Beginning your doctoral research

There are many reasons to choose the University of Konstanz to complete your doctorate. For one, you will be working at a University of Excellence, which means that you will come across the very best of study conditions and have outstanding information resources as well as support services at your disposal.

In general, graduates may pursue doctoral research in all university departments. You may choose to apply as an individual doctoral candidate or enrol in one of our structured doctoral programmes. Our Doctoral Regulations provide the legal framework for doctoral studies at the University of Konstanz.

Should I take up doctoral research?

During my doctoral studies, I certainly had the most exciting, frustrating, precarious and thrilling time of my life. It felt as though it would never end – but then it was over way too quickly.

A doctoral degree is your gateway to an exciting yet complex and challenging scientific working environment. That’s why the decision to pursue your doctorate should not be made lightly. Depending on the kind of prospective doctoral researcher you are, the pros and cons may look rather differently. For one thing, the path to a doctorate may vary depending on the subject and the type of doctoral studies that you choose. For another, the importance of a doctoral degree depends on which career you wish to pursue. However, a number of surveys confirm that individual motivation and interest in your chosen research question and area are key when it comes to making a decision.

Making a decision

In order to be able to make an informed decision for or against doctoral studies, you should carefully consider the overall implications and conditions of pursuing a doctoral degree and question your motives and personal qualifications.

Why pursue a doctorate?

There are many reasons for deciding to take up doctoral studies. If you want to pursue an academic career, you need a doctorate. But there are other reasons as well. To make the right decision - and to avoid making the wrong one - you should carefully think about and question your motives.

What do I hope to gain by obtaining a doctorate?
Prestige and recognition?
Better career options?
Developing joy and interest in my research topic?

In what way does a doctorate further my career prospects (whether that career is in academia or outside)? Am I passionate about my research area? Or is it just that, right now, I cannot think of anything better?

Personal qualifications

Studying towards a doctoral degree means to independently and responsibly plan, structure and pursue a research project over a period of several years. It is not all about success. At one point or another, virtually all doctoral researchers will have to contend with obstacles such as the occasional failure or lack of motivation. In those moments it is important to be able to motivate yourself and work towards overcoming these obstacles.

Do I have the necessary self-management skills and persistence to independently pursue a research project over a period of at least three years and negotiate the low points along the way?

Research conditions and environment

Besides motivation and aptitude, a vital pre-requisite for successfully completing a doctorate is the research environment.

Have I found a suitable supervisor or supervisors to oversee my research project
– with whom I work well together both on the professional and the personal level?
– whose supervision style fits my needs and the way I work?

Have I secured funding for my doctoral studies?

Is there a suitable research environment (working group, institution, networks) to support academic exchange and enable me to develop my research skills?

We are happy to provide any information and advice you may need to make your decision.

Or perhaps you would like to take the doctoral researchers’ test”, developed by the Department of Psychology at the University of Heidelberg, to find out if a doctoral degree is for you.

How do I settle on a topic and find my supervisor(s)?

Looking for a suitable place, an interesting topic and good supervision is as important as it is challenging. First, you should carefully think about which field and subject area you are most interested in and use this to define your desired field of research. Make inquiries and research authorised examiners (professors, junior professors, heads of junior research groups) whose research profiles match your own interests. Possibly your university lecturers can advise you on whom to contact. Another way to find a suitable supervisor is to search for a fitting department/institute of a university. The following online search engines may be of help:

If you have settled on a potential supervisor, you may contact them directly.

It also makes sense to keep an eye on suitable job postings for doctoral positions (positions as academic staff members with the option to pursue a doctoral qualification) or to look for structured doctoral programmes (e.g. Research Training Groups or graduate research schools).

If you have found your future supervisor or have been accepted to a Research Training Group or graduate research school, you may apply to the relevant university department for acceptance as a doctoral candidate.

How to settle on a research topic

If you wish to pursue a doctorate as part of a graduate research school or Research Training Group, your topic should match the research carried out there. In most cases, an existing concept determines the supervision you will receive (e.g. how many and which persons will be part of your supervision team).

If you pursue doctoral studies as a budget-funded academic staff member, your primary supervisor will likely encourage you to pick a research topic that complements his or her own research projects. If you pursue doctoral studies as part of a research project (on a project position), your topic will be determined by the project plan.

If both a position as an academic staff member and a doctoral programme are out of the question, you may attempt to self-fund your doctorate by applying for an individual scholarship. You will still have to discuss your proposed research topic with your supervisor, but you will have greater freedom of choice overall.

Doctoral supervision agreement

The doctoral supervision agreement helps define the terms of supervision and mutual expectations. You can only be accepted as a doctoral researcher if you and your supervisor have signed the agreement. Doctoral supervision agreements may vary in form, depending on how many issues are being addressed. Usually, the agreement will specify the topic of your doctoral thesis and type of your doctoral studies, set out a timetable for regular supervision meetings and progress reports, include a statement on the mutual obligation to comply with the principles of good scientific practice and the handling of conflicts. In addition, doctoral supervision agreements may determine further rights and obligations and address issues such as working conditions as well as any family support and continuing education measures that may be relevant. Academic Staff Development are happy to supply you with a guideline for further issues that can be settled in a doctoral supervision agreement.

Sample doctoral supervision agreement

Passion is key!

Passion for your topic
Make sure that you feel passionately about your research topic and also think about whether you are qualified. Proper motivation is key to mustering the discipline and stamina required to deal with scientific questions over a period of several years.

