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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/Phd studies 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 doctorate 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 doctorate/Phd studies possible at Bielefeld University are described in the general regulations 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 in accordance with § 58 Para. 1 HG.

(2) The doctorate/Phd studies consist of an academically significant written thesis (doctoral thesis) and further examinations.

(3) Staff, people who have been accepted as doctoral candidates by the Faculty in accordance with Section 6 must enrol in accordance with Section 2 (4) of the current version of the enrolment regulations and remain enrolled until the oral examination has been completed; they may remain enrolled as doctoral candidates at Bielefeld University until the doctoral procedure has been completed in accordance with Section 13. The regulations on leave of absence in accordance with Section 8 of the Enrolment Regulations apply accordingly and remain unaffected.

(4) Doctorate/Phd studies can be carried out as part of a doctoral degree programme for which one or more Faculties are responsible or another recognised programme of structured doctoral training (e.g. in graduate schools or Research Training Groups) or outside of such a degree programme or programme (so-called non-degree programme doctorates). Exceptions and 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.

There are basically two forms of doctoral thesis:


  1. Either you write a monograph, i.e. a coherent work on one topic.
  2. Or you can choose a cumulative or publication-based (doctoral) thesis 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 consider in terms of form, submission and review, and whether a cumulative or publication-based doctoral thesis is possible at your Faculty, in the Faculties' doctoral regulations .

After completing a degree programme, a doctorate/Phd studies is the next qualification step towards an academic career. It is therefore largely a prerequisite for an appointment in teaching and research at a university. A doctorate/Phd studies also demonstrates your scientific expertise and knowledge in science-related fields such as science management or science communication. 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 about the value of a doctorate there at an early stage.

Who can be accepted for doctorate/Phd studies may differ in detail depending on the Faculty. First read the doctoral regulations relevant to you (only the latest version is relevant for you) or ask the Faculty directly (e.g. at the examination office) if the information is not clear from the document.

In general, an above-average degree from a Master's degree programme relevant to doctorate/Phd studies is required. There are generally no age restrictions.

Bielefeld University supports you in many ways. The first step is always to approach a potential supervisor independently, present your own research interests and signal your interest in a collaboration. Take courage! Supervisors are always happy to hear from promising, qualified young researchers. Perhaps you already have good contacts that you can use or, conversely, you have been offered the supervision of your doctorate/Phd studies? You can find detailed information on the supervision of a doctoral thesis here. In addition to clarifying who your supervisor(s) will be, there is another procedural step: the Faculty must officially accept you as a doctoral candidate. The documents you need to submit to apply for acceptance as a doctoral candidate can be found in Section 6 RPO and the doctoral regulations relevant to you. As soon as you have been accepted, you can get started: You enrol at the university's student office and start work on your doctoral thesis.

Bielefeld University offers a comprehensive programme for doctoral candidates that helps you to network within the university and far beyond at an early stage. Make contacts and develop classic skills such as good academic 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 will get to know possible career fields and employers.


Put together your own training menu: You can find all the workshops organised by the Career Service here. You will see: The range of topics is wide. We help you make decisions, teach skills and train you in job application situations. Go job hunting with us!

Bielefeld University's Writing Centre also invites you to develop your writing, learning and presentation techniques with a wide range of advice, workshops and events. The PhD & Postdoc Office is also happy to support and guide you in your individual planning. We will help you to pave your own personal doctoral path.

Depending on the subject area, you have the option of doing an independent doctorate or a doctorate/Phd studies in a doctoral programme or, for example, as part of a Research Training Group. The environment and procedure can therefore be very different. As doctorate/Phd studies are a very individualised process, you will benefit greatly if you find out about your options and the respective conditions at an early stage. The coordinators of the respective doctoral programmes and degree programmes are the right persons to contact.

