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Going to Germany for a Doctorate

By Ute Zauft

More and more students from around the world are choosing a structured doctoral programme in Germany, and for good reason: nearly all graduate schools now offer degrees in English, financing a doctorate is often easier than in other countries, and the young scientists are particularly appreciated at German universities. Three international doctoral candidates tell us what attracted them to Germany as a research location.

Nicolas Huot remembers the selection interviews in Berlin well: "It was almost as cold as back home in Canada!", says the 25-year-old and laughs. On the second day of the interviews, all applicants were to present their previous work to the professors on the selection committee. The young biologist from Québec reported enthusiastically on the research he had conducted for his Master's thesis. After the official part, his later supervisor approached him and began discussing his subject with him; the conversation lasted until late in the evening. The young Canadian was impressed: from the very start, Nicolas Huot felt he was being taken seriously as a scientist. At the Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapy, physicians, biologists and engineers are working on helping human muscles to regenerate as quickly as possible following an operation. Nicolas Huot performs experiments in his laboratory; the results are then put into practice by physicians.

The conditions for research are impressive

Back home in Québec, the biologist had read a newsletter from the graduate school in Berlin and immediately searched the Internet for more information. "It was clear to me relatively quickly that I would be able to conduct excellent research here", he recalls. It particularly appealed to him that researchers of various disciplines work together on the programme. "You get a new perspective on a problem and new ideas to solve it." In addition, in Germany he is working in a field where relatively little research has so far been done. "It's important to me to already publish research results during my doctorate if possible, in order to build a reputation as a scientist for myself." He thinks the chances of this are good in Berlin.

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Photo Gallery: Going to Germany for a doctorate Photo Gallery: Going to Germany for a doctorate Photo Gallery: Going to Germany for a doctorate

In fact, the young man from Canada would also have had the option of completing his doctorate in the USA. "But the university that I was interested in from a specialist point of view wouldn't have recognised my Master's degree from Québec, so it would have taken me two years longer than here." In Germany he can complete his doctorate in three years.

Wide-ranging teaching programme

Rumin Luo is a social scientist and hasn't worked with numbers as much as she does in Germany in a long time. The student from China has been studying Sociology and History at Bielefeld Graduate School since September. Once a week she takes part in a colloquium for quantitative methods: professors and students use practical examples to discuss how figures and data can be meaningfully collected and analysed. "In the short time that I have been here I have already learnt an enormous amount for my own dissertation", says the 28-year-old from Peking. She is writing on migration in China, and so far there are very few empirical analyses on this subject. Structured doctoral programmes offer a certain number of seminars that doctoral candidates complete together. In addition to subject-specific content, the programme includes key competencies such as presentation techniques or scientific writing.

Soft landing in a strange country

The young woman from China was able to attend her application interview from Peking - by video conference. At the time, she already knew that she would not have to pay tuition fees in Germany. She then also successfully applied for one of the grants that the graduate school awards specifically to international students. The decision to go to Germany still wasn't altogether easy, and her parents were also sceptical: "Women of my age in China are supposed to get married and have children", she explains - half serious, half laughing. This made it all the more important that she had a soft landing in Bielefeld. In the first few months, a fellow doctoral candidate provided support as a mentor. She explained everything Rumin Luo had to know about the university, but she also accompanied her to the residents registration office. And she showed her the Asia Shop in Bielefeld. "I had packed a few special sauces to be on the safe side, but the most important things are even available here!"

Bruno Benedetti has no problems with the food: "There are so many Italian restaurants here, and the pizza is actually quite good!" Bruno Benedetti comes from Italy and completed his Master's degree in Mathematics in Genua. He too had considered going to the USA for his doctorate, or maybe to France. But the university in New York wanted him to redo his Master's degree there, and for France he would have had to pass a language test - in French. "Here in Berlin I was able to start my research immediately", reports the 26-year-old. His professor at the Berlin Mathematical School takes an hour every week to discuss his work with him. Bruno values this direct access to his supervisor very highly; in Italy, he says, the relationship between students and professors is far more hierarchical. Another decisive point for him was the issue of financing: when he was accepted to the graduate school, he also received a grant to cover his living costs.

International future

Bruno Benedetti still has one eye on the USA: with his German PhD he thinks he has a good chance of a post at a US university. Alternatively, he would like to work in the private sector, either in the USA or in Germany.

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