Which Doctorate Paths Exist?

(c) AFP PHOTO / Daniel Roland

Ready for a doctorate?

A doctorate is a qualification phase in which you establish yourself as an independent scientist, acquire necessary skills that will also further you in the long run. It opens many opportunities, but also entails many challenges. Considering pros and cons and an intensive reflection on one’s own goals and personal suitability are absolute musts. The completion of a successful doctorate requires perseverance, discipline and energy.

The following questions can help you answer the question as to whether a doctorate is the right choice for you:

  • Do I enjoy academic work?

  • Would I like to work in a responsible research and leadership position in the future?

  • Am I prepared to concentrate on one specific topic over the next three years?

  • Am I able to structure myself and establish a realistic time schedule for the entire duration of the doctoral studies?

  • Am I able to constantly motivate myself to continue the project, even during difficult phases?

  • Can I work independently and in a team?

  • Can I write about my research in academic texts?

The doctoral thesis is at the centre of the doctorate. It ultimately proves that you are capable of independent academic analysis and making important contributions to the scientific community.

Source: "Doing a PHD in Germany." [de]

Academic Environment of the Doctorate

You can carry out your research on the doctoral thesis topic in various environments. However, it has to be ensured that your doctoral thesis is supervised by at least one supervisor who has gained a habilitation (traditionally called "Doktormutter" or "Doktorvater" in German).

You can complete your doctorate with research work:

Source: Research in Germany

Individual doctorate vs. coordinated coctorate programmes

As a general rule of principle, there are two possible types of doctorates in Germany: 

1. Individual doctorate

The most common path to attain a doctorate in Germany is the individual doctorate (approx. 77%). In this doctorate model you are supervised by a habilitated university lecturer. Nowadays it is not unusual for there to be multiple supervisors. You independently work on your thesis. This allows you a large amount of flexibility and freedom, but at the same time requires a high level of discipline and sense of responsibility. How long a doctorate lasts depends on the respective timeframe and often on the length of a corresponding placement contract. There is a certain degree of freedom in the planning that is to be coordinated with the supervisors and should be adjusted time and again. It is common for such doctorates to last at least three years. An individual doctorate can be completed at all five Faculties.

Source: Research in Germany


2. Structured doctorate

Besides the individual doctorate you also have the option of completing a doctorate within a structured doctorate programme. The structured programmes are similar to the Anglo-Saxon PhD systems, where a whole team of supervisors accompanies a group of doctoral students. Such structured doctorate programmes are most frequently found in DFG Research Training Groups or special research programmes with affiliated graduate schools. These structured doctorate programmes are often internationally-oriented, with English as the language of instruction and the working language. The time plan of the doctorate project must blend in with the existing programme, which usually takes three years for a doctorate. The qualification programme connected with the structured doctorate often entails an accompanying curriculum consisting of summer schools, journal clubs, seminars, lectures and own presentations. They often also support the acquirement of additional qualifications and soft skills, usually in collaboration with the local Graduate Academies.

Source: Research in Germany

    Scholarship vs. third-party funded position vs. budget-financed position vs. external doctorate

    There are different options for financing your livelihood during your doctoral studies and each option has different advantages and disadvantages. Most doctoral students are employed.

    Scholarships are less lucrative than employment from a financial standpoint. That does not only apply to monthly income, you also do not pay into a pension fund. On the other hand, however, scholarships are not considered taxable income. What is much more significant is that scholarships allow you to fully devote your time and concentration to your doctoral thesis instead of having to prepare and hold lectures. Moreover, in addition to financial support, many foundations support their scholarship holders with non-materialistic offers such as continuous professional development courses and, in particular network meetings, allowing you to establish valuable contacts for the period after completion of your doctoral thesis. A list of scholarship providers can be found here.

    Third-party funded positions are practically always fixed-term. You will mostly be working on a research project and you will work on your doctoral topic as part of the project. This makes it possible to devote your entire work time to the doctoral studies. You will be supervised by a project manager. You usually apply for an advertised position, which opens up opportunities for doctoral studies. You also have the option of writing a third-party funding application together with a potential doctoral supervisor and thereby implement existing research ideas. However, this entails numerous disadvantages: You do not appear as an applicant, the application process takes a long time and involves high risks of possibly not receiving funding. Postings often have to be publically advertised. Depending on the common practice in the subject area and the granted funding amount of the third-party funding application, you will be employed in the third-party funded project with 50 - 100% of a full-time teaching and/or research assistant (TVL-E 13). You can use mailing lists and databases of the respective subject area in order to find respective positions. Job offers from the University and interdiciplinary databases, in which doctoral topics are advertised, may be of help in the search for job postings with that provide the opportunity to carry out doctoral studies.

    This information applies similarly to doctoral positions in the industry, which usually offer you fixed-term part-time employment contracts, industry and application-oriented research opportunities. Such positions provide excellent perspectives for a follow-on career outside of the university after the doctoral studies. Supervision is provided by a professor at a cooperating institution of higher education. Databases used by many companies to publish their vacant positions can also help you here.