In any case, this entry point applies to all those who wish to do a doctorate: Your doctorate/Phd studies can begin as soon as you have found a supervisor and have been accepted as a doctoral candidate by the Faculty. The subsequent history depends largely on the faculty in which you complete your doctorate/Phd studies, how you finance it and what individual agreements you make with your supervisor(s). Are you doing your doctorate at the university with or without a position or at an external research institution? Will you have a part-time job or will you be able to devote all your time to your doctorate/Phd studies 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 in the history of a doctorate/Phd studies, ranging from how you work, your individual circumstances and preferences, to your supervision situation and your plans for after your 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 will submit an equivalence application for the documents submitted to the student office. This office checks the documents and sends the result back to the respective Faculty. Visa questions, scholarship and work requirements should be clarified with the International Office at Bielefeld University as soon as possible, i.e. immediately after receiving a confirmation of enrolment. 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 more information here.

Bielefeld University offers a comprehensive personnel development programme for researchers and teaching staff (PEP), which ranges from academic skills to career planning and development, project and time management and defence training, as well as introductions to many existing tools and learning platforms from LernraumPlus to Panopto and Zoom. There are also training courses in English and German as well as German courses. The programme thus directly supports the doctoral process and sponsors many skills for the career path. All doctoral candidates can participate free of charge. Take the opportunity to develop basic and career-related skills during your doctorate/Phd studies. Graduate schools, networks and doctoral programmes also support you with their own framework programmes. Please contact the PhD & Postdoc Office team with any questions you may have about career planning.

Despite a high proportion of female students, female professors are still significantly underrepresented with a national average of 27 per cent. To promote a gender-equitable cultural change, Bielefeld University has therefore established the mentoring programme movement, which is aimed at female students interested in doing a doctorate, female doctoral students with the prospect of a career in science and postdocs on their way to a professorship in three programme lines. Many Faculties have also developed their own measures to promote gender equality 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 programmes. Take advantage of the good opportunities!

The accessibility services (ZAB) website provides information on internal and external university funding, organises 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, with your application to open the procedure, the final examination of your doctoral achievements follows with the assessment and defence. The exact formal requirements are set out in the general regulations of doctoral studies and the doctoral regulations of the Faculties .

Questions on finding a topic

For the most part, you are free to choose a doctoral topic. This is particularly true in the humanities and social sciences. Only if the doctorate/Phd studies are 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 importance of your topic and why? You will work on all of these points together with a suitable supervisor.
There is more that will determine your choice: What about your own interest in the topic? Is it big enough for you to devote yourself to it intensively over a long period of time? The time dimension is also important: Are you likely to be able to achieve meaningful results within the planned period of the doctorate? Consider your choice carefully and check with your supervisor whether your topic is the right one for you.

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

In terms of content and time, work in a research project or working group can be directly interlinked with your doctoral project if it is a qualification position. Nevertheless, the job and the 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 the doctorate/Phd studies. It is therefore important to coordinate the employment relationship and doctorate/Phd studies well with each other and to plan for terms and deadlines.

Questions about supervision

Select a potential supervisor according to your subject requirements and approach them independently. Actively present your own research project to them and signal your justified interest in a collaboration. Take courage! Supervisors are always happy to hear from promising, qualified young researchers. Read more here .

Supervisors can generally be: Members of the group of university lecturers, other habilitated or other authorised members of the Faculty as well as Privatdozent [senior lecturer]. In the case of interdisciplinary or cross-faculty theses, members of other Faculties should also be jointly responsible for supervision. The Faculties' doctoral regulations regulate this in more detail.

This depends on the funding model for your doctorate/Phd studies. You can also finance your doctoral phase in other ways than through a position in your department, for example through a scholarship or a job outside academia. This is the case for many doctoral students. There is then a supervision relationship, but no employment relationship.

The supervision agreement that you conclude with your doctoral supervisor stipulates regular meetings to discuss your prospects. Independently of this, you can ask your supervisor for discussions on the status of your work, the status of your own - also interdisciplinary - development and possible career options during the phase of your doctoral thesis. They are also your persons to contact if you would like to ask for an extension to your doctorate/Phd studies for personal reasons (e.g. illness or childcare).

