Two researchers are sitting in comfortable chairs and are discussing a book.

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 and your PhD at a university or non-university research institute – or indeed in industry. 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-GesellschaftHelmholtz AssociationLeibniz 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.

The traditional individual path to a doctorate remains the most common in Germany. Here, a professor supervises a doctoral student, who works on his or her subject in consultation with the professor, but largely independently.