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FAQ on doctorate/Phd studies 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 regarded as proof of the ability to carry out particularly in-depth scientific work and is based on an independently written scientific paper, the (doctoral) thesis, 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 general regulation of doctoral studies at Bielefeld University, (§3:

"(1) The doctorate/Phd studies are intended to demonstrate an aptitude for independent academic work in an area of expertise or focus of research 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 (doctoral) thesis and further examination achievements.

(3) Staff, people who have been accepted as doctoral candidates by the Faculty in accordance with § 6 may be enrolled as doctoral candidates at Bielefeld University until the degree has been awarded.

(4) Doctorates can be carried out within the framework of a doctorate/Phd studies programme for which one or more Faculties are responsible or another recognised programme of structured doctoral training (e.g. in Graduate Schools, Research Training Groups or doctoral studies programmes) or outside of such a degree programme or programme(non-degree programmes). Further details are regulated in the respective doctoral regulations of the Faculties, in the study regulations of the doctoral programmes or in the respective doctoral programmes."

Basically, there are two forms of (doctoral) thesis:


  1. Either you write a monograph, i.e. a coherent thesis on one topic.
  2. Or you choose a cumulative or publication-based (doctoral) thesis by publishing several thematically related scientific articles in professional 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/Phd studies 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, doctorate/Phd studies also prove 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 doctorate/Phd studies 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/Phd studies 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 own research interests to them and signal your justified 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 supervision for your doctorate/Phd studies? You can find detailed information on supervising a (doctoral) thesis 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. Which documents you have 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 enrol at the Student Office at the university and start working on your (doctoral) thesis.

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 targeted 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 Writing Centre at Bielefeld University also invites you to develop your writing, learning and presentation skills 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 own personal doctoral path.

Depending on the subject area, you have the option of an independent doctor ate or a doctorate in a doctoral programme or, for example, within the framework of a Research Training Group. The environment and process can therefore be very different. Since doctorate/Phd studies 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 degree programmes are the right persons to contact.

In any case, this entry applies to everyone who wants to do a doctorate: Your doctorate/Phd studies can start as soon as you have found a supervisor and have been accepted as a doctoral candidate by the Faculty. The subsequent history depends mainly on the subject area in which you complete your doctorate/Phd studies, how you finance it and which 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/Phd studies because you have a scholarship or your own reserves? Do you have family commitments? 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 history of a doctorate/Phd studies, ranging from how you work, your individual circumstances and preferences, from the supervision situation to your plans for after the degree.

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 universities in your country of origin and whether a certified translation is required. The Faculty submits an equivalence application to the Student Office for the documents submitted. The latter 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 approval 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 teaching staff, instructors, lectures (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 during your doctorate/Phd studies. Graduate schools, graduate 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 internal and external funding, offers its own events and offers individual advice.

The doctoral examination procedure forms the degree of the doctoral phase. Once you have completed all the necessary academic achievements and submitted all the relevant documents, including the dissertation thesis, 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 general regulation of doctoral studies and the doctoral regulations of the Faculties.

Questions for topic identification

For the most part, you can freely choose a doctoral topic. This is especially true in the humanities and social sciences. Only if the doctorate/Phd studies 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 supervisor who is well suited to the subject.
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 doctorate/Phd studies are two formally different processes. This means, for example, that the doctorate/Phd studies do not necessarily have to be completed when the employment contract ends. Without clarified follow-up funding, this can make it difficult to continue with doctorate/Phd studies. Therefore, it is important to coordinate the employment relationship and doctorate/Phd studies well with each other, and to plan for terms and deadlines.

Supervision questions

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.

Supervisors can in principle 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 Privatdozent [senior lecturers]. In the case of interdisciplinary or cross-faculty theses, members of other Faculties should also be jointly responsible for supervision. Further details are regulated in the doctoral regulations of the Faculties.

That depends on the funding model for your doctorate/Phd studies. 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 supervision 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 (doctoral) thesis to discuss the status of your work, the status of your own - also interdisciplinary - development and possible career options. They are also your contact if you would like to ask for an extension of your doctorate/Phd studies for personal reasons (e.g. illness or childcare).

With its guidelines for good supervision of doctor ate/Phd studies, 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 Medical School 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 Student Advising and Counselling Service(ZSB) or the Counselling Centre for Staff and Managers, who will help you further.

