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  • PhD & Postdoc Office

    PhD & Postdoc Office
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Information for Doctorate-interested Students

A warm welcome!

Dear doctoral candidates,

thank you for your interest in a doctorate at Bielefeld University. Now you would like to learn more about the process, offers, goals and admission requirements? Our PhD FAQ will give you an overview of the most important steps you need to take. You are also welcome to take advantage of the opportunity to clarify any unanswered questions in a personal meeting at an early stage, from the necessary preparatory work and doctoral supervision to financing options. We will also support you with many other decisions, the identification of career goals and the planning of suitable steps.

Arrange a personal counselling appointment by email to:

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Events and workshops

Events and workshops
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At our regular networking events, such as Career Orientation Week and Career & Coffee, you will learn about possible career fields and employers. Our workshops cover a variety of topics, such as decision-making, skills identification, job research and application training.

FAQ on doctoral studies at Bielefeld University

Thank you for your interest in doing a doctorate at Bielefeld University! The following questions and answers systematically give you an initial overview of the processes and requirements, but also of the many offers of support. We also refer you to numerous other places where you can read up and ask questions. Take the time to plan your own path with the help of our FAQ and the information provided, for which we wish you much success and motivation.

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Basic questions about the doctoral process at Bielefeld University

A doctorate is considered proof of the ability to do particularly in-depth scientific work and is based on an independently written scientific paper, the dissertation, and an oral examination.

If a doctoral procedure is successfully completed, this leads to the award of the desired doctoral degree and thus paves the way for a career in science, but is also of great advantage in many other professional fields.

The purpose and the forms of doctoral studies possible at Bielefeld University are described in the framework doctoral regulations of Bielefeld University, (§3:

"(1) The doctorate is intended to demonstrate an aptitude for independent academic work in a subject area or research focus represented by the faculties that goes beyond the general study objective according to § 58 Para. 1 HG.

(2) The doctorate consists of a scientifically considerable written work (dissertation) and further examination achievements.

(3) Persons who have been accepted as doctoral candidates by the faculty in accordance with § 6 may be enrolled as doctoral candidates at Bielefeld University until completion of the doctoral procedure.

(4) Doctoral studies can be carried out within the framework of a doctoral study programme for which one or more faculties are responsible or another recognised programme of structured doctoral training (e.g. in graduate schools, graduate colleges or doctoral study programmes) or outside of such a study programme or programme (doctoral studies without a study programme). Further details are regulated in the respective doctoral regulations of the faculties, in the study regulations of the doctoral study programmes or in the respective doctoral programmes."

Basically, there are two forms of dissertation:

  • Either you write a monograph, i.e. a coherent thesis on one topic.
  • Or you choose a cumulative or publication-based dissertation by publishing several thematically related scientific articles in specialist journals or other suitable publication organs. The articles must also be "framed" by a detailed presentation

You can find out exactly what you need to observe with regard to form, submission and assessment, and whether a cumulative or publication-based dissertation is possible at your faculty, in the doctoral regulations of the faculties.

After graduation, a doctorate is the next qualification step towards an academic career. It is therefore predominantly a prerequisite for a professional career in teaching and research at a university. In science-related fields such as science management or science communication, the doctorate also proves your scientific expertise and knowledge. For a career in business and society, it is only partly a prerequisite, but mostly an advantage. So if you are interested in non-university fields of work, you should find out early on about the value of a doctorate there.

Who can be accepted for a doctorate may differ in detail, depending on the faculty. So ask or read up there!

Generally, an above-average degree from a Master's programme relevant to the doctorate is required. Read more.

Bielefeld University supports you in many ways. The first step is always to approach a potential supervisor on your own, present your research interests and signal your interest in working with them. Be brave! Supervisors are happy to hear from promising, qualified young researchers. Perhaps you already have good contacts that you can use, or you have been offered - conversely - the supervision of your doctorate? You can find detailed information on supervising a dissertation here. In addition to clarifying who will be your supervisor(s), there is another procedural step: the faculty must still officially accept you as a doctoral candidate. The documents you need to submit for the application for acceptance as a doctoral candidate can be found in § 6 RPO and the doctoral regulations relevant to you. As soon as you have been accepted, you can start: You register at the Student Office at the university and start working on your dissertation.

