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Doctoral studies at HHU

There are several ways to earn a doctorate depending on the faculties, the individual research fields as well as on the type of doctorate. It can be completed within a structured programme or quite independently under the supervision of a professor. Over a period of about three to four years, doctoral students conduct independent research, write a dissertation and usually defend it through an oral examination. The starting date is not bound to the university semesters, but rather depends on the available funding options for the individual research projects.

At HHU, doctoral candidates are individually supervised and supported in order to advance their careers. The following applies to all faculties of HHU:

  • the regulations for doctoral studies stipulate that doctoral theses must be overseen by two supervisors; i.e. a second supervisor may be added to the PhD advisory committee
  • the course "Good Scientific Practice" is mandatory for all doctoral candidates
  • the doctoral research is conducted within a structured doctoral programme or, alternatively, can be completed within the framework of a structured curriculum at the respective faculties' graduate academies
  • international junior researchers receive advice and support from the Junior Scientist and International Research Center (JUNO) regarding their stay in Germany and at HHU
  • the faculties' graduate academies offer a broad qualification programme for doctoral students and a comprehensive counseling service
  • the Heine Research Academies and the graduate academies of the Faculty of Medicine (MedRSD), the Faculty of Mathematics & Natural Sciences (iGRAD) and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (PhilGRAD) provide a common framework of support and structured education for all doctoral researchers.


In Germany and at HHU, the most common PhD track is completing an individual doctorate under the supervision of a professor and thereby conducting research largely independently on one's own research topic. This offers a great deal of flexibility but also demands a high degree of personal initiative and responsibility. To start such a doctoral project, you first need to find a supervisor at HHU. The supervision of a doctoral thesis is an individual agreement between the doctoral researcher and the supervisor. In some faculties at HHU (e.g. Faculty of Mathematics & Natural Sciences) an additional supervising professor is mandatory. 

Doctoral students conducting an indivual doctorate may be employed by the supervisor's institute, which often requires them to work on a specific project or to participate in the teaching requirements of the institute. Vacancies for this path to a doctorate are often advertised on the research institute's website or can be found at the HeRA job portal. Doctoral researchers who are not employed by the institute are advised to organise funding for their dissertation project, for example by a scholarship.

How long it takes to complete an individual doctorate depends mainly on one's own time schedule. Three to four years are within in the normal range.

Find further information on how to apply for an individual doctorate here.

In structured doctoral programmes, doctoral students and their research topics are integrated into a larger scientific framework in which the students work on a common research focus or methodology. These programmes are often interdisciplinary and/or have a strong international orientation with English as the team language. In general, they offer a subject-specific curriculum as well as opportunities to acquire transferable skills and additional qualifications. Doctoral students are generally supervised by a thesis advisory committee, i.e. in teams of several professors participating in the programme. 

At HHU you have a broad spectrum of structured doctoral programmes in research training groups and graduate schools funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Excellence Initiative, the federal state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and HHU itself. Sometimes they include collaborations with other universities, non-university research institutes such as the Helmholtz Association or the International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) as well as other international partners.

Programme specific scholarships or job offers for doctoral candidates usually provide funding for at least three years. Find further information on available scholarships or job offers at the graduate programmes' websites or and the HeRA job portal.

Click here for details on how to apply for a graduate programme.

Steps to a doctorate

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