, it is also possible to embark on what is known as an individual PhD. This model involves doctoral candidates selecting a professor to be their supervisor and working largely independently on their dissertation. According to studies such as the CHE Ranking, places renowned for their excellent support and research include the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Technische Universität Darmstadt, RWTH Aachen University, Technische Universität Berlin and the companies Trumpf and KSB. Fascinating research projects in the area of mechanical engineering are also to be found in numerous alliances and cooperative ventures such as the Plattform Industrie 4.0 and the Effizienzfabrik network.

Enjoying life in Germany

Germany also has a great deal to offer apart from its research labs, however. “I enjoy my life. There are so many leisure opportunities: for example there is a great range of university sports activities on offer, which makes it very easy to get to know new people. And there is so much to discover in German cities”, says the young researcher, who would like to remain in Germany once she completes her PhD.