Individual doctorate

two people talking

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 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.

Find a PhD place

Depending on the subject area of your thesis, your research can be conducted alone or together with other researchers. Doctoral candidates are also free to choose where they would like to conduct research:

Doctoral candidates can choose where they would like to conduct their research:

  • at a university
  • at a non-university research organisation or
  • in a German company
Entrance of a university.
Entrance of a university.

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.

A radio telescope
A radio telescope

Non-university research establishments – such as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association and Max Planck Society – offer an excellent research environment 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.

Research in industry
Research in industry

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.