How can I best get a materials science PhD in Germany?
January 21, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Studying in Germany Filter: I want to get a PhD in materials science at a German university, hopefully starting in 2011. Please help me get started figuring this out!

I have a BA & MSci in Natural Sciences (Materials Science) from a British university, graduating about 18 months ago. For the last year I've been working in a science and technology company. The work is mostly applications chemistry, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and keeping the lab running. My company's products do involve MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) and some nanoscale silicon chips, but that's not the side I work with.

I want to go to Germany to get my doctorate in materials science. I know other universities might not have a materials science department, though, and instead consider it a part of physics or chemistry, or even engineering. I'm most interested in nanomaterials, surface science and polymers.

I'm a UK citizen with conversational German - it's improving all the time and will be fine for everyday life, but perhaps not for technical/academic work. I'd prefer an international department where English is the lingua franca. Mr. daisyk is a German-speaking Swiss citizen and self-employed programmer, so there will hopefully be no trouble there.

I've seen this previous question but it was more focussed on masters programmes than doctorates.

I'm in the early stages of researching this now. Please offer your best tips on German universities with strong physical science research, how to apply and make myself an attractive candidate for a PhD, and good resources for prospective students in Germany.

posted by daisyk to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: German academic ads, including PhD and postdoc grants, are normally advertised at
Otherwise, personal contacts, via previous departments and professors, might ease the way/turn up more results.

[Is there any specific reason why you chose Germany? I mean, I'd always search worldwide to find the department that closely fits my interests. I'm hearing that there's some great nano stuff going on in Southampton, just apropos almost nothing]
posted by Namlit at 7:42 AM on January 21, 2010

Best answer: You have to pass an exam regarding your ability to speak German.

Either the Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache or the Deutsche Sprachpr├╝fung Hochschulzugang.

There's a whole bunch of information about it at the Deutscher Akademisher Austauch Dienst.

There your "virtual academic adviser" "Dany" (yep) will explain all. He appears to be a young guy with the well-known "German" style-glasses.

Note that if the courses are taught in English, you might not have to pass the exams.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: German PhD programs do normally not include coursework since most people will have a Masters or "Diplom". If you come with only a BSc you will be required to take courses.

Besides this, there is no requirement to speak German for a German PhD program. Your thesis can be in English too.

* Browse material science publications, look for stuff that interests you
* Contact the professor directly. There are no "lab-rotations" like in some US programs.
* It is unlikely that they will pay for your travel expenses to interview you. Arrange for several interviews in Germany.
* Besides universities, it is be possible to do your PhD in a "research institute", like:
- Frauenhofer Gesellschaft.
- Max Planck Gesellschaft

The Max Planck Society has a good reputation but a terrible work climate. While there are many institutes, the work climate seems to be terrible in all of them since I know a couple of them. It seems like this is not a bug - it is a feature. Suicide, Patent stealing from inventors, dubious health insurances for foreigners is not unheard of. While they are quite open for foreigner - honestly - I advise against them.

Frauenhofer is good too. More applied science. They may even give you a full engineers salary.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2010

Best answer: Don't overlook the Max Planck Institutes. They are very well funded and have some programs to fund PhD students. You'd still need to find a suitable supervisor at a university but they'd be able to help with that. This would be equivalent to UK CASE studentships where you work in collaboration between a university and "industry" (often a research institute). You could have a nose around their website to identify potential supervisors and see what they have to say.

The MPI have an Institute forPolymer Research in Mainz. Plus others in the materials science field. The working language of the MPI is English, but you'd have to speak passable German to meet the university requirements I think. If you have conversational German then you'd have no problem.
posted by jonesor at 8:34 AM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone so far - this is all really helpful!

As for why I'm thinking of Germany:
- I'd like to move abroad to work or study and broaden my horizons
- Moving to an EU country makes things a lot easier for us than somewhere not in the EU
- Both my partner and I speak German, but I have no other languages yet
- I'd also really like the challenge of being immersed in the German language (outside of the lab, at least). I think it would bring my fluency up quite rapidly
- I lived in Germany for a couple of months (placement at the University of Goettingen) whilst doing my undergrad degree and enjoyed it
posted by daisyk at 8:37 AM on January 21, 2010

Have you seen this?

You do not necessarily have to pass a German language exam. Many universities waive this requirement for PhD candidates. Some programs (like the one I linked) even state openly that "German is not required". This really depends on the individual program and university/institute. Your thesis can definitely be in English.

Do you know any German Profs who do the stuff you're interested in? If yes, ask them for help right away. Knowing the right people, or knowing people who know the right people, greatly increases your chances of getting into a good program. As yoyo_nyc mentioned, many German PhD programs are not really "programs" because there is no coursework. Knowing/finding your supervisor is crucial. I'd say it's even more crucial than finding the right University.
posted by The Toad at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2010

« Older Please help me find this magazine article   |   Help me give my hats a home Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.