Are you a master’s graduate looking to take the next step in your academic career? Follow your passion for research and science by pursuing a PhD in Bavaria at one of our excellent universities.
In general, the formal requirement for a PhD in Germany is a master’s degree. A PhD here usually takes between two and five years to complete, depending on the discipline and funding. A significant advantage of doing your PhD in Bavaria is that tuition is free.
If you are considering a PhD in Germany, you will need to decide between a structured doctoral program (PDF 405 KB) and an individual doctorate. Most doctoral students in Germany pursue independent research under the supervision of a professor. However, there is a growing trend among universities to offer structured programs, which are managed by a team of supervisors.
Alongside the research project, candidates of structured programs are expected to attend seminars and lectures. Another important component of these programs is learning soft skills such as project management or academic writing. Candidates on the individual track generally work more on their own. They can, however, receive similar support by becoming members of one of the university’s graduate schools.
If you enjoy teamwork and appreciate regular feedback from your peers, you might consider the structured option. If you thrive on independent study and can organize your work effectively on your own, then individual doctoral research might be best for you.
Completing a doctorate means immersing yourself in research, so it’s a good idea to choose a topic that will hold your interest for several years. A PhD is your chance to show that you are able to carry out a complex project that contributes novel ideas to your field of research.
Which research group or chair offers the best conditions for your project? Take the time to gather information about research opportunities available. Explore our Research Panorama for an overview of the exciting research that is going on in the region.
If you decide to pursue an individual doctorate, you will be free to define your own research topic, which you will finalize with your supervisor. The better the fit between your area of interest or specialization and a professor’s area of expertise, the better your chances of being taken on as a doctoral candidate.
Sometimes, research groups advertise open PhD positions on their websites. Here, the supervisor will usually decide on the research question you will tackle during your PhD. You will often collaborate with other doctoral candidates within the research project.
In a structured doctoral program, your research proposal will have to fit in with an existing program outline. If you decide to join a research group or structured program, you should think carefully about how your own ideas and experience might fit in with the aims of the current project or program.
Doctoral programs in Bavaria will differ according to your subject area and the university. To help get you started, here is some general information about where and how to find a supervisor, and about the application process.
Only research universities can award doctoral degrees. If you decide that a non-university research institution or a university of applied sciences would be a better fit for your PhD, you will need to find an additional supervisor at one of the research universities. Your supervisor at the non-university research institution or university of applied sciences will be able to help you find a suitable joint supervisor.
Once you have decided on the type of doctoral studies you plan to pursue, the search for a supervisor or degree program begins. Your supervisor will be your key point of contact for all your research-related questions and will oversee the development of your project over the next few years.
Our database of structured PhD programs can help you get started if you are interested in a structured path. In order to find a supervisor for an individual doctorate, you can start a subject-specific search in our database of Bavarian research institutions. If you are able to meet a potential supervisor either at a conference, summer school, or during a short visit, use the opportunity to talk to them in person about your plans. You could also keep an eye on open PhD positions.
Reaching out to a supervisor
The first and most important step in the application process is establishing contact with a potential supervisor. This needs to happen before any other official steps are taken – particularly, before you formally apply to register as a doctoral candidate and to have your degrees recognized. The university ultimately decides on degree recognition, but your supervisor will also have a good idea of whether your degrees will be recognized. They can then advise you on when and where to start the formal process to register as a doctoral candidate.
When contacting a supervisor, we recommend submitting:
- a statement of purpose or cover letter in which you show how your experience and research interests relate to your supervisor’s field of study or the chair’s research focus
- a brief explanation of how you plan to finance your project and whether or not you have secured third-party funding
- your CV
- copies of academic degrees, including transcripts
- a short project description explaining the relevance of your project to the research field and outlining your proposed methods and schedule (if applying for an individual doctorate)
When a supervisor has agreed to accept you as a doctoral candidate, they will provide you with a written confirmation of supervision. At some universities, you will also draw up a supervision agreement together. You will need this confirmation for your visa application.
