Paths to a doctorate


An individual, independent research project is often seen as the traditional way of achieving a PhD degree. At the beginning of the doctoral studies, the prospective PhD student looks for a professor who carries out research in the field of relevance and can supervise the research. The supervisor supports the research activities throughout the entire doctoral work. The PhD student is either a member of the research staff within the supervisor’s research group or works within an external institution, such as a business company.

PhD students do not have to take part in any compulsory training programme. There are therefore no time constraints for the doctoral period. Still, the PhD period should be limited. A time frame of three years for preparing a PhD thesis is appropriate for students who dedicate themselves entirely to their research and do not have any other obligations. If a student is a member of the research staff and has other duties in research and teaching in addition to his or her own research work, the time period for the PhD thesis should not exceed five years. Any work carried out by the students in addition to their own research should be limited in time and scope in order to enable proper planning of the PhD period.

The freedom of an individual PhD research project has advantages and disadvantages. The students have to motivate themselves again and again and have to pursue their research independently. Students may benefit from a close and trusting relationship to their supervisors.

How to apply for individual doctoral studies: You can choose freely the subject of your PhD work from one of the academic fields of the ICBM. To begin with, you have to find a professor who supervises your project and agrees on the dissertation’s topic. The Admissions Office (Immatrikulationsamt) handles the application process.


In exceptional cases, students may pursue their doctoral studies externally. Cooperation projects between academia and industry enable practice-oriented doctoral research work. The PhD students are employed at a business company. Thus, they can gain work experience and make professional contacts in addition to their research work. The interests of both the company and the university have to be taken into account. External doctoral studies, in contrast, are not based on an industry-academia partnership. The PhD students pursue a regular career and the supervision of the dissertation by a professor is organised independently of the company.

PHD programmeS

In addition to the traditional, individually pursued doctoral studies so-called structured PhD programmes, such as graduate schools (e.g. OLTECH in Oldenburg) or research training groups, have been established in Germany over the past few years. Structured PhD programmes are characterised by a structured teaching programme. They are integrated into a demanding and interdisciplinary field of research. Currently, there are about 700 PhD programmes in Germany, and the trend is rising.

StruktureD Doctoral STUDIES aT THE ICBM

Several professors take over the supervision. The PhD student is employed within the graduate school or receives a scholarship. The programmes provide a curriculum in parallel to the doctoral research. They are often interdisciplinary and support the training of soft skills and additional qualifications. The systematic and intense supervision within these programmes enables the students to complete their degree within three to four years. Since 2009, a Research Training Group has been part of the Collaborative Research Centre TRR 51 Roseobacter ( Universities mainly offer structured PhD programmes within the Research Training Groups financed by the German Research Foundation and the Graduate Schools financed by the Excellence Initiative (e.g.