1. Start early
If you are considering doing a PhD in Germany, prepare early. If you know which institutions or programmes you wish to apply to or have spotted a position of interest, contact the organisation to check the deadlines and start compiling your application well in advance.
Identify key people and potential supervisors and make direct contact with them far in advance of the application deadline. Networking, whether online or at conferences and events in Germany can open doors and establish a working relationship. Bear in mind that German people prefer a direct communication style, so initial contact (by email or letter) should be polite, to-the-point and knowledgeable. Keep your initial contact suitably brief, outlining your qualifications and experience as well as a brief overview of your research intentions. It’s always a good idea to attach an up-to-date CV. If your German language skills are lacking, it’s fine to make contact in English.
3. Look good on paper
Ensure you have a strong CV, formatted in the German style. Your CV needs to be factual and show your qualifications and research experience. Include some trusted academic references, ideally people who have a keen grasp of your work. Although the CV should be a factual document, to get noticed it’s advisable to include a brief, yet compelling argument on your reasons for pursuing a PhD in a particular area. Concentrate on 3-5 key themes and limit the word count to no more than 500 words, avoiding clichéd statements and phrases. It is standard practice in Germany to include a photograph with your CV.
4. Speak English, Learn German
Having a high standard of English is imperative if you wish to apply for doctoral studies in Germany, particularly in science. In some cases, a good grasp of English is actually more important than being a fluent German speaker. Some German degree programmes and structured doctoral programmes are taught entirely in English. However, if you can show that you can either speak German or are in the process of learning, your application will look more favourable. Learning German is important for life outside of your research environment and can help you communicate with colleagues more effectively during meetings and when networking. You may be required to take a language test in English and/or German during the application process.
There can be many reasons why you may not be selected for a studentship in Germany during one application round. If you have set your heart on a certain organisation or position, it’s a good idea to regularly inquire about upcoming opportunities and application deadlines. With the large volume of applications being processed, a little perseverance can pay off.