What do I need for a doctorate

The doctorate

Table of Contents

What is a PhD?

With a doctorate, you acquire the highest academic degree in Germany, the doctorate. A doctorate determines your ability to do independent academic work. In order to do a doctorate, you deal independently with a research question from your field. This takes place in the form of an extensive scientific work, the so-called dissertation. In contrast to the bachelor's and master's thesis, the dissertation must make an independent contribution to research.

Why do a PhD?

There are many reasons for doing a doctorate, and some of them differ from subject to subject. First of all, a doctorate is a basic requirement for an academic career. However, a doctorate is no guarantee of a career in science. The positions are few and far between in many departments and only the best achieve the goal of the professorship.

But a doctorate is not only required for a scientific career. In some disciplines, such as medicine, chemistry, biology and physics, the doctorate is almost the standard qualification. Without a doctorate, graduates of these courses often have considerable problems finding a job that corresponds to their training.

Many also do PhDs to improve careers and salary prospects. A doctorate is no longer a prerequisite for a position in the management level of large companies, but 50% of the Dax board members still have a doctorate. Academics with a doctorate also earn an average of 20% more than academics without a doctorate. Engineers and lawyers in particular can expect a significant salary increase after completing their doctorate. However, the calculation does not work out for all disciplines. Only in the rarest of cases do social scientists and humanities scholars receive a higher salary. Here the doctorate can even worsen the job prospects. Because the social sciences and humanities do not provide training for any particular profession. That is why most HR professionals place a lot of value on initial practical experience, a point that is missing from the résumés of many doctors. In addition, you run the risk of being overqualified because of the doctorate.

After all, 10% of doctoral students take up the doctorate because they have no prospect of a job immediately after graduation. However, this motivation is questionable. The dissertation is a time-consuming and nerve-wracking project for which you should bring a lot of perseverance, self-discipline and sustained enthusiasm for your topic. More than half of all doctoral students give up before they achieve their doctorate. In addition, a phase of unemployment after graduation is now normal in many disciplines and therefore no longer a blemish on the résumé. Here it is important not to despair: Instead of doing a doctorate as an emergency solution, use the time to gain initial work experience in the form of internships or to complete further training.

Probably the best reason for a doctorate is a high level of interest in scientific work and in your own subject. It is most likely to ensure that you have enough motivation to successfully complete the strenuous PhD project.

What options do I have to do a doctorate?

To do a doctorate, you need a university degree (usually the final grade must be better than 2.5). Depending on the doctoral regulations, you can already do a doctorate with a bachelor's degree. As a rule, however, a master’s degree or an equivalent degree is a prerequisite for the doctorate.

In Germany only universities and colleges that are equivalent to them have the right to award doctorates. That means you can only get your doctorate at one university. However, you do not have to have completed your degree at a university. In principle, you can also do a doctorate with a university of applied sciences degree. However, as a college graduate, you often have to overcome additional hurdles, such as aptitude tests, to qualify for a doctorate. Another option is a cooperative doctorate. You will do your doctorate at the university of applied sciences. Your doctoral supervisor is provided by a cooperating university, which also awards you a pro forma doctorate.

There are basically two different ways of doing a doctorate: The individual doctorate and the doctorate within a doctoral program.

Individual doctorate

With an individual doctorate, you write your dissertation yourself, and you will be supervised by a professor from the respective department, the so-called doctoral supervisor. As a rule, you have to find the doctoral supervisor yourself. First of all, you need a convincing idea of ​​what you would like to investigate in your dissertation. You introduce these to professors who have specialized in a similar field. It is not uncommon for the professors to also request an exposé. A face-to-face conversation significantly increases your chances of being accepted compared to an e-mail. If you can convince the lecturer of your idea, the examination office will give you the right to do a doctorate. With this you register for a doctoral degree. The advantage of an individual doctorate is the free time management. However, this advantage also harbors the risk of delaying and terminating the doctorate.

Anyone who decides to do a doctorate during their studies should make contacts at an early stage, for example through a position as a student assistant. In many cases, the professors bring the idea of ​​a doctorate to students with whom they are already working.