    Budget-financed positions are usually fixed-term part-time positions, which mostly have nothing or little to do with the doctoral topic and are often based on holding lectures. You can, but do not have to belong to the same chair as your doctoral supervisor. The disadvantage of such positions is that depending on the type or extent of employment, less time is available for the doctoral studies and it may prolong the process. According to a federal report on early career researchers (2017) [de] 67% of the doctoral students at universities with budget-financed positions teach 4.2 hours of lectures per week. This is complemented by times for preparation and follow-up. You are still able to use most of the work time for your doctoral studies. Furthermore, you gain relevant expertise, especially if you teach, which may be an advantage later on. Please keep an eye on the job postings of the University.

    As an external doctoral student you finance yourself through your job or a part-time job outside of science and research. These doctoral studies usually take a lot longer than the above-named options. They are particularly practical if you are already employed and the doctoral studies serve the purpose of attaining a doctor title, which you assume will provide you with better opportunities outside of the university.

    Doctorate in Germany or Abroad?

    The International Office and the Welcome Centre offer comprehensive information regarding all questions including the funding of periods of stay abroad for outgoers or for incomers who are coming to Greifswald from abroad.


    Information for outgoers, wanting to go abroad

    There are good reasons for deciding to complete a period of study abroad. In addition to the broadening of one’s own horizon through new cultural impressions, getting to know other research cultures and possibly the acquisition of new language skills, a period of stay abroad is an important station on one’s CV that significantly increases further career prospects. Whether you would like to spend your entire doctoral studies abroad or you plan to have short periods of stay abroad as part of your doctoral studies in Germany – you should carefully choose the guest institution, not only based on the attractiveness of a holiday destination. Important questions you should consider here:


    Information for Incomers, who would like to do their doctorate in Greifswald

    Even if it is often considered overvalued, the German doctor title enjoys a very high reputation at both national and international levels. This is not least due to the superior position of scientific research in Germany. Approximately 25,000 academics complete their doctorate annually in Germany and thus more than in any other European country. Germany now comes in third with respect to the number of foreign doctoral students, which has more than doubled since 1997.
    More Reasons for a Doctorate in Germany.

    General information about doctorates in Germany can be found in the brochure "Doing a PhD in Germany" [de] published by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

    Information regarding the requirements for a doctorate in Greifswald, will be provided to you by the International Office.

    Have you already decided to do your doctorate in Greifswald? The Welcome Centre and the International Office provide you with important information regarding the Preparation and First Steps. The Welcome Centre, which offers a colourful programme of activities in and around Greifswald which will facilitate your arrival, will also support you once you are here.

    The Welcome Centre also provides foreign doctoral students with a list of important information.

    Monograph vs. cumulative thesis

    A fundamental aspect you must contemplate whilst preparing your doctoral thesis is: Should I chose a monograph, i.e. a large complete work, or several individual publications that are usually rounded off in a summarising chapter, known as a cumulative thesis?

    Whether you have to answer this question at all depends however on the valid rules of the Doctorate Regulations for your field. While you are only able to chose the monograph form in some subjects, you can choose either one or the other path in other subjects. The decision does not have to be made at the beginning of the doctoral studies, however, it should be coordinated with your doctoral supervisor based on common practice or subject culture.

    The monograph

    This is the classical form of a doctoral thesis. The writing of one large single piece of work requires good structuring of the time allocated for the doctoral studies and good self-motivation. The greatest advantage is that long external review processes are no longer necessary and the submission of the thesis at the end of the doctoral studies is not dependent on the publication. However, the (possibly expensive) publication of the work must take place and only then does the conferred doctor title become valid (a preliminary title of a doctor designatus is granted beforehand). The thesis can be published electronically, via self-publishing or a professional publishing company. Find advantages and disadvantages [de] of the different publishing routes here. More details are provided in the Doctoral Regulations.


    The cumulative thesis

    Especially if the number of publications and the impact factor are important career criteria for your scientific future, it is recommended that you choose this form of dissertation. The written manuscripts must then be published by an academic journal with peer review. Especially this peer review, meaning the process of (mostly multiple) assessments of the manuscript by independent scientists can prolong the process. This is why the writing and publication of manuscripts must be considered from the outset when planning the timeframe of the doctoral studies and should not be the last step for all of the required manuscripts. The minimum number of required publications (accepted and submitted) is stipulated in the respective Doctoral Regulations. If you have any questions about how to deal with multiple co-authors, please refer to the rules of good scientific practice as provided for in the DFG’s Code of Conduct. In order to be able to publish individual results, one has to structure one’s doctoral topic into various partial projects that can stand alone, but also serve their purpose in an adequate manner in the superordinate topic of the thesis. The successful publication of these individual results can cause an important motivation boost. Find advantages and disadvantages [de] of a cumulative thesis here.

    Responsible for these pages

    Graduate Academy of the University of Greifswald


    Dr. Michael G. Schöner

    Tel.: +49 3834 420 1618