The triangle of starting a doctorate

How do I start a PhD in Jena?

Information for PhD interested
The triangle of starting a doctorate
Image: Graduate Academy

If you want to start a doctorate, there are three aspects you should consider: You need to find a supervisor, funding and a topic. Below you will find information on how to proceed in this search.

The formal steps that are necessary when you start a doctorate in Jena are explained at the end of this page.

Search for a supervisor

To find a supervisor for your own doctoral project is often the first step on the way to a doctorate. The search for funding is often related to this.

The role of supervision Expand entry

It is extremely important that you have a close and trusting relationship with your supervisor or supervisors. Supervisors are your first stop for questions relating to your research, as well as an invaluable resource of tips on structuring your academic and professional career. They can open doors to a wealth of professional contacts through their own academic achievements, and offer an example that you can aspire towards. Just as importantly, they serve as a sparring partner, helping you to question, refine and improve your research.

If you have already had direct contact with a possible supervisor, for example as a result of supervising your Master's thesis, you should generally pay attention to the following aspects when making your decision:

  • Is the research area of your supervisor the area you want to work in? Does your topic fit to their research interests?
  • What is their form of supervision? Do they give the right amount of feedback? How often can you meet them?
  • Do you have a good feeling with them? Is the "chemistry" right between you?
  • Do they help you to find a way to fund your doctorate?

If you are applying for supervision from abroad, you will certainly find it difficult to answer these questions. In this case, possible indicators for you could be the number of doctoral projects in the professor's department or also what impression you get in email communication.

Direct request to a supervisor Expand entry

In Germany, it is quite common to write to professors directly and ask them if they would supervise your doctorate.

Before you contact someone, you should first do some research to find out which professor is conducting research in an area that matches your own previous research experience and corresponds to your future research interests. For a nationwide search, you can use the platform "German Research Institutions". For the search at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, please use the websites of the faculties. Just as a hint: If the websites of an institute are not available in English, this is often an indicator that the working language at this institute is German and thus an application from abroad without the appropriate German language skills has little chance of success.

If you decide to contact a professor, please send a well-written e-mail containing, among other things, the following information: your prior academic achievements, the topic of your master's thesis and the subject area in which you wish to specialise. It is important to illustrate, how your research interests and experiences match with the research done by the professor. Therefore, you should consider to search for the latest publications of the professor in question.

As soon as you have found a supervisor, you can ask them about the possibilities of financing your doctorate: For example, whether positions at the department or in third-party funded projects will be available or whether you need support in applying for a scholarship. You can find more information in the section "Finding funding".

Search for a topic

Another important step is finding a thesis topic. The degree of freedom in deciding on the topic differs between the academic disciplines.

General differences between the academic cultures Expand entry

In the natural and life sciences, it is more common for those interested in doing a doctorate to first search for a supervisor, who then roughly defines the topic of the dissertation. If you apply to a structured doctoral programme in the natural and life sciences, the topic is usually specified within the framework of the programme.

In the humanities and social sciences, it is more common for those interested in doing a doctorate to first look for a topic on their own and then use this topic to find a suitable supervisor. To apply for a structured doctoral programme in the humanities and social sciences, you usually need your own topic, which must fit the programme's range of topics.

What you should consider when choosing a topic Expand entry

If the topic of your doctoral project is not set by the structured programme or your supervisor, you should consider the following aspects:

On the one hand, the topic should provide a certain continuity to your prior research topics, while, on the other hand, it should represent a new step in your scientific development. Overall, the topic should be manageable within the planned time schedule.

Search for a funding

Depending on the academic discipline, the ways to finance a doctorate in Germany differ. Basically, there are four different ways:

Applying for academic staff positions Expand entry

You can do your doctorate as part of an academic staff position. These positions are usually temporary and part-time. Basically, there are two different types of positions you can apply for in Germany:

As an academic employee paid by FSU, you are employed by your supervisor's institute. One part of your duties will be supporting your supervisor in carrying out tasks within his or her institute. This includes assisting with teaching Bachelor and Master's degree students, working on research and helping with departmental administration. Another part of your duties will be working independently on your own doctoral project.

As an academic employee in a programme funded by a third party, your work will focus more on the project's research programme, as well as on completing your own doctoral project. As practices vary depending upon the discipline and the source of funding, be sure to clarify with your supervisor how the larger research programme and your own research project will be connected and how much time you will have to conduct research for your thesis. In these positions, you do not usually have to take on tasks of the chair, such as teaching.

If you would like to apply for these positions from abroad, it is important to check the requirements stated in the job advertisement. Especially for positions in the humanities and social sciences, knowledge of German is often an important requirement, as the working language at the institute and in teaching is often German. In the natural and life sciences, English is more widely used as the teaching and working language at institutes. The language in which the advertisement is written often gives an indication of what language skills are expected.

You can find the job market of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena here.

Applying to a structured doctoral programme Expand entry

You can do your doctorate within a structured doctoral programme. This path to a doctorate is more widespread internationally than in Germany. Increasingly, however, doctoral research as part of a structured doctoral programme is also being offered in Germany – especially in the natural and life sciences.

In structured doctoral programmes, doctoral researchers conduct their research based on a common research topic - thus the topic of the doctorate cannot be chosen freely and must fit the thematic focus of the programme. The doctoral researchers are supervised in teams and therefore do not have only one doctoral supervisor as in individual doctorates. Funding is usually provided either through the programme's own positions or scholarships.

You can also apply for acceptance to such a programme from abroad. There are more than 20 graduate schools, research training groups and structured doctoral programmes at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. You can find an overview of the programmes here. There you will also find information on how often calls for applications take place in the respective programmes.

