Doctoral students working on laptop computers.

The path to a doctorate

Max Planck Institutes build on a vast range of experience when it comes to the supervision and training of doctoral students. They cooperate closely together with universities that officially award doctorates.

Almost 4,000 young researchers are constantly working on their dissertations at Max Planck Institutes; a third of them as part of an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) and more and more also as PhD candidates within the Max Planck Schools and the Max Planck Graduate Centers. While the IMPRS, with their regional focus at usually local universities and other research institutions, offer the possibility of structured graduate training, the Max Planck Schools are a national program with over 50 partners throughout Germany. The Graduate Centers were founded in 2018 on three specific topics - Computer and Information Sciences, Law and Quantum Materials.

What you need to know:

  • There is no central application procedure. Doctoral positions for individual doctorates are advertised all year round.
  • At the Max Planck Schools, the application phase also starts in the autumn of a year (usually 1 September) via a central applicant portal.
  • At the Max Planck Graduate Centers, the application phase starts also in the autumn of each year (usually on 1 September).
  • Doctoral students receive a grant agreement (see below) that combines the scientific freedom of a scholarship with the security of an employment contract.
  • Each year, the Max Planck Society awards the Otto Hahn Medal to approximately 35 doctoral candidates for outstanding scientific achievements.

How do I apply?

 …to a Max Planck institute:

  • As a university graduate with a Master’s degree, you can make contact at any time directly with a Max Planck institute engaged in areas of research that match your interests Visit the institute website or view a collection of job offers.
  • Dissertation topics are decided upon by agreement with scientists at the institutes, who are also responsible for selecting candidates
  • Each Max Planck institute decides for itself whether to admit doctoral students

 … to an International Max Planck Research School:

Contact an IMPRS of your choice. They cover a wide range of differing scientific disciplines, and each has its own admissions procedure with varying deadlines. In an IMPRS, doctoral students generally prepare for their dissertation in joint, interdisciplinary projects.

In addition, the Max Planck institutes also offer jobs and grants that are available to any applicant outside of the career path outlined above. If you would like to apply for one of these doctoral positions, you will find the latest calls for applications at our Jobs Exchange. Moreover, we provide regular information about new job offers and calls for applications on our Facebook page and Twitter / X.

... at one of the Max Planck Graduate Centers:

The Max Planck Graduate Centers bring together leading lecturers from several Max Planck Institutes and their partner institutions to offer outstanding doctoral programs in a variety of current research areas. Through innovative, cross-location, research-oriented doctoral training, they realize synergies beyond conventional forms of graduate training.

... at one of the three Max Planck Schools – a joint graduate program of German universities and research organizations:

The Max Planck Schools are a national PhD and career program where Germany's leading scientists jointly train doctoral candidates in currently three interdisciplinary research fields - Cognition, Matter to Life and Photonics. Candidates pursue their PhD within a unique network and benefit from first-class infrastructures and innovative teaching and learning formats at an early stage through a possible entry after the Bachelor's degree (integrated MSc/PhD program). Each School selects its own candidates in a competitive, multi-stage process. For a program start in fall of a given year, applications must be submitted to the respective School by December 1 of the previous year. Further information on the application process can be found here.

Doctoral funding contracts at Max Planck

The doctoral funding contracts combine research in scientific freedom with social security. They allow doctoral researchers to devote themselves independently to their scientific work without any constraints. The agreed working time currently amounts to 39 hours per week. Payment is based on the Collective Wage Agreement for the Civil Service (TVöD) and currently amounts to a minimum of just under €2,700 gross. Depending on the subject or on the basis of an individually granted bonus, payment for doctoral researchers may also be higher. The offer is complemented by an annual bonus.

Funding contracts are concluded for a duration of three years, with the possibility of extension for another year. Research visits - also abroad - within the framework of the doctorate are also supported with funding

Support at a glance

  • Scientists do not generally supervise more than eight doctoral students at the same time.
  • The scope of doctoral studies is selected in such a way that the work can be completed within the usual period of time: generally three years (plus a possible one-year extension)
  • The rights and obligations incumbent on both sides are defined in a support agreement. Doctoral students are expected to discuss the schedule for completing their dissertation regularly with their principal supervisor.
  • The support contract represents a commitment to finance the doctoral student for the entire duration of their doctoral studies, provided that they achieve the expected level of scientific performance.
  • In addition to their principal supervisor, all doctoral students are supported by a second, independent scientist. They are also monitored by a Thesis Advisory Committee.
  • Supervisors encourage doctoral students, even while still pursuing their doctoral studies, to publish their research results.
  • Doctoral students have the opportunity while training to refer queries or differences of opinion locally to an independent authority.
  • The Scientific Advisory Board as part of its regular evaluations of the Institute will investigate the quality of training provided for doctoral students and compliance with the Guidelines.
  • Doctoral students receive support in continuing their professional training, acquiring soft skills and gaining experience of teaching. Financial support is also available for events such as peer coaching and self-organized retreats.
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