Your supervisor will walk you through the first steps of the formal application process and advise you on who to contact, either within the faculty, at the Welcome Center, or at the International Office. The relevant contact person will help you through the rest of the application process. You can now prepare for your move to Germany and start working on your project.
Applying to register as a doctoral candidate
This very formal part of the application can be started more easily once you have arrived in Germany and while working on your project.
You will apply directly to the department or graduate school, since they set the regulations and ultimately confer your doctorate. Although the exact requirements might differ from university to university, and even between departments, the following documents should be submitted with your application:
- a signed confirmation of supervision or supervision agreement
- certified copies of previous academic degrees and transcripts (including official translations, if the documents are not in English or German)
- proof of language proficiency (if required)
- any other documents specified on the respective university website
Your official application will be reviewed by the board of examiners of the respective department or graduate program. This is also usually when degree recognition takes place. If your application is successful, you will receive an official letter of acceptance from the university admitting you as a doctoral candidate. In some cases, the board might stipulate additional courses you need to complete in parallel with your research.
For structured programs, the formal application process is largely the same but you will apply directly to the program. For some programs, a supervisor will be assigned to you based on the research interests listed in your application. On the doctoral program website, you will find all the necessary information relating to application deadlines, where and how to submit your application, the documents required, and whether you will need to submit a project description or apply for a particular research area in the program.
Enrolling to be a student
Whether you are required to enroll as a student depends on your chosen university. Since doctoral candidates are officially considered researchers and not students, enrollment is often voluntary. However, many candidates do choose to enroll. As students, they have access to all university services and facilities for up to three years and they can enjoy benefits such as a semester ticket and reduced entrance fees for museums. You will only need to pay a small semester fee to enroll.
If you choose to enroll, you can only do so after you have been registered as a doctoral candidate. Find out from your Welcome Center about which documents you need to submit.
Registering for your final examination
Your successful admission as a doctoral candidate is a prerequisite for being able to register for your final examination. While some universities require early registration for the final exam, you will likely register once the majority of your research is complete. When you apply for the final exam, you will submit your thesis along with any other documents stipulated by your university. You and your supervisor will decide on the best time for you to submit. You do not need to be enrolled at the time of the examination.
Your PhD in Bavaria will provide you with the tools to succeed in your academic career. Close supervision and access to a variety of resources will allow you to develop and refine your research. You will also gain professional experience and develop your academic profile through special activities such as conferences and teaching.
When you do a doctorate at a Bavarian university, you will benefit from your supervisor’s support and guidance. If you are in a structured program, you will also profit from opportunities to present your research and get feedback at events such as colloquia, seminars, and conferences. Depending on your program, you might also need to enroll in additional courses.
Setting clear goals and expectations is important for any project, but especially for doctoral research projects. Structured programs will likely have formal guidelines, a set curriculum, and a suggested timeline for your progress.
For individual doctoral studies, you might draft a supervision agreement with your supervisor, which includes a research timeline, work responsibilities (including teaching), and any other training or coursework that might be helpful or necessary (such as publishing papers, or participating in research stays abroad).
In Bavaria, you will be able to take advantage of opportunities to expand your professional profile and excel in your career as a researcher. Publishing, editing journals, and organizing conferences are important tasks in academia. Structured doctoral programs often integrate these activities into their curricula to ensure that doctoral candidates get the experience they need to be competitive on the job market. If you are pursuing an individual doctorate, your university’s graduate schools and centers provide similar opportunities.
Teaching is not always a requirement for doctoral candidates. Usually, only doctoral candidates who are employed by a department are expected to teach, with an average teaching load of five contact hours per week. If you are interested in gaining experience as a university instructor, speak with your supervisor or program coordinator about what options are available. You might be able to teach in English or German.
