Studying in Germany: Financing Your Ph.D. Research

This week, Wolfang Adamczak, research funding officer at the University of Kassel, gives you practical tips on navigating the German Ph.D. funding situation--opportunities, application procedures, and mistakes to avoid.

The system for funding Ph.D. research is currently somewhat paradoxical. Although people in many areas of society are desperately crying for qualified young scientists, there is barely enough money to finance their education. The natural sciences and engineering face the opposite dilemma. There is money to spend, but not enough young people are willing and able to apply for these positions.

In reaction to this problem, Germany's major funding body for university research, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), decided in October 1999 to grant full BAT IIa positions to Ph.D. students in disciplines such as engineering, informatics, physics, chemistry, and applied mathematics to make the academic career more attractive.


Scholarships are a nice way to finance your Ph.D. However, although they provide more independence than project-bound positions, they are not generally as lucrative. Before you decide to go this route, pay attention to the considerable differences in the amount of the monthly payments of different donors. Scholarships offered by the federal states (Stipendien der Bundesländer) can be as low as 1400 DM per month. Such a low stipend can distract students from their Ph.D. research. Considering this, Germany's Associations for the Promotion of Highly Gifted Students (Begabtenförderungswerke) recently increased their scholarship rates to 1800 DM monthly plus a lump sum of 200 DM to cover material costs such as books. This is also the standard rate for the DFG's Graduate Colleges.

Ph.D. scholarships are available from a considerable number of funding bodies. Some bigger ones are listed below:

A detailed overview of the major scholarship donors can be found at the Department of Budget, Research Funding Office of the University of Kassel.

Third-Party Funding

Third-party funds (Drittmittelprojekt) are often a more appealing option for financing graduate studies. Drittmittelprojekt funding covers half a BAT IIa position, as well as materials and travel expenses. The only drawback is that Ph.D. students in Germany cannot apply for money to fund their own position; their supervisor must apply for them. If you are looking for funding for your Ph.D. research, you should try to persuade your supervisor to apply at a grant-giving agency. This proposal should match your research topic, a usual procedure, e.g., with the DFG's material allowances (Anträgen auf Sachbeihilfe). You can find information about current research funding programs at ELFI, the Servicepoint for Electronical Research Funding Information.

Applying for Drittmittelprojekt money has a corollary benefit. It is a good way to test how much your "Ph.D. father/mother" is really interested in your project. Of course, you can prepare the proposal yourself, but your supervisor will usually give it that final polish. After all, it is their name on the proposal. And this is not a trivial amount of work; only a truly committed adviser will be willing to put in the effort.

One last piece of advice before I close this brief introduction to Germany's funding jungle. You know the aims of your research. But are you also able to communicate these aims to other people? And are you sure that your project really is new, original, and exciting? If you aren't certain, tune in next week for "How to Write a Successful Proposal."

Further reading:

Wolfgang Adamczak has also written several brochures on diverse research funding issues. Among them are:

  • "Ich will promovieren. Anregungen"

  • "Wie stelle ich einen Forschungsantrag?"

Extended information on research funding in Germany can be found at the WWW pages of the Department of Budget, Research Funding Office of the University of Kassel.

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