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Professional Spotlight: Doctoral Candidate

BY DENISE HABERGER

Those who do a doctorate improve their chances on the work market. Whether in research or industry, a doctorate can open doors and have a positive impact on the salary. An overview of the role of doctoral candidates.

Professional Spotlight: Doctoral Candidate © Kay Herschelmann Andreas Keller advises doctoral candidates to have staying power when it comes to a career in academia

Checklist - Facts on the Role of a Doctoral Candidate

1. Definition:

Doctoral candidates are university graduates completing their doctorate at a university or graduate school under the guidance of a supervisor.

2. Career entry:

Compared to other countries, Germany has an above average high number of doctoral candidates: Around one fifth of graduates from a year group complete a doctorate. Sufficient opportunities exist; the challenge lies more in finding a suitable supervisor.

3. Tasks:

The primary task is, of course, to prepare a dissertation. Those employed as a research assistant working under the guidance of a professor must also assume other responsibilities. These are mostly teaching duties in the form of seminars and work groups.

4. Requirements:

The basic requirement is a (relatively good) university degree. Graduates of universities of applied science are also able to write a doctoral thesis, though only at a university under the guidance of a professor or abroad.

5. Soft Skills:

Doctoral candidates above all require patience, staying power and high tolerance to frustration. A high degree of motivation and good organisational skills are also necessary. It is important to be able to network and to take a strategic approach to one's own content positioning.

6. Salary:

Their employer will pay those who complete a doctorate alongside their work. The salary will depend on the respective position. Recipients of a fellowship (e.g. a doctoral fellowship from the German Research Foundation) can expect to receive monthly funding of between 1.100 Euros and 1.470 Euros. Research assistants are classified in pay grade 13 of the collective agreement for public servants and receive (depending on the federal state) a gross annual salary of between 40.000 Euros and 41.500 Euros in the first year of work. This only applies for full-time positions though.

7. Career prospects:

A doctoral degree improves the chances of a job and leads to a higher salary. It is a basic requirement for a career in academia. However, good positions in academia are rare. The professional aim of a professorship should be considered carefully and preparations begun early on.
Compared to other countries, Germany has an above average high number of doctoral students: according to the 2013 National Report on Junior Scholars (BuWin), around 25.600 doctoral degrees were awarded in 2010, which corresponds to around one fifth of all graduates. The average age of doctoral graduates was 33 years, with 44 per cent of dissertations written by women.

Those who complete a doctorate have better chances of finding a job. According to the study, almost all doctoral graduates aged 35 to 45 in all subject groups were in employment. The doctoral thesis also proved helpful in terms of the salary. Ten years after completing their first degree, the gross annual salary of doctoral graduates is around 20 per cent higher than of those without a doctorate who graduated the same year.

However, clear differences were also discernible between academia and the private sector. In industry, employees with a doctorate earn significantly more than their peers working at universities, whereby the number of fixed-term positions is also considerably higher at universities.

The national report established that while a doctorate opens up many career paths in academic and non-academic fields alike with its "dual qualification function", the prospects are gloomy at universities and non-university research institutions, reveals Mathias Winde from the Stifterverband. "The competition gets even tougher after completing a doctorate." Andreas Keller from the German Education Union (GEW) also confirms this: "The positions for young academics are few and far between."

A number of different paths to a doctorate

Despite being aware of the disadvantages, Hristina Markova still strives to win recognition as an academic. The sociologist completed her doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in February 2013. She is currently a post-doc student at the University of Jena. Markova has positive memories of her doctorate. "I received excellent support, was in regular contact with my supervisor, and obtained very comprehensive feedback at the end," the 30-year-old reflects.

Her doctorate first became a possibility thanks to a fellowship from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation within the scope of their graduate funding programme. She did not have a position at the institute, however given that she had previously worked there as a research assistant, she was allowed to retain this position. She also participated in the institute colloquium where all doctoral students would meet and exchange once a week. This integration proved a great help: "I would never have made it on my own," says Markova.

In Germany, there are a number of different paths to a doctorate. The most common is a doctorate under the guidance of a professor (internal doctorate). Some write their dissertation alongside their job; others receive funding through fellowships. However, the classic financing route is a position as a research assistant. These are often part-time, fixed-term positions. Doctoral candidates are paid according to the collective agreement for public servants (mostly pay grade 13). Depending on the federal state, this corresponds to a gross annual salary of between 40.000 Euros and 41.500 Euros in the first year of employment - for a full-time position.

In addition to their doctorate, they must perform other duties, i.e. hold seminars and supervise work groups. "Doctoral candidates are often overwhelmed with part-time positions and do not have enough time for their own work," criticises Anke Burkhardt from the Institute for Academic Consulting. "This often delays graduation, or is even a reason for abandoning a doctorate." Andreas Keller sees a major problem in the short, fixed-term contracts: "Doctoral candidates are permanently kept on tenterhooks about whether it will be extended."

Strive for clear positioning as a doctoral candidate

Beside a doctorate under the guidance of a professor, there are also structured doctorates - at graduate schools and colleges, or within a structured doctorate programme, for example. These are units at universities and non-university research institutions where students are able to write their doctoral thesis while participating in structured training programmes.

Professional Spotlight: Doctoral Candidate © private Doctoral student Volker Tjaden values the sense of community among students at a graduate school
Volker Tjaden chose this route. He has just completed his doctorate at the Bonn Graduate School of Economics (BGSE). The economist considers the biggest advantage of a graduate school to be the sense of community. "You're not alone there," the 30-year-old says. "I was able to learn the most from my fellow doctoral students." Tjaden did not have any duties and was thus able to devote himself entirely to his research. His living costs were covered by a doctoral fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Such fellowships provide between around 1.100 Euros and 1.470 Euros of funding a month. However, doctoral candidates do not accrue pension entitlements and must take care of their own health insurance. Tjaden is currently working in Bonn as a post-doc, but is aware of the risks of a career in academia: "I'm giving myself two years. If it doesn't work out with a junior professorship by then, I will change my approach," he says.

Tjaden believes that those aspiring to an academic career should above all know how to network well and to present themselves in a good light. "It is also important to take a strategic approach to the content positioning," the 30-year-old continues. "Academia is also subject to trends. These should not be overlooked." For Hristina Markova, patience and high tolerance to frustration are helpful qualities for doctoral candidates. According to Mathias Winde, young academics should also be highly motivated and well organised. "Staying power is very important," adds Andreas Keller. "For there are often obstacles in research projects, meaning that it pays to be determined."

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academics :: September 2013