There are various ways of funding a traditional individual doctorate. Many doctoral students in Germany work as research associates – often part-time and usually with a fixed-term contract – at a university or a non-university research institute. However, doctoral students can also find doctoral positions in industry – if their research topic fits. If you plan to study for a doctorate externally without a doctoral position or a scholarship, you will need to support yourself through part-time employment of some kind.
If you are completing an individual doctorate, employment at a university is common. Often, PhD students are employed as academic assistants or research associates on part-time fixed-term contracts at the institute of their supervisor, where they are usually deployed in teaching and/or in (usually third party-funded) research projects.
Numerous support programmes and sponsorship organisations also support up-and-coming researchers outside higher education. Non-university research establishments – such as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association and Max-Planck-Gesellschaft – do not have the right to award doctorates themselves and collaborate with universities for that purpose. They offer doctoral students scholarships and/or (usually fixed-term) contracts of employment – or a combination of the two. Doctoral students here are normally tied into structured, interdisciplinary training programmes. However, support is also possible within the framework of regular positions and even typical for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.
Many research institutes publish their job vacancies in online job portals and on their websites.
Doctoral posts in industry usually offer PhD students fixed-term contracts of employment on a part-time basis, industry-related and application-oriented research opportunities and favourable prospects for the period after graduation. Research-based companies – for example, in the automotive industry – are especially interested in recruiting doctoral students. Additionally, cooperative partnerships between universities and companies also exist in the field of applied research. Here, the PhD student is normally employed at the university and works on a research project in a mixed team of company and university employees.
PhD students also have the option of meeting their living costs with a part-time job outside education or research. It is important here to observe possible restrictions. It is certainly advisable to seek the approval of the Aliens’ Authority ("Ausländerbehörde") and/or the Job Centre, because many exceptions apply. The same also applies to spouses if they wish to work in Germany. Student services ("Studentenwerke") at many universities have an employment exchange and can help students find work.
Doing a PhD in Germany (2019, 40 pages)
This booklet for (prospective) international doctoral students presents the different options for doing a doctorate in Germany. It explains the formal requirements and gives some practical advice on finding the right supervisor or doctoral programme. It also outlines different sponsorship and funding options.Download (PDF, 2 MB)