Bielefeld University offers a comprehensive range of services for those interested in doing a doctorate and doctoral candidates, which will help you to network within the university and far beyond at an early stage. Make contacts and build up classic skills such as good scientific writing or target-oriented applications while you are still working on your dissertation! For example, come to the regular networking events such as the "Career Orientation Week" or "Career & Coffee". There you can get to know possible career fields and employers.

Put together your own continuing education menu: You can find all the workshops offered by the Career Service here. You will see: There is a wide range of topics. We help you make decisions, teach skills and train you in job application situations. Come with us on your job hunt!

The "Schreiblabor" at Bielefeld University also invites you to improve your writing, learning and presentation techniques with a wide range of advice, workshops and events. In addition, the PhD & Postdoc Office will be happy to support and guide you in your individual planning. We will help you pave your very own personal doctoral path.

Depending on the subject area, you have the option of an independent doctorate or a doctorate in a doctoral programme or, for example, within the framework of a Graduate School. The environment and process can therefore be very different. Since a doctorate is a very individual process, it is very beneficial for you to find out about your options and the respective conditions early on. The coordinators of the respective doctoral programmes and courses of study are the right people to contact first.

In any case, this entry applies to everyone who wants to do a doctorate: Your doctorate can begin as soon as you have found a supervisor and have been accepted as a doctoral candidate by the faculty. The course of your doctoral studies depends mainly on the department in which you complete your doctorate, how you finance it and what individual agreements you make with your supervisor(s). Will you do your doctorate at the university with or without a job or at a research institution outside? Will you be able to take on a part-time job or use the time entirely for your doctorate because you have a scholarship or your own reserves? Do you have family obligations? Do you already have an existing network or do you still need to build up good contacts? There are many other determining factors for the course of a doctorate, ranging from how you work, your individual circumstances and preferences, from the supervision situation to your plans for after graduation.

International doctoral candidates are very welcome! All you need to do is check whether Bielefeld University recognises documents such as certificates and diplomas from the university in your country of origin and whether a certified translation is required. The faculty submits an equivalence application to the Student Secretariat for the documents submitted. The Student Secretariat checks the documents and sends the result back to the respective faculty. Visa questions, scholarship and work requirements should be clarified at an early stage, i.e. immediately after receiving a confirmation of supervision, at the International Office of Bielefeld University. Any language skills required for admission are specified in the doctoral regulations relevant to you. In any case, we recommend that you systematically improve your language skills (especially in German and English).

You can find information about this here.

Bielefeld University offers a comprehensive Personnel Development Programme for Researchers and Teachers (PEP), which ranges from academic skills to career planning and development, project and time management to disputation training, and also introduces students to many existing tools and learning platforms from LernraumPlus to Panopto and Zoom. In addition, there are training courses in English and German as well as German courses. The programme thus directly supports the doctoral process and promotes many skills for the career path. All doctoral students can participate free of charge. Take advantage of the opportunity to develop basic and career-related skills while you are still working on your doctorate. Graduate schools, networks and doctoral programmes provide additional support with their own framework programmes. Feel free to contact the PhD & Postdoc Office team with your career planning questions.

Despite a high proportion of female students, female professors are still significantly underrepresented with a national average of 27 percent. To promote a gender-equitable cultural change, Bielefeld University has therefore established the mentoring programme movement, which is aimed in three programme lines at female students interested in doing a doctorate, female doctoral students with the prospect of an academic career, and female postdocs on their way to a professorship. Many faculties have also developed their own gender equality measures and anchored them in their gender equality plans. Bielefeld University has already received numerous awards for its gender equality work. This is due to the large number and impact of its offerings. Take advantage of the good opportunities!

The Accessibility Services (ZAB) provides information on its website about internal and external funding, offers its own events and offers individual advice.

