Interested in doing a PhD

Are you interested in a doctorate? Our information portal provides you with information about the first steps!

Four steps to a successful doctoral thesis

Step 1: Information on doing a PhD

What is a PhD?

The doctorate serves as proof of the ability to carry out in-depth scientific work and is based on an independent scientific paper - the dissertation - and an oral examination. The doctorate is thus the highest academic degree that universities can award.  

A doctorate is a prerequisite for a career in science and research. In Germany, a doctorate can also open up numerous other career paths, since management positions in the public sector or in business are often filled with doctoral candidates. In some subjects, such as chemistry, a doctorate is also expected for non-university career entry, so that about 90 percent of chemists complete their university studies with a doctorate. In fact, the majority of the doctoral candidates enter the non-university labor market and only a small proportion remain in research.

Being accepted as a Doctoral Candidate

You should aim to get through the acceptance process as early as possible. It gives you as a doctoral candidate certainty in a number of ways:

  • Ensuring you meet the requirements: When you apply to be accepted, the University checks to see that you meet the requirements to start the doctoral process - as set out in the doctoral degree regulations.
  • Guaranteeing you have a supervisor: Acceptance as a doctoral candidate ensures your status. That in turn means that both the Faculty and the supervisors have made a binding declaration to supervise your entire doctoral process.
  • Determining which doctoral degree regulations apply to you: Doctoral degree regulations are amended from time to time. This means that once you are a doctoral candidate, it is not enough to check the doctoral degree regulations just once to see if you meet the requirements in a given subject. If you are not accepted as a doctoral candidate, the regulations can be changed without you finding out about it - because you are not in the system and therefore automatically contactable for the Faculty or the University. You can only be sure of being informed about changes or transitional arrangements with regard to the doctoral degree regulations if you are accepted as a doctoral candidate.
  • Voting rights in the doctoral conventions: State law provides for doctoral conventions to represent the interests of all candidates in the doctoral process. In Tübingen, the conventions are set up by the Faculties to ensure that the interests of doctoral candidates are represented independently of how they are connected with the University (as research assistants, enrolled doctoral candidates, or doctoral researchers financed by grants). To take part in your faculty’s doctoral convention and to have a vote at it, you must be accepted as a doctoral candidate.

Acceptance to the doctoral process is also required for enrollment as a doctoral candidate and for participation in the Graduate Academy’s qualification program.


As soon as you have been accepted as a doctoral candidate, you must go to Student Administration to be enrolled as a student. You will need to present your certificate of acceptance as a doctoral candidate. Being enrolled gives you the status of a student - that means you can get student discounts with your student ID card, and you can get the semester ticket - a discounted public transport pass. You have to pay a fee when you enroll. Further information and enrollment forms on the Student Administration website.

If you are already enrolled as a student at the University of Tübingen, you do not need to re-enroll; but you can change your enrollment status. Then you keep your old student identity card. Further information on change of enrollment status and the change of enrollment status application form may be found here.

Individual Doctorate

Most doctorates are individual doctorates, particularly in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In this case, candidates consult with their supervisors to choose a research topic, which they work on independently. Supervision is carried out in a way agreed between the supervisors and the candidate. Most supervisors offer regular doctoral colloquiums; but beyond that there are not usually any additional requirements. An individual doctorate therefore creates the biggest challenge - of organizing and managing one’s own major research project.

The University of Tübingen has a number of approaches to support individuals in managing their doctoral efforts. These include supervision agreements which are usually signed when the doctoral candidate and his or her (usually) two supervisors agree on the supervision. The agreements set out each party’s rights and duties, as well as a running timetable for regular supervision meetings and status reports.

Structured Doctoral Program

One relatively new alternative to an individual doctorate is a structured doctoral program. Such programs can have any one of several different names, and can take a variety of forms. Structured doctoral programs at the University of Tübingen can be part of a DFG research training group, a PhD network, the LEAD Graduate School, or one of the three Graduate Schools integrated into the Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN). Two of these are International Max Planck Research Schools and are part of the University’s collaboration with the Tübingen Max Planck Campus.

Despite their many names, all the doctoral programs have these things in common:

  1. a common thematic or structural research context, often in a particular field, as in a research training group,
  2. their doctoral researchers take part in a coordinated program with classes and workshops - often with a set curriculum,
  3. you usually have to apply to join them and undergo a selection process to see among other things, if your interests fit with the research topic. An overview of research programs can be found at qualification program for doctoral candidates  here in the ILIAS portal. Information on calls for applications and deadlines may be found there also.

