The path to a doctorate

The path to a doctorate

When it comes to training and supporting doctoral students, Max Planck institutes have a wealth of experience to call on. They cooperate closely with the universities through which the doctorates are officially awarded.

At any given time almost 4,000 young people are researching at Max Planck institutes in preparation for their dissertation; one in three are members of an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS). Together with their partners at universities and other research institutions, the IMPRS offer a structured graduate training programme with a defined curriculum. With the Max Planck Graduate Centers and in particular the Max Planck Schools as larger units, the funding concept has been further expanded in 2018.

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 Graduate Centers, the application phase starts in the autumn of each year (usually on 1 September).
  • At the Max Planck Schools, the application phase also starts in the autumn of a year (usually 1 September) via a central applicant portal.
  • 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.

... at one of the three 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 initiative of German universities and German research institutions

Founded in 2018, the Max Planck Schools are distributed, national networks in which we bring together excellent researchers in an innovative field of research in Germany. The cooperating alliances of Max Planck Institutes, universities and other non-university institutions thus become larger and more visible. University graduates from all over the world can complete their doctorates, if possible also in a "fast track" procedure, i.e. including the master's degree. The evaluation of the pilot phase until 2023 will provide information on whether it has been possible to develop a promising architecture for the Max Planck Schools. The declared aim is to make the programme more consistent.

Max Planck Support Contracts

The Max Planck support contracts allow the scientific freedom of a grant to be combined with the social security of an employment contract. They allow doctoral students to devote themselves to their scientific work independently and without restriction. The agreed working hours are currently 39 hours per week. Payment is based on the Collective Wage Agreement for the Civil Service (TVöD). Doctoral students receive compensation corresponding to 50 percent of Pay Group 13 of TVöD (maximum level 2); this is currently just under 2,000 euros in gross terms. In addition, there is a special annual bonus.

Under certain circumstances, a recruitment bonus may be granted, so that remuneration amounts to a maximum of 100 percent of this pay grade. In addition, research residencies within the scope of the doctoral thesis - in Germany and abroad - are subsidized. Support contracts are concluded for a period of three years, with the option of a further one-year extension.

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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