The doctoral examination procedure marks the end of the doctoral phase. Once you have completed all the necessary work and submitted all the relevant documents, including the dissertation, with your application to open the procedure, the final examination of your doctoral achievements follows with the review and the disputation. The exact formal requirements are regulated in the framework doctoral regulations and the doctoral regulations of the faculties.

Questions for topic identification

For the most part, you are free to choose a doctoral topic. This is especially true in the humanities and social sciences. Only if the doctorate is embedded in a larger research project does this limit the thematic framework to some extent. Are you spoilt for choice? How do you know that your topic is suitable? Scientific relevance is the ultimate yardstick for the quality of the doctoral topic. What is the significance of your topic and why? You will work through all these points together with a professionally well-suited supervisor.
There is more that will determine your choice: What about your own interest in the topic? Is it big enough for you to deal with it intensively over a long period of time? The time dimension is also important: Are you likely to be able to produce meaningful results within the intended doctoral period? Consider your choice carefully and check with your supervisor whether you are on the right track with your topic.

Your supervisor is the first port of call when it comes to coordinating and developing the content of your doctoral thesis. Your other professional environment can also be very helpful here.

In terms of content and time, the work in a research project or in a working group can be directly interlocked with their doctoral project if it is a qualification position. Nevertheless, the work position and the doctorate are two formally different processes. This means, for example, that the doctorate does not necessarily have to be completed when the employment contract ends. Without clarified follow-up funding, this can make it difficult to continue with the doctorate. Therefore, it is important to coordinate the employment relationship and the doctorate well with each other, and to plan for terms and deadlines.

Questions about care

Select a potential supervisor according to your desired topic and approach him or her independently. Actively present your own research project and signal your interest in a collaboration. Be brave! Supervisors are happy to hear from promising, qualified young researchers.

In principle, supervisor can be: Members of the group of university professors, other habilitated or other members of the faculty who are authorised to conduct examinations, as well as private lecturers. In the case of interdisciplinary or cross-faculty theses, members of other faculties should also be jointly responsible for the supervision. Further details are regulated in the doctoral regulations of the faculties.

That depends on the funding model for your doctorate. You can also finance your doctoral phase in another way than through a position in your department, for example through a scholarship or through a job outside academia. This is the case for many doctoral researchers. There is then a supervisory relationship, but not an employment relationship.

The supervision agreement you conclude with your doctoral supervisor stipulates regular discussions about your prospects. Independently of this, you can ask your supervisor during the phase of your dissertation to discuss the status of your work, the status of your own - also interdisciplinary - development and possible career options. She is also your contact person if you would like to ask for an extension of your doctorate for personal reasons (e.g. illness or childcare).

With its guidelines for good doctoral supervision, Bielefeld University provides clear recommendations for the concrete form of cooperation between doctoral researchers and supervisors. Among other things, they deal with the type and intensity of the exchange and support. The supervision agreement (in the Faculty of Medicine OWL it is called the doctoral agreement) also contains advice on how to resolve conflicts. Do you still have the feeling of an imbalance? Then talk to your supervisor about it in a confidential informal discussion and look for the best possible solution together. If this is not promising, you can contact the General Student Advisory Service (ZSB) or the Counselling Centre for Employees and Managers, who will help you further.

If the topic of your dissertation suggests it, a supervisor from a university of applied sciences can also (co-)supervise it. A doctorate at an FH /HAW is currently not possible. Universities of Applied Sciences in NRW currently only have the right to cooperative doctorates: They may only conduct doctoral procedures in cooperation with a university (or a higher education institution entitled to award doctorates).

Questions about funding and employment

In principle, you are free to decide how to finance your living expenses during your doctorate. You can apply for a position as a research assistant at Bielefeld University. However, there are many other financing options - scholarships and grants, jobs outside the university, part-time jobs - that you should be aware of. It takes time to sort out the financing. Some ways can be combined. Others, like scholarships, are subject to restrictions. We give you an overview here: Financing options - Bielefeld University. Are you interested in scholarships? Then it's a good idea to find out early, especially because of the long lead times.