In order to obtain a doctorate in Bavaria, you need to complete a doctoral thesis, or dissertation, that meets the approval of your supervisor and any other members of your doctoral committee as outlined in your program. Traditionally, the thesis is a monograph that presents your original research. However, there are programs that allow you to submit a cumulative dissertation, which consists of several articles that have been published in reputable journals. Once you have completed your thesis, you will take an oral exam, in which you usually have to defend your dissertation.
The final step of the process is publishing your dissertation. Only then are you allowed to use the well-deserved title of “Doktor.” Your exact title in Germany is based on your discipline. For instance, in the natural sciences you will often take the title of Dr. rer. nat.; in the social sciences, Dr. rer. pol.; and in the humanities, Dr. phil. Find out more about discipline-specific doctoral titles.
Support for PhD Students
In recent years, German universities have created graduate schools. These provide a structure for doctoral students that encourages them to collaborate, exchange ideas, and share their experiences.
Graduate schools offer an additional curriculum with research workshops, colloquia, and other training opportunities. They often provide financial support for research stays abroad and for travel to conferences. Participation in these courses can form part of your supervision agreement.
At the department or faculty level, you will also find subject-specific doctoral schools. Some of them have their own budgets and can provide more ample funding for their members.
Bavaria is invested in research, and you will find plenty of sources of postgraduate funding here. There are different types of funding available for doctoral candidates.
Scholarships/Fellowships for PhD Candidates
A scholarship or fellowship from a third party will cover your doctoral research.
Employment as a Research Associate
You are employed by a university either full- or part-time. You divide your time between work responsibilities (teaching, research-related duties for a departmental project, etc.) and your own research. If your position is funded by another body, such as a research funding agency or company, the focus and duration of your employment are defined by the project proposal or agreement with the company.
Employment outside the Research University
You are employed by a non-university research institution or an industry partner. Your specific agreement with your employer will outline your responsibilities and duties, but making progress on your doctorate should be part of the employment arrangement.
For specific information about scholarships, fellowships, and jobs for PhD candidates, visit our Funding and Finances section. If you are curious about the salaries of research associates, or how social security and health care factor into your monthly net income, visit our page on Salary and Social Security.
New partnerships between universities of applied sciences and research universities aim to support doctoral candidates who wish to pursue application-oriented research.
Since research universities alone are allowed to award doctoral degrees, you will need to make use of strategic partnerships. Once you have found a potential supervisor at a Bavarian university of applied sciences, they can help you find a joint supervisor at a research university. You will be registered at the research university as a doctoral candidate, but you will be employed by the university of applied sciences and financed by third-party funds.
BayWiss - Bavarian Academic Forum
Through the Bavarian Academic Forum (BayWiss), Bavaria has introduced thematically grouped platforms, the "BayWISS Joint Academic Partnerships". These platforms help connect doctoral candidates who are working in related areas and offer professional development opportunities across the spectrum of applied science fields. Contact the supervisor of a specific university of applied sciences for details about specific doctoral opportunities or contact the team of BayWISS for further information.
A doctorate is a stepping-stone to the next phase of your professional career, whether you continue in academia or decide to pursue a career elsewhere. In fact, your goals and priorities will likely shift and clarify over the course of your project. Here is a glimpse of some of the postdoc, start-up and other employment opportunities you will have later in your career in Bavaria.
If you are pursuing the path of becoming a professor, the next step will be a postdoc position. You should start exploring postdoc opportunities at least a year before you plan to complete your doctorate.
Your doctorate will open up many career options. In Bavaria, PhD graduates are in high demand for jobs in business and industry. Perhaps your doctorate has facilitated professional contacts in industry, where a job is already waiting for you. If you are interested in the practical applications of scientific research, you might also consider other careers outside of the university, such as positions at non-university research institutes.
Preparing for professorship at a UAS
If you decide to follow a career in industry but are also interested in teaching, keep in mind that Bavaria is also home to many universities of applied sciences (UAS). A professorship there might be an attractive option for you. To become a professor at a university of applied sciences, you need to have completed a doctorate and have at least five years’ professional experience working in your field, three of which must have been gained outside the university. This is a great option if you love teaching and the practical applications of research.