Medizinische Fakultät: https://www.medizin.uni-tuebingen.de/de/medizinische-fakultaet/promotionen 

Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät: https://uni-tuebingen.de/de/30559 

Philosophische Fakultät: https://uni-tuebingen.de/de/23258 ; https://uni-tuebingen.de/de/23256  

Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät: https://uni-tuebingen.de/de/44606  

Step 2: Finding Your Thesis Topic


There are many different ways to find a topic for your dissertation project. You may choose a topic which piques your personal interest, you can expand your Master’s thesis, or you could let yourself be guided/inspired by the research programs of scientific institutions (i.e. research training groups, post-graduate or international doctorate programs). Especially in the natural sciences, topics are often distributed by the research staff rather than proposed by the prospective doctoral candidates themselves.


Your personal interest should guide you in the planning of the research project. Therefore, try to find a question which sparks your interest and which has not yet been sufficiently investigated in research. Identify the "research gap" that you would like to close with your project. The following criteria and questions may be relevant when working on the dissertation topic:

  • Are there already other works on this question?  
  • Is the project chosen in such a way that it can be realized in three years? 
  • How does my research project contribute to the scientific community? 
  • Does my topic deal with current research questions? 
  • Is my topic relevant for research in the long term? 
  • Does it help me to achieve my professional and personal goals? 

Advice for Finding a Topic

Follow your interests, read current research literature and attend advanced seminars. This can be helpful in estimating the scientific potential of a topic. Always be aware that topic identification is a process that takes some time. It is both normal and necessary to broaden the scope of a topic at the beginning and then to narrow it down as you progress.

Step 3: Supervision

Who can be Considered?

It is not uncommon for doctoral students to receive an offer of supervision from the professor who has already supervised their Master's thesis. In structured doctoral programs (e.g. Research Training Groups), the circle of possible supervisors is usually already limited and the supervision is clarified after acceptance into the program. If this is not the case, the doctoral students must find a suitable supervisor themselves.

How to proceed in the search?

An initial search via the website of the respective faculty will show you which research areas are represented there. Faculties usually set up chairs and working groups for specific research fields. However, the researchers' CVs and publication lists can also provide information in this regard. The potential supervisor should then be contacted in a friendly email to arrange a personal meeting.

What needs to be clarified?

In the personal discussion the exposé plays a crucial role, on the basis of which the professor can get a picture of the visions and goals of the desired graduation. 

The following questions can help you to find the right supervisor: 

  • Is the professor relevant to my field of study? 
  • Is there an optimal research environment for my dissertation topic? 
  • Are there suitable networks in which I can be integrated with my work?

Advice for the Search

Do not be impatient if a professor does not respond directly to your e-mail request. Professors are usually very busy and it may take a while before they respond to e-mails. Professors can decide for themselves whether they want to supervise a doctoral project. It is not possible to apply to the faculty or university with subsequent automatic assignment of supervisors.

Step 4: Good Scientific Practice

What Is Good Scientific Practice?

Good Scientific Practice is based on values such as integrity, transparency and honesty. These values are internationally acknowledged and accepted by all scientific disciplines. Compliance with these standards ensures that science can live up to its responsibility towards society. If these values are forgotten, we risk a loss of trust in researchers and their work. If the results of research turn out to be unreliable because of data manipulation or even fabrication or if important figures of society and politics are suspected of plagiarism, not only the individual will lose their reputation but science and academia as a whole will be distrusted. Besides, scientific misconduct always entails a waste of resources: funding financed by tax-payers, the time of researchers involved etc. Especially in the clinical field the consequences of scientific misconduct can be severe, e.g. when participants of clinical trials are affected by a neglect of the rules of good scientific practice.


Guidelines for Good Scientific Practice

All members of the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen are fully committed to the rules of good scientific practice. The University of Tübingen has adopted the "Rules of Procedure of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen for Dealing with Misconduct in Science" and the "Guidelines for Ensuring Good Scientific Practice".

Central topics that are particularly relevant for doctoral students and scientists in the qualification phase include plagiarism prevention, regulations on publication and authorship, and data management. Detailed information on these topics can also be found in the DFG Code. The regulations of the university are based on the regulations of the DFG Codex.

DFG Codex 


Scientific misconduct can have many reasons:

  • high pressure to publish as quickly and as much as possible in order to survive in the competition for funding,
  • rationalization of misconduct based on the conviction that one's own hypothesis must be correct in any case,
  • or the desire to obtain a title as quickly as possible in order to make professional progress are just a few of them.

These motivations do not always lead to a serious violation of the rules of good scientific practice. However, they often lead to questionable procedures that are in the grey area of misconduct. For doctoral students and scientists in the qualification phase it is therefore important to deal with the topic and the applicable regulations at an early stage in order to refresh their own knowledge, to recognize questionable practice or even misconduct and