Individual doctorate: the traditional path
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 demands a high degree of personal initiative and responsibility.
Are you interested in discovering the key features of an individual doctorate? Find out more here: How to obtain a PhD > Individual doctorate
In Germany there is no central admissions or selection office for doctoral students. Therefore, your first step is to find a suitable professor who is willing to be your supervisor.
One way to find a supervisor is to look for a university institute that matches your area of research. The following online search engines might help you find a suitable supervisor:
GERiT is a website containing information on approximately 25,000 research institutions in Germany. GERiT allows the user to search easily by location or subject. It provides all the information needed to choose an institution at which to research, study or do a doctorate.
PhDGermany publishes PhD openings in Germany that specifically target international applicants. Accordingly, in most cases the working language is English. Fluent knowledge of German is only required for certain special positions. PhDGermany helps you find the right PhD opening or supervisor for your doctoral thesis and assists you with the online application process.
This database provides up-to-date information from universities about doctoral opportunities in Germany. The search engine enables you to carry out targeted searches on the basis of departments, admission requirements and form of doctoral thesis.
Alternatively your contacts with your professors or previous university could help direct you to a suitable department or potential supervisor in Germany.
It is also helpful to attend academic conferences in your own subject area. There you will be able to exchange information and make contacts – and perhaps even find a future PhD supervisor.
Once you have decided on a potential supervisor, you have to apply directly to the professor in question. Here are some useful tips that may help you succeed in your application:
- Invest a lot of time and effort in your search for the right supervisor.
- Demonstrate your interest: show that you know the potential supervisor’s research field and you know what to expect.
- Give details of your own experience in this research field.
- Give explicit reasons why you would like this professor to supervise your thesis.
- Make your motives clear. It is important to show where your interest lies in your very first contact.
- Choose the subject of your thesis in a way that fits in with the academic orientation of your supervisor.
- Show that you are well informed: you know the requirements for a doctorate in Germany.
- In your covering letter you should be brief and precise.
In your application, you should provide information regarding your prior academic achievement, the topic of your master’s thesis and the subject area in which you wish to specialise. Your application should also include a well thought-out proposal for your doctoral thesis.
What you need to bear in mind when submitting your research proposal:
- Be precise: say exactly why you are writing and what your research project is.
- Give precise details of what your research involves – and what it doesn’t involve.
- Explain what you want to discover in your research, what problem you would like to solve.
- Focus on your research topic and do not get lost in sideshows.
- Develop a coherent and convincing argument in favour of your research project.
- Don’t get tied up in minor details.
- Don’t forget to mention the most important works in your research area.
- Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.
After you have found a professor willing to act as your supervisor, the responsible department or doctoral committee must then confirm your eligibility as a doctoral candidate. At some universities, candidates have to apply for admission to the doctoral examination at this stage.
Although it is not always necessary, it can be advantageous for international students to enrol as a doctoral student even when they have opted for a traditional individual doctorate. The prerequisite for this is admission to the doctoral studies programme.
You may need to present proof that you have passed the relevant German language examination. The International Office at the respective university can provide more details. The doctoral regulations on departmental websites also provide information about requirements.
Links & databases
Many companies, universities and non- university research establishments publish their PhD openings and job vacancies in online job portals or on their websites. Here you will find some tips and links on where to search for research-related job offers in Germany: Find a job.
Download our brochure:
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)