You can find open positions at Bielefeld University under job advertisements in the "Academic Staff" section. You can also get in touch with potential supervisors and explore the possibilities of acquiring third-party funding with them. Better prepared: Before you send your (unsolicited) application for a position or supervision directly to the right address, you are welcome to make an appointment with the PhD & Postdoc Office for a feedback interview.


The employment contract can be extended if this is legally permissible in your case and the funding is secured from budget or third-party funds. Otherwise, you can take up other positions within and outside the university or use alternative sources of funding. However, scholarships are comparatively rare towards the end of your doctorate. However, you may be eligible to apply for a final scholarship from the Bielefeld Young Researchers' Fund - a special feature of Bielefeld University that provides financial support for career bridges.

The Act on Fixed-Term Employment Contracts in Science (WissZeitVG) regulates maximum fixed-term periods for employment during the study, doctoral and post-doctoral periods. Current rule of thumb:Employment financed by university funds may last a maximum of 6 years in each of the qualification phases mentioned and can only be extended in exceptional cases, e.g. due to parental leave. The law is amended regularly. Keep up to date on possible changes in this respect!

This may apply if, for example, your work as an assistant exceeded 25 per cent of your regular working hours (10 hours) and you did scientific work: For example, did you teach students specialised knowledge and practical skills or instruct them in the use of scientific methods? The duration of the working hours and the type of activities are decisive. In order to reliably plan your doctoral phase, you should therefore talk to your responsible administrative staff in the Department of Personnel and Organisation before starting your contract.

Questions regarding enrolment, exmatriculation and acceptance as a doctoral candidate

When you start your studies, you must enrol for the relevant subject at the university. If you are doing a doctorate, you also have to do this as soon as you have been accepted as a doctoral candidate. The Registrar's Office is responsible for enrolment (matriculation). Acceptance as a doctoral candidate in turn requires, among other things, an agreement with a supervisor. This procedure is obligatory and independent of the type of doctorate and funding. One difference between enrolment in a Bachelor's or Master's degree programme and enrolment for a doctorate is that here you can also enrol outside the usual deadlines (but this only applies to the first semester!). When you enrol, you become a member of Bielefeld University with all its obligations and opportunities. For example, you have to pay semester fees and are allowed to take part in elections and get involved in academic self-administration. You have access to all offers of further education and training for doctoral students and postdocs and can also use all offers and services that are available to members of the university. Acceptance as a doctoral student creates a doctoral relationship with the faculty. This means that the faculty will ensure that you are supervised and will also support you if, for example, your supervisor changes.

Yes, this is exactly the same as in the Bachelor's or Master's degree programme. In order to retain your status as a doctoral student and to complete your doctoral project, you need to re-register for the next semester. The normal dates and deadlines apply, and you must transfer the semester fee in the required amount. You can find more information about re-registration here: Re-registration & Social Contribution - Bielefeld University.

You will be automatically exmatriculated if you do not re-register for the coming semester (e.g. by not transferring the required semester fee). You can already exmatriculate once you have received the provisional certificate from the faculty confirming that you have passed the doctoral examinations by submitting a corresponding application to the Student Administration Office. However, it is possible to remain enrolled until the end of the semester in which you receive your doctoral certificate after the publication of your dissertation. At the latest then, however, you will also be exmatriculated by the university on the basis of your degree.

Questions about submission and publication

Is your case a cumulative/publication-based doctorate or a dissertation as a monograph? The doctoral regulations regulate in which form your dissertation must be submitted to which offices or how many articles with which publication status you must provide evidence of in your case. After submission, review and successful disputation, publication takes place. Only after publication is the doctoral procedure completed and you receive the doctoral certificate.