With its guidelines for good supervision of doctorates/Phd studies, Bielefeld University provides clear recommendations for the concrete organisation of cooperation between doctoral candidates and supervisors. Among other things, they deal with the type and intensity of exchange and support. The supervision agreement (in the Medical School OWL it is called the doctoral agreement) also contains instructions on how to resolve conflicts. Do you still have the feeling that things are going wrong? Then talk to your supervisor in a confidential, informal discussion and look for the best possible solution together. If this is unsuccessful, you can contact the Student Advising and Counselling Service (ZSB) or the Counselling Centre for Employees and Managers, who will help you further.

If the topic of your doctoral thesis suggests it, a supervisor from a University of Applied Sciences / University of Applied Sciences can also (co-)supervise you. It is currently not possible to do doctorate/Phd studies at a university of applied sciences. Universities of Applied Sciences in NRW currently only have the right to co-operative doctorate/Phd studies: They may only carry out doctoral procedures in cooperation with a university (or university authorised to award doctorates).

Questions about financing 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 funding options - scholarships and grants, positions outside the university, part-time jobs - that you should be aware of. It takes time to sort out funding. Some options can also be combined. Others, such as 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 on, 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 contact potential supervisors and explore the possibilities of acquiring third-party funding with them. It's better to be well 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 meeting.

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 doctorate/Phd studies. However, you may be able to consider an application for a final scholarship from the Bielefeld Young Talent Fund - a speciality of Bielefeld University that provides financial support for career bridges.

The Act on Fixed-Term Employment Contracts in Science (WissZeitVG) regulates the maximum duration of fixed-term contracts for employment during the study, doctorate/Phd studies and postdoc periods. The current rule of thumb is that 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 regularly amended. Keep up to date with possible changes in this respect!

This may be the case if, for example, your work as an assistant was more than 25 per cent of your regular working hours (10 hours) and you did academic work: For example, did you teach students specialised knowledge and practical skills or instruct them in the application of scientific methods? The project duration and the type of activities are decisive. In order to plan your doctoral phase reliably, you should therefore speak to your assistant in the Human Resources and Organisation Department before starting your contract.

Questions about enrolment, de-registration and acceptance as a doctoral candidate

When you start a degree programme, you enrol at the university for the relevant subject. In the case of doctorate/Phd studies, you must also do this as soon as you have been accepted as a doctoral candidate. The student office is responsible for enrolment (matriculation) and acceptance as a doctoral candidate requires, among other things, an agreement with a supervisor. This procedure is mandatory and independent of the type of doctorate/Phd studies and funding. One difference between enrolment for a Bachelor's or Master's degree programme and enrolment for doctorate/Phd studies is that you can also enrol outside the usual deadlines (this only applies to the first semester!). Upon enrolment, you become a member of Bielefeld University with all its obligations and opportunities. For example, you must pay semester fees and may participate in elections and academic self-administration. You will have approval for all further education and training programmes for doctoral candidates and postdocs and can also use all offers and services available to members of the university. Acceptance as a doctoral candidate creates a doctoral student relationship with the Faculty. This means that the Faculty will ensure that you are supervised and supported, for example, in the event of a change of supervisor.

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

You will be automatically de-registered if you do not re-register for the coming semester (e.g. by not transferring the required semester fee). You can de-register as soon as you have received the Faculty's provisional confirmation that you have passed the doctoral examinations by submitting a corresponding application to the student office. However, it is generally possible to remain enrolled until the end of the semester in which you receive your doctoral degree certificate and diploma following the successful publication of your thesis. However, you will then be de-registered by the university on the basis of your degree at the latest.

Questions about submission and publications

Is your case a cumulative/publication-based doctorate/Phd studies or a doctoral thesis as a monograph? The doctoral regulations regulate in which form your (doctoral) thesis must be submitted to which bodies or how many articles with which publication status you must provide evidence of in your case. After submission, review and successful defence, the publication takes place. Only after publication is the doctoral procedure complete and you will receive the doctoral degree certificate.