Applying for a doctoral scholarship Expand entry

There are many different scholarships for doctoral researchers. The application procedure of the individual scholarship programmes varies greatly. Before you can apply for a scholarship, you already need a supervisor and a topic.

Most scholarships in Germany are awarded by the 13 organisations for the promotion of young talent. The state of Thuringia finances state graduate scholarships for doctoral researchers at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. A common scholarship for foreign doctoral researchers is the DAAD Research Fellowship.

In addition to these subject-independent scholarships, there are also numerous subject-specific scholarships. Many of these scholarships are publicly advertised. You can find some current announcements here. To search for subject-specific scholarships, we also recommend the mystipendium database for German doctoral researchers or the DAAD database or euraxess for international doctoral researchers.

General information on how to apply for a scholarship can be found here.

Extra-occupational doctorate Expand entry

If you earn your living by working outside the university, you can also pursue your doctorate while you are working. While planning your doctoral thesis, please consider that in most cases it will require more time to complete your dissertation if you are employed at the same time – especially if your doctoral project is not related to your professional activities.

First official steps: Admission, enrolment and co.

Once you have found funding, a topic and a professor who has agreed to supervise your doctoral project, you can officially start your doctorate in Jena. The following steps are then necessary for the start:

Supervision agreement Expand entry

As soon as you have found a supervisor, you should conclude a written agreement on the supervision of your doctorate, the so-called supervision agreement. With this agreement, the relationship between doctoral candidates and supervisors can be arranged transparently for both sides in terms of topic and time. It is prerequisite for the admission as a doctoral candidate at a faculty of FSU.

You can find further information here.

Admission as a doctoral candidate Expand entry

The status of a doctoral candidate is granted when you are admitted by one of the faculties of Jena University – irrespective of whether you finance your doctorate by scholarship, university employment or other means. To get the admission, you first have to register in the online registration portal doc-in. There you will find the "Application for Admission as a Doctoral Candidate". Please submit it to the dean's office of your faculty.

You can find further information here.

Enrolment (optional) Expand entry

After the admission, doctoral candidates have the possibility to enrol with the university. Enrolment is not mandatory, but it offers some advantages. You can find further information here.

Frequently asked questions

Who can be a supervisor? Expand entry

Possible supervisors of the dissertation project may be:

  • Professors
  • private lecturer ("Privatdozent/in")
  • junior research group leaders ("Nachwuchsgruppenleiter"), if their scientific qualification has been confirmed by an external evaluation procedure.

One of your supervisors must be a member of the faculty at which you are about to carry out your project. Exceptions are possible, however, only when the faculty's council grants its approval.

Is it possible to start a doctorate in a subject that I did not study before? Expand entry

In order to get an admission as a doctoral candidate, you usually need an academic degree in the same field. If you decide to do your doctorate in a subject that has not been your field of study previously, the respective faculty will examine your qualifications and, if necessary, may impose certain conditions like attending additional courses.

I do not know how to finance my doctorate yet. Can I start nevertheless? Expand entry

Once you have a supervisor, you can start with your doctorate – even though you have not found a way to finance it. But please keep in mind that finding the proper funding may take several months, in which you also need to be able to finance your living expenses. Possible options for funding can be found here.

I am applying from abroad. Is my degree sufficient for admission as a doctoral candidate? Expand entry

Upon admission, the faculty checks whether your foreign degree is sufficient to be accepted for the doctorate in Jena. If your degree is not sufficient, the faculty may admit you to the doctorate under certain conditions. One such condition could be, for example, that you have to complete a certain number of credits by attending seminars in the course of your doctorate.

What are the language requirements? Do I have to know German? Expand entry

Whether you need to have German skills depends on your supervisor. If your supervisor agrees that English is the language of your PhD, you can write your thesis and do most of your work in English. But for everyday life some German skills might be useful.

Are there tuition fees? Expand entry

No. You do not have to pay tuition fees for a doctorate in Germany.

Are there application deadlines for the admission as a doctoral candidate? Expand entry

There are no application deadlines for admission as a doctoral candidate. You can be accepted as a doctoral candidate at any time.

Application deadlines only exist if you want to apply for a doctoral position in a structured doctoral programme. About 25 per cent of doctorates take place in such a programme in Germany. The majority of doctorates are conducted as so-called "individual doctorates".

Is enrolment obligatory? Expand entry

Enrolment is optional. There are no enrolment deadlines – doctoral candidates can enrol at any time during semester.

I am still enrolled as a student. How can I enrol as a doctoral candidate? Expand entry

The enrolment as a doctoral candidate is different from the enrolment as a student. Therefore, you have to de-register as a student first and then you can enrol as a doctoral candidate. But before you can enrol as a doctoral candidate, you will need to apply for the admission as a doctoral candidate at the Dean’s Office of your faculty. You can find all information about the admission here.

In order to apply for the admission you will need a final degree certificate, which means that, as a rule, you can only start the admission process once you finished your prior studies.

Once you handed in the application for admission at the Dean’s Office, it may take up to two or three weeks until you receive an admission letter. With this letter, you can start the enrolment process. Enrolment as a doctoral candidate is possible at any time. You can find all information about enrolment here.

Contact

Welcome and Service Desk for Doctoral Candidates and Postdocs
House for Young Researchers "Zur Rosen", Room Ground floor
Johannisstraße 13
07743 Jena
Opening hours:
Monday, Wednesday:
10.00h – 12.00h

Tuesday, Thursday:
10.00h – 12.00h, 14.00h – 16.00h