At the same time, your chosen topic should seek to address a gap within your research area and make a contribution to its development. And do not forget that, as regards your career strategy, it pays to keep the practical side of things in mind:

Will your topic help you reach your career goals?
What research fields will you be able to work in?
And perhaps also: Which practical fields of work can your research questions be relevant to?

Consider discussing your plans and ideas with experienced researchers. Do not worry if you need to adjust your research topic and questions over the course of your doctoral degree. This is normal, no matter how well prepared you are.

Good supervision
Your choice of primary supervisor should be determined by your own research interests. Bear in mind that good supervision is also about working well together on a daily basis. Make sure you get along on a professional and human level. Discuss the scope and kind of supervision that you expect early on. You may want to find out what current or former doctoral researchers of the working group may have to say. How are their doctoral studies going? Where are former doctoral researchers now?

Different ways to a doctorate and funding sources

How you complete your doctoral degree may vary considerably. Generally, we make a distinction between two formats:

Structured doctoral programmes

Structured doctoral programmes come with a fixed curriculum, individual supervision, fixed duration and partially guaranteed funding.

The University of Konstanz offers a huge variety of structured doctoral programmes and doctoral study programmes. They aim to offer as much transparency as possible and good supervision while enabling students to finish their doctoral thesis within a reasonable period of time. Some of our doctoral programmes put particular emphasis on interdisciplinary and international networking and include a supporting programme of subject-related and interdisciplinary courses.

Doctoral study programmes

Doctoral study programmes supplement your doctorate with research-oriented and systematically structured courses that serve to support you and to guarantee close supervision and the best possible support. All departments within the University of Konstanz’s Faculty of Humanities offer doctoral study programmes. The same is true of the Departments of Economics as well as Politics and Public Administration. For further information, please refer to the doctoral programmes at the University of Konstanz website.

Research Training Groups

A Research Training Group is a research association that admits doctoral students to a theme-centred research programme. The aim is to focus and combine various research activities and provide doctoral students with well organised research structures. Supervision is usually carried out by several persons who, together, make up your supervisory committee. As part of a Research Training Group, you will enjoy intense career preparation and have access to support through regular lectures, colloquia, seminars and workshops. Research Training Groups usually offer funding opportunities through scholarships or staff positions. Please apply directly to the Research Training Group you wish to join and include a research proposal in your application. Your research topic should relate to a certain subject represented in the Research Training Group. You can find more information on our Research Training Groups on the doctoral programmes website.

Graduate research schools

Graduate research schools are interdisciplinary, university-affiliated research centres that serve the purpose of educating a larger number of doctoral students. As is the case with Research Training Groups, doctoral students admitted to graduate research schools are usually supervised by a supervision committee made up of several individuals and benefit from a range of support activities such as lectures, colloquia, seminars and workshops. Funding at DFG-funded graduate research schools is usually available through scholarships or staff positions. Please apply directly to the graduate research school you wish to join and include a research proposal in your application. Your research topic should relate to a certain subject represented in the graduate research school.

Currently, the University of Konstanz hosts the following graduate research schools:

Konstanz Research School Chemical Biology (DFG-funded graduate research school)
Graduate School Chemistry (departmental doctoral programme)
Graduate School Biological Sciences (departmental doctoral programme)
Graduate School of Decision Sciences (DFG-funded graduate research school)

Please refer to our doctoral programmes website for more information on graduate research schools at the University of Konstanz.

Individual doctoral studies

Individual doctoral studies are not bound to a particular study programme. Supervision is usually arranged for individually and carried out by the primary supervisor. As an individual doctoral researcher, you apply directly to your future supervisor, agree upon a research topic and work on that topic autonomously. Depending on your field of study, you may work alone or as part of a working group.

There are various funding options for individual doctoral researchers:

Position as an academic staff member

Academic staff positions are either budget-funded or financed through third-party funded projects. Some of these positions come with certain teaching obligations, require you to contribute to the working group or take on project tasks as well as carry out academic self-administration duties. Like the position itself, the scope and kind of these tasks vary depending on the individual employment model that applies in your case. Please consult the university’s job openings website for information on current opportunities. Academic positions are also advertised on www.academics.de, and you may want to subscribe to the expert mailing list of your prospective department.

Individual scholarship

Rather than financing your doctoral research through a staff position you can also do so by applying for a scholarship. Most individual scholarships are awarded by Begabtenförderungswerke (organisations promoting gifted and talented students, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)). Application requirements vary, but besides academic excellence and above-average performance in academic performance assessments you will also need to show evidence of social and community involvement. International exchange scholarships are awarded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


The University of Konstanz awards scholarships in accordance with the Landesgraduiertenförderungsgesetz (LGFG) (state law on graduate funding).


The “Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft an der Universität Konstanz” foundation awards six-month scholarships to help you bridge the gap between your previous degree and the beginning of your doctoral research.


More scholarships can be found on the following databases:
www.stipendienlotse.de
www.daad.de

To apply for a scholarship you need to have been accepted as a doctoral researcher, have written a research proposal and you have to present reference letters from your supervisor and a second university lecturer.

In a company

In this case you will carry out your doctoral research in a company that also funds your research, but you will be supervised (externally) by a university lecturer. This kind of doctoral research is more the exception than the rule, but might be an interesting alternative. You can find more information on the topic on the website of the e-fellows.net career network.

Once you have decided to take up doctoral research and have found a suitable place, the doctoral phase begins.

Information on formal requirements and procedural steps.