Information on the various options for publishing cumulative and monographic doctoral theses - in addition to the regulations in the doctoral regulations - can be found in the university library: PUB - Publications at Bielefeld University. In short, you can have your doctoral thesis printed by a specialised publisher, which is rather expensive. Or you can choose the route of an internet-based publication and opt for open access: then you allow worldwide access to your work. You can also combine the two. Seek advice on these and other options: Researching and publishing: Advice and support - University library - Bielefeld University

Questions about leave of absence, interruption or cancellation

Interruption of doctoral studies means that someone has been accepted as a doctoral candidate by the Faculty, but then - e.g. due to illness - temporarily suspends work on the doctoral thesis and wishes to resume it later (this is the difference to cancellation, see below). Because the Faculties allow for 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 of any planned interruption in good time, stating the expected project duration and the reasons. In the Faculty of Technology and the Faculty of Law, the Dean must be informed in the absence of a doctoral committee. With their consent, the doctoral committee or the dean will continue to monitor the project duration. The Faculty informs the student office about the interruption. As a rule, you should take a leave of absence from the student office for the project duration of the interruption.

A leave of absence can also have other reasons than an interruption of work on the doctoral thesis, e.g. it can be granted due to a stay abroad or collaboration 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 project duration of a semester, but 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 student relationship with the Faculty remains intact. Please note that you may not take any examinations during the semester in which you are on leave of absence, i.e. you must be enrolled and not on leave of absence for the application for enrolment in the doctoral procedure, the submission of the doctoral thesis and the oral examination. An exception to this applies only to students who are on leave of absence to raise children or care for relatives (§ 48 para. 5 sentence 5 HG).

Section 2 (4) of the Enrolment Regulations stipulates a maximum period of five years for enrolment as a doctoral candidate. The period for acceptance as a doctoral candidate may be less than five years, depending on the doctoral regulations. These periods also include periods of leave of absence. 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 doctorate, the project duration of your acceptance as a doctoral candidate and, if applicable, the enrolment period will usually be extended upon application and submission of evidence. This requires confirmation from the doctoral committee or the dean that you have been accepted (see also above under "How do I de-register after completing my doctorate/Phd studies?").

A doctorate/Phd studies is discontinued if the doctoral candidate does not want to or cannot continue working on the doctoral thesis (e.g. because an interesting appointment has arisen). The supervisor and the doctoral committee / the Dean should be informed promptly of a planned discontinuation. Dropping out does not count as a failed 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 assessment. However, a later restart requires 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, it is also possible to take a longer-term leave of absence. The family service provides advice, for example, on ways to work more flexibly on your doctoral thesis; the staff in the student office can provide help desk information on the possible duration of leave of absence and the documents to be submitted.

A number of doctoral regulations specify an acceptance period, i.e. how long you are generally accepted as a doctoral candidate by the Faculty. The deadline is set 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 described above, there may be good reasons for delaying your doctoral project. In this case, an application for an extension of the acceptance period must be submitted (see above under "Is a leave of absence or interruption during doctorate/Phd studies possible?" and under "Does the period of leave of absence count towards the duration of the enrolment period and the acceptance period?").

Questions about career planning

If you decide to continue pursuing an academic career, you can start your postdoc phase after completing your doctorate/Phd studies, e.g. at a university, or you can work academically outside the university system. Here you can find out how the postdoc phase works and what you need to bear in mind. In the German academic system, permanent positions are mainly in the area of professorships. You can also decide to continue your career in business or society. Bielefeld University's Career Service will support you in making your decision and provide you with advice on your path into the world of work.

During the doctorate/Phd studies and postdoc phase, your academic work usually takes up a large part of your time. Nevertheless, it makes sense to start thinking about your longer-term career aspirations at the same time. Your supervisor can be a good advisor for questions about your professional development. You are also welcome to contact the advisors at the PhD & Postdoc Office with your questions and concerns about career planning.

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