Saturday, June 26, 2010

How to get a PhD position in Germany?

How can you apply for phd in Germany? My sister has done MSc in Chemistry, She might be interested.
A FB scrap I got today.

A question I am often asked by my friends.

India being the country of a huge youth population and increasing attention on academics, has also become a country who is sending large number of students for higher studies specially, Masters, PhDs and Postdocs to the developed countries. Mainly to the english speaking ones. The  reason, English is also most widely taught foreign language in India. But their is a twist too, English speaking countries mainly USA, UK and Australia also boast for very high tuition fees and tough competitiveness for a particular positions from fellow Asians only. It is a long process to give all those expensive admission tests like GRE, then wait for getting a chance in an University and then again waiting for scholarships. Many times even after going through all these processes, a good PhD offer is not ensured.  A big length of precious time runs away in between. So what are the other alternatives if you want to pursue your further career in a foreign land?

Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Scandinavian countries, Belgium and Netherlands in the  European Union can alternatively cater you a competitive PhD position may be with little less fuss, and equal qualitative satisfaction. In addition you can get a chance to stay in a continent which is like a miniature of whole of India and is exceptionally rich in cultural heritage, history and scenic beauty. 

Here I will pen down some information on how to start a Phd in Germany. The links are mainly the ones which I found useful when I was deliberately searching a PhD position in Germany 10 years ago, when Germany was opening up its door to foreign students who could come to Germany to do PhD without any prior knowledge of German language, Phd written in English (provided that German is the official language of Germany) was also getting accepted officially to provide the degree.

Definitions of PhD position in Germany:

The PhD positions in Germany are called half positions and they are categorised under different names like BAT II/2, you can either get a salaried positions or a  PhD position providing you a scholarship. Salaried positions are mostly offered by universities where you might also need to work as a part-time  teaching assistant like demonstrator for practical courses for undergraduate and/or post graduate students. Scholarships are provided mainly by the research institutes like Max planck institute where you might not need to work as a teaching assistant. Both have advantages and disadvantages, in a salaried position, you need to give taxes and therefore you are entitled to many facilities provided by the state (Government), but on a monthly basis you might get less money in hand than when you are getting scholarship. On the other hand if you are getting a scholarship,  when something goes sour (any need to leave the position and find another one) then you don't get any support from Arbeitsamt (Job centre) and you are left with the challenges on your own.

Research Institutes:

Max Planck Society

It is the biggest chain of  autonomous research institutes in Germany for all kinds of sciences and some humanities and languages for both fundamental and application based studies.  It is highly competitive but very open in attitude.

Fraunhofer Research Society

Another research society which works mainly on application and industry based projects. It is also a competitive place with special emphasis on projects in collaboration with industries.

Some more:

Are you specific about your choices and know which exact field are you interested in?  Yes, it is absolutely normal that until finishing our M.Sc. many of us remain unsure about the specific field where we want to proceed, as until Masters, specially in India our education is mainly information/book based or exam based, but from PhD onwards required skills are searching for scientific problems (unanswered), solving them by planning experiments and doing them, once finding few answers you need to zap them into a paper/conference or two and then move forward finding new unanswered  problems? And if you have a clear idea about which specific field you want to dive into then there are also some institutes in Germany who work on specific topics and  they offer PhDs too. Like;

GSI (Society for research in heavy ions)

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

Juelich Research Centre 

German Cancer Research Centre 

All these research institutes are very competitive, but often they do have large numbers of available PhD positions.

There are many other research institutes and of course starting from these once you can reach to those links can be very easily from  Google.


Here is the link from wikipedia , giving a list of almost all the universities in Germany.

Universities in Germany try to maintain an uniform reputation and offer very good environment of research. Additionally if you wan to test your flair  for teaching, universities are the best places to do that, as you will get a chance to demonstrate to the undergraduate or postgraduate students. Universities also provides very colourful campus lives and a chance to enter  more into the German society. Also most of the German universities welcome foreign students and therefore you also get a chance to know people from several other countries.

Almost all the websites you will search you will see are written in both German and English languages but sometimes may be all information are not available in English language. So it is better to send e-mails directly to the people, under whom you will like to work.

Litmus Test:

After you sort out some the places or groups where you would like to join as a PhD student, here are few little litmus tests you can do before sending an e-mail, showing up your interest.
Check whether they have open positions available
Check the lists of publication and how many publications are there with the present members of the group
Check the lists of instruments available and the list of collaborations

Final call:

If you are satisfied after all these tests, then write a mail to the Director, Chair or Group leader, showing your interest for a particular position and a project. Reason properly why you are interested and how do you think you can be helpful for the project. Give a short account of related educational qualification and work experience you have in the cover letter and list them chronologically (starting from latest degree) in your Curriculum Vitae ( or Bio-Data as we call in India)

On getting first reply:

It normally takes few days to get a positive reply, negative replies are quicker. Don't get upset if you don't get a reply at all. Keep trying. After you get an affirmative reply showing interest of the employer, then it is time for you ask more relevant questions. Like;
Whether you need to give an interview?
Duration of the project,
Your role in the project,
Salary and accommodation,
Whether you need to take extra courses on your subject?
Whether you need international certification for your English proficiency (TOEFL)?

And soon you will see that, you are feeling comfortable enough to ask your own questions.

So thats how I searched my way to Germany for a PhD position, now if you are willing  to do the same this is a small guideline.
Happy hunting!


  1. bravo....excellent what u have done here.

  2. thank u so much for your help

  3. thnks for all valuable info

  4. I have a problem here, from all inquiries that I have sent for phd positions, none answer me! what I am possibly doing wrong. Any specific way to approach a professor and write the email? If a professor says "drop me an email if you're interested" the least I can expect is a reject answer, so yes I get upset after.