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DFG Research Training Groups: A Small, but Exquisite Circle

By Julia Becker

A doctoral scholarship in a research training group guarantees fully financed training in excellent, small research groups.

DFG research training groups© Lisa F. Young - Fotolia.comThe duration of a doctorate in a research training group is limited to a maximum of three years
This professor is just flying in from Tokyo, that professor is off on a research expedition to the Himalayas next week: the atmosphere in the research training groups run by the German Research Organisation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) is international - and that also applies to doctoral candidates. Research training groups are fixed-term nine-year university-based research programmes financed by the DFG because of their excellent work. Every three years, each group offers doctoral scholarships of at least 1000 euros and at most 1356 euros a month. This money is awarded for a maximum of 36 months. In addition there is the option of completing a doctorate in a group on one's own funding.

Excellent education in a very short time

The duration of a doctorate in a research training group is limited to a maximum of three years - regardless of funding. If they graduate successfully, the doctoral candidates then have a PhD with an excellent reputation. This makes a doctorate in a German research training group very compact and time-saving compared to foreign doctoral programmes.

Structured doctorate with individual curricula

Beyond the shorter doctorate period, there are further advantages to the research training groups: in contrast to graduate schools, with ten to twenty doctoral candidates the groups there are of manageable size, enabling personal and intensive support. At the beginning of each doctoral degree, an individual doctorate plan is drawn up for the doctoral candidates with their supervising professors; the plan also specifies at which points in time research results must be presented. This curriculum forms a framework for the doctorate, within which the doctoral candidates however also have leeway to organise themselves.

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Organised support for settling in in German

Students joining a German research training group from abroad receive professional assistance with problems relating to all aspects of their stay in Germany. The foreign student offices - university points of contact for students and doctoral candidates from abroad - and the research training groups help international doctoral candidates find a flat, deal with insurance matters or settle in in their new city. "I'm very happy here, the support from the professors is very good and we doctoral candidates are a friendly community that likes to get together for 'coffee and science' meetings", says Stefanie Dekeyzer, who came to Bremen from Belgium in order to complete her doctorate at the International Graduate College (IGC).

National or international, there's something for everyone

There are currently 57 international and 177 national graduate colleges in Germany. All these institutions offer doctoral candidates an international environment in the fields of natural sciences, life sciences, engineering sciences, and social sciences and humanities. "We cover almost all subjects, even if some, such as Law, are currently somewhat underrepresented", says Dr. Annette Schmidtmann, head of the group responsible for research training groups at DFG.
Beyond the offerings of national colleges, international colleges are characterised by a fixed co-operation with at least one partner institution abroad. Doctorates are then supervised by professors from Germany and from the respective partner country. "A professor from our partner institute abroad is either one of the two referees, or, if this is not possible, part of the examination board", explains Prof. Helmut Willems, speaker of the IGC Bremen. The International Graduate Colleges are also currently working to introduce an official "double degree" doctorate - a doctorate that can officially be completed at two locations and therefore also bi-nationally. In addition, doctoral candidates can visit the partner institution abroad and conduct research there with financial support from the DFG.

Applicants must meet high standards

Collaboration between scientists at all colleges and research training groups is international and interdisciplinary; the research subject is very closely defined. Therefore, in addition to a very good university degree, applicants should above all enjoy intercultural and interdisciplinary work and have an affinity to the specific research area of the college or research training group. "Discipline, pleasure in one's work and the ability to self-organise are the best qualities for working here", says DFG grant holder Eva Burzynski, who has been working on her doctorate "Formation and Change of Civil Society in Germany and Japan" at the International Graduate College since October 2008.

English mandatory, other languages desirable

Another prerequisite for a successful application is the ability to speak English. "Everything here happens in English: application, interview, and even at work, English is spoken", says Prof. Willems. This now applies to many colleges. "In addition to English, scholarship holders in the humanities and social science research training groups should also learn the languages of the countries on and in which they are conducting their research", says Prof. Foljanty-Jost, speaker of the international graduate college at the University of Halle, "otherwise they will lose precision due to translations. With the high standards we expect of our research this can be disastrous."

A well thought-out concept is the key to success

Candidates who meet the requirements can apply to the colleges with a covering letter, C.V., letter of motivation and a concept for their doctorate project. Those whose written applications are compelling are invited to a personal interview. "What's important is a well thought-out concept that you can coherently defend", says grantee Burzynski.

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