Doctoral programs: graduate colleges, graduate schools, doctoral courses

In the course of the Excellence Initiative and the Bologna Reform, an attempt was made to implement structured doctoral training. For this purpose, some universities set up so-called graduate colleges. These are research programs designed to enable young scientists to do their PhD under optimal conditions. The Research Training Groups focus on a specific topic and are set up for a limited period in order to research this. As a rule, several doctoral students are active in research training groups who write their doctoral thesis within the framework of the topic. You are usually supervised by several scientists at the same time. Graduate schools also offer regular events such as research colloquia, workshops and summer schools. As a participant in a graduate school, you will usually receive a scholarship. The research training groups are financed by the German Research Foundation, which also provides you with an overview of the current research training groups on its website.

In addition to the graduate colleges, graduate schools have also been established since 2002. These differ from the Kollegs mainly in that they have no time limit and are not tied to a specific topic. You can also find an overview of the current graduate schools on the website of the German Research Foundation.

So-called doctoral courses are an alternative to graduate schools and graduate colleges. In doctoral programs, as in your studies, you have a fixed timetable and have to acquire a fixed number of credit points. On the one hand, doctoral courses offer good structuring and supervision, but on the other hand, critics speak of schooling the doctorate. In contrast to graduate schools and graduate colleges, you do not automatically receive a scholarship for a doctoral program, but are responsible for your own financing.

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How does a doctorate work?

The exact process of the doctorate differs depending on the subject area and whether you choose the individual doctorate or acquire your doctorate within a doctoral program. At graduate colleges, graduate schools and in doctoral programs, you will usually write your dissertation in close cooperation with several supervisors. With an individual doctorate you are more on your own, the exchange with your doctoral supervisor is less intensive here. If you are doing your doctorate internally, for example as a research assistant at the chair, the contact with the doctoral supervisor is usually closer than with an external doctorate where you do not work at the institute.

If you are doing your doctorate at a graduate college, a graduate school or within a doctoral program, you will complete regular seminars, workshops and colloquia in addition to the dissertation. Seminars may also be required for individual doctorates, but they are less common.

The duration of the doctorate and the scope of the doctoral thesis differ from department to department. On average, doctoral students in Germany do their doctorate in 4 ½ years. While a dissertation in medicine is often the same as a bachelor thesis in terms of scope, in other disciplines it can comprise several hundred pages. By the way, you have the option of additionally protecting yourself before handing in a plagiarism check.

When you have completed and printed your dissertation, you submit it to the examination office of the university. The examination office forwards the work to your doctoral supervisor and the second reviewer for assessment. In addition to your dissertation, an oral examination is also part of the doctorate. This takes place either in the form of a Rigorosum or a disputation. The disputation is a scientific debate in which the doctoral candidate defends his or her work. The Rigorosum is an oral examination, which also often has the dissertation as its subject, but also other topics from the course. The grades from the oral examination and the dissertation result in the overall grade.

After the oral examination and dissertation have been graded, the doctoral procedure is completed. However, you can only wear your doctorate after you have published your dissertation. To do this, it is usually necessary to revise the dissertation again and obtain approval for printing (imprimatur) from the reviewers of your dissertation. Only when you submit a specimen copy of your published work to the library of the university will you receive your doctoral certificate and can henceforth call yourself a doctor.

How do I finance a doctorate?

Most doctoral candidates finance their work through employment as a research assistant at the institute or the chair at which they are doing their doctorate. This has a number of advantages: First of all, you are involved in research projects at the institute and are in close contact with numerous experts in your field. Doctoral students who are striving for a scientific career in particular have the opportunity to build up a network and gain experience - for example in preparing and holding courses. On the other hand, the positions are mostly independent of your dissertation and do not leave you much time to work on it. In addition, they are often limited in time and poorly remunerated in terms of workload. Usually the positions are advertised as half positions and are paid as such, but the workload corresponds to a full position.

You can also finance your doctorate with a job outside of the university. However, you should check carefully whether there is enough time left for your dissertation in addition to work. Natural scientists have the option of a so-called industrial doctorate. This means that you work for a company, but have one or two days off a week to work on the dissertation. However, the prerequisite for an industrial doctorate is that your topic is interesting for the respective company. Large companies in particular offer industrial doctorates.

Another funding option that gives you more time for your dissertation is a scholarship. In addition to good grades in your studies and a convincing synopsis, social engagement can pave the way for a scholarship. However, a scholarship usually only covers basic needs and is also limited in time. For a scholarship, you can apply to various foundations, the federal states and companies, among others. If you are doing your doctorate in a research training group, you will usually automatically receive a scholarship. The scholarship amounts to between € 1,000 and € 1,365 per month. You can get an overview of the various scholarships on stipendienlotse.de, a website of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.