If the topic of your (doctoral) thesis suggests it, a supervisor from a University of Applied Sciences can also (co-)supervise it. Doctorate/Phd studies at an FH /HAW are currently not possible. Universities of Applied Sciences in NRW currently only have the right to cooperative doctorate/Phd studies: They may only conduct doctoral procedures in cooperation with a university (or university entitled to award doctorates).

Questions about funding and employment

In principle, you are free to decide how to finance your living expenses during the project duration of your doctorate/Phd studies. You can apply for a position as an academic co-worker 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 paths can also be combined. Others, like scholarships, are subject to restrictions. We give you an overview here: Funding 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.

Open positions at Bielefeld University can be found under job opportunities 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 financing is secured from budget or third-party funds. Otherwise, you can take up other positions within and outside the universities or use alternative sources of funding. However, scholarships are comparatively rare towards the end of doctorate/Phd studies. However, you may be eligible to apply for a final scholarship from the Bielefeld Fund for Young Academics - 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 employment contracts during the study, doctorate/Phd studies and postdoc periods. Current rule of thumb:Employment contracts financed by university funds may last a maximum of 6 years in each of the above-mentioned qualification phases and can only be extended in exceptional cases, e.g. due to parental leave. The law is amended regularly. In this respect, keep yourself informed about possible changes!

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 project duration and the type of activities are decisive. In order to reliably plan your doctoral phase, you should therefore talk to your responsible assistant in the Department of Personnel and Organisation before starting your contract.

Questions about enrolment, exmatriculation and acceptance as a doctoral candidate

When you start your studies, enrol at the university for the corresponding subject. If you are doing a doctorate/Phd studies, you also have to do this as soon as you have been accepted as a doctorate/Phd studies student. The Student Office is responsible for the enrolment (matriculation). Acceptance as a doctoral candidate requires, among other things, an agreement with a supervisor. This procedure is obligatory and independent of the type of doctorate/Phd studies and funding. The enrolment for a doctorate/Phd studies differs from the enrolment for a Bachelor's or Master's degree programme in that 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 obligations and possibilities. For example, you have to pay semester fees and may participate in elections and in academic self-administration. You have approval for all further education and training courses for doctoral students and postdocs and can also use all the offers and services available to members of the university. Acceptance as a doctoral candidate creates a doctoral relationship with the Faculty. This means that the Faculty will ensure that you are supervised and will also support you, for example, in the event of a change of supervisor.

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, re-enrolment for the next semester is necessary. The normal dates and deadlines apply, and you must transfer the semester fee in the required amount. You can find more information about re-enrolment here: Re-enrolment & Social Fee - 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 Faculty's provisional certificate that you have passed the doctoral examinations by submitting a corresponding application to the Student Office. However, it is possible to remain enrolled until the end of the semester in which you receive your doctoral degree certificate after the publication of your (doctoral) thesis. 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/Phd studies or a dissertation as a monograph? The doctoral regulations govern the form in which your (doctoral) thesis 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 degree certificate.

Information on the various options for publishing cumulative and monographic (doctoral) theses can be found - in addition to the regulations in the doctoral regulations - in the section in the University library: PUB - Publications at Bielefeld University. In short, you can have the (doctoral) thesis 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: Researcher and Publishing: Advice and Support - University library - Bielefeld University

Questions about leave of absence, interruption or termination

Interruption of doctoral studies means that someone has been accepted by the Faculty as a doctoral candidate, but then - e.g. due to illness - temporarily suspends work on the doctoral/Phd thesis and wants to 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 doctorate/Phd studies accordingly, you must inform both your supervisor and the doctoral committee promptly of any planned interruption, stating the expected project 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 project duration. The Faculty informs the Student Office about the interruption. As a rule, you should take leave of absence from the Student Office for the duration of the interruption.

A leave of absence can also have other reasons than an interruption of the work on the (doctoral) thesis, e.g. it can be granted due to a stay abroad or cooperation in 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 project 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 (doctoral) thesis 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 period 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 project 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 doctorate committee or the dean is required (see also above under "How do I exmatriculate after completing the doctorate/Phd studies?)

A (doctoral) thesis is discontinued if the doctoral candidate does not want to or cannot continue the work on the thesis (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 regulations as long as you have not yet submitted a (doctoral) thesis 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, leave of absence is also possible here for longer periods. The Family Service advises, for example, on possibilities to work more flexibly on the (doctoral) thesis; the staff in the Student Office provide help desk 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/Phd studies 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 possible during doctorate/Phd studies?" 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 start after the degree, e.g. at the university, or you can work scientifically outside the universities 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 doctorate/Phd studies 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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