Scientists in the World
Getting your PhD in Germany funded by DAAD
Written by Thu Pham
Germany - a wonderful destination to pursue your PhD studies
German universities and research institutions offer outstanding scientific and technical infrastructures, which allow you, as a PhD student, to enjoy the excellent opportunities available for international researchers, including the fact that you can write your doctoral thesis in English. Every year, approximately 29,000 graduate students complete a doctorate in Germany – far more than in any other member state of the European Union, including over 5,500 international scholars . Moreover, Germany has a high quality of life in addition to the affordable living cost, which makes it even more attractive to international scholars.
In Germany, there are two different ways to do a doctorate: the individual doctorate or a structured PhD programme [NGC has already talked about doctoral opportunities in Germany]. Each position can be financially supported by a scholarship or by working as an academic assistant or research associate. This article focuses on PhD student positions funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD), which is the world’s largest funding organisation for the international exchange of scholars .
The DAAD at a glance
The DAAD works as the German National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation, to shape the European Higher Education and Research Area. In 2020, DAAD funded over 111,000 university students, graduate students and researchers. Of these, 44% were international scholarship holders from abroad and the rest were recipients from Germany. DAAD funds scholarships in every discipline, including medicine, natural sciences, engineering, law, music, social sciences and many more .
Collecting information for your application
DAAD scholarships are available in a variety of different subjects and are available for master’s students, doctoral students, as well as postdoctoral research fellows. In addition, they support the recipients in the learning of German. Furthermore, DAAD promotes information on scholarships from other organisations across Germany via its website .
Finding a PhD supervisor
In order to be successful with your application for research funding/PhD studies, you will need to prove that a German research lab is available to host you for your doctoral studies. If you don’t already have a foot in the door, it might be difficult to know where to start looking amongst the more than three hundred institutions of higher education and the hundreds of research institutes.
Fortunately, there are useful tools such as the Research-in-Germany website  and the DAAD guidelines . These can help you understand how and where to approach a supervisor and how to navigate the German academic system.
Fulfilling the application requirements
The application requirements vary depending on the type of scholarship. Once you have submitted your application, it will be evaluated carefully before you are invited for an interview. Successful candidates are selected according to a ranked list determined by the evaluation of their applications and interviews.
Applications are evaluated based on several factors:
- Evidence of the candidate's motivation to continue studying at a higher level and to succeed at that level. For instance, if the candidate, despite growing up in a disadvantaged condition (e.g. in a rural area in developing countries), has graduated with honours, good foreign language proficiency (IELTS 7.0) and currently holds a position in a competitive institution, they will have a higher chance of receiving the PhD fellowship than candidates with a similar academic profile coming from a more advantaged background;
- The relationship between the desired field of study and the current research position and the academic background;
- Achievements (university graduation scores, foreign language proficiency, academic awards, scientific research output).
Additional factors are sometimes considered, depending on the fellowship.
Submitting the application and interviewing
The application deadline is October 15 to start in October of the following year. The online application portal is open 4-6 weeks before the application deadline. Therefore, candidates should carefully prepare their documents and register for an account on the DAAD portal as soon as possible.
After submitting the online application, a paper application must also be prepared to be sent to the DAAD regional office by post (also before the application deadline!). The paper application can be printed directly from the summary file on the DAAD portal after the candidate completes the online application (application summary).
All documents must be translated into German or English. Everything should be prepared according to the instructions for each type of scholarship. Applicants that meet the requirements will be qualified for the first round of selection.
In addition, applicants must contact professors for letters of recommendation, which have to be written using the DAAD form (downloadable from the application portal). Referees will send it directly to DAAD. Take into account that the deadline for submitting the paper applications is usually determined by the posting date.
Approximately 2 weeks after the deadline, eligible candidates will receive an invitation via email from the local DAAD office informing them of the interview (which takes place ca. 1 month after the application deadline). During the interview, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, candidates for doctoral scholarships present their research topic (7-10 minutes) to the DAAD Council (which includes 2-3 domestic experts, 3-4 German experts, and 2-3 local DAAD members) without any supporting material such as posters or PowerPoint presentations.
After my experience applying via the DAAD Hanoi office in Vietnam, I can share some tips with prospective applicants:
- Respond directly to questions raised by the panel
- Do not arrive late to the interview without prior notice or miss it: you will be excluded from the selection
- You need to have a solid grasp of your research outline in English or German
- Be confident, answer questions loudly and clearly and avoid off-topic answers.
The questions you will receive range from your research topic, research plans and field of study to more generic subjects, such as why you have chosen a specific topic or university, why you want to study in Germany or how your studies in Germany would support the development of your country.
Obtaining the doctoral fellowship
Candidates will be informed of the results 3 months after the interview. If candidates are still working or studying in their home country, they will have to attend an intensive German language course for 4 months before moving to Germany. Usually, candidates who have already moved to Germany do not need to attend a language course. Nevertheless, the pandemic has brought a change of rules and now all candidates have to join an online course.
A requirement to enter Germany is the visa, for which you have to apply for at the German Embassy or Consulate General in your country. For instance, Vietnamese candidates can submit Germany's Schengen visa applications through VFS Global's Visa Application Centers in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.
In addition, candidates may contact DAAD alumni or other students from their country studying in Germany, to learn more about the life of international students in Germany, the German culture and other useful aspects of German life. Social networks such as Facebook or the website of the International Student Association are platforms where you can connect with them.
Enjoy your new journey
When you first arrive in Germany, you might get a “cultural shock”. Therefore, it is necessary to get in touch with a group of international students, in order to be supported from the very first beginning in this new country. You should also make sure to focus on your studies from the start, as German academic standards are quite high.
Lastly, you will get a great opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery and learn a lot from your life in Germany, culturally and technologically.
I believe that many doors have already opened for me just by being here.
Written by Thu Pham; Edited by Chiara Galante & Jie (Debbie) Shi. Featured Image: NGC/Design.
 DAAD Annual report 2020, p.12/13