Information on the various options for publishing cumulative and monographic dissertations - in addition to the regulations in the doctoral regulations - can be found in the section in the university library: PUB - Publications at Bielefeld University. In short, you can have your dissertation printed by a specialist publisher, which is rather costly financially. Or you can choose the path of an internet-based publication and opt for Open Access: then you allow worldwide access to your work. You can also combine both. Get advice on these and other options: Researching and Publishing: Advice and Support - University Library - Bielefeld University

Questions about leave of absence, interruption or termination

Interruption of the doctorate means that someone has been accepted as a doctoral candidate by the faculty, but then - e.g. due to illness - wants to temporarily suspend work on the dissertation and resume it later (this is different from discontinuation, see below). Since the faculties calculate an average duration of 3-5 years per doctorate and limit your acceptance as a doctoral candidate accordingly, you must inform both your supervisor and the doctoral committee promptly of any planned interruption, stating the expected duration and the reasons. In the Faculty of Technology and the Faculty of Law, the dean must be informed due to the lack of a doctoral committee. After their agreement, the doctoral committee or the dean will keep an eye on the duration. The faculty informs the Registrar's Office about the interruption. As a rule, you can take leave of absence for the duration of the interruption at the Student Administration Office.


A leave of absence can also have other reasons than an interruption of work on the dissertation, e.g. it can be granted due to a stay abroad or work on a research project in another city. It is also possible to take a leave of absence to raise children or care for relatives. A leave of absence is granted for the duration of a semester, but it can be applied for again in the next semester. Further details can be found in § 8 of the enrolment regulations.

While you are on leave of absence, your doctoral relationship with the faculty continues. Please note that you may not take any examinations in the semester of your leave of absence, i.e. you must be enrolled for the application for the opening of the doctoral procedure, the submission of the dissertation and the oral examination and may not be on leave of absence. An exception to this only applies to students who are on leave of absence due to raising children or caring for relatives (§ 48 para. 5 p. 5 HG).

The enrolment regulations stipulate a maximum duration of five years for enrolment as a doctoral candidate in § 2 Para. 4. Depending on the doctoral regulations, the period for acceptance as a doctoral candidate can also be less than five years. Periods of leave of absence are also included in these periods. However, the deadlines can be extended at the doctoral candidate's request. If, for example, you are on leave of absence to raise children or care for relatives, but would still like to continue your doctoral studies, the duration of your acceptance as a doctoral candidate and, if applicable, the enrolment period will generally be extended upon application and submission of evidence. Confirmation of continued acceptance from the doctoral committee or the dean is required for this (see also above under "How do I exmatriculate after completing my doctorate?").

A doctorate is discontinued if the doctoral candidate does not want to or cannot continue working on the dissertation (e.g. because an interesting offer has arisen professionally). The supervisor and the doctoral committee / the dean should be informed promptly of a planned discontinuation. Dropping out does not count as an unsuccessful attempt and has no negative consequences for you in terms of examination law as long as you have not yet submitted a dissertation for review. However, a later restart requires a renewed acceptance as a doctoral candidate.

Bielefeld University has long been certified as a family-friendly university and has set itself the goal of actively supporting students with family responsibilities. For this reason, longer-term leave of absence is also possible here. The Family Service advises, for example, on possibilities to work more flexibly on the dissertation; the staff in the Student Secretariat provide information on the possible duration of leave of absence and the documents to be submitted.

Many doctoral regulations specify an acceptance period, i.e. a period of time during which you are generally accepted as a doctoral candidate by the faculty. The time limit is calculated in such a way that a doctorate can usually be successfully completed within this period, provided there are no special circumstances, such as an interruption. However, as outlined above, there may be good reasons for delaying your doctoral project. In this case, you must apply for an extension of the acceptance period (see above under "Is a leave of absence or interruption during the doctorate possible?" and under "Does the leave of absence count towards the duration of the enrolment period and the acceptance period?").

Career planning questions

If you decide to continue pursuing a scientific career, your postdoc phase can begin after completing your doctorate, e.g. at university, or you can work scientifically outside the university system. We have explained how the postdoc phase works and what you need to bear in mind here. Permanent positions in the German science system are mainly in the area of professorships. You can also decide to continue your career in business or society. The Career Service at Bielefeld University supports you in making your decision and accompanies you with advice on your way into the world of work.

During the doctoral and postdoctoral phase, your academic activities usually take up a lot of space. Nevertheless, it makes sense to consider your longer-term career aspirations at the same time. Your supervisor can be a good advisor on questions about your professional development. Otherwise, feel free to contact the advisors in the PhD & Postdoc Office with your questions and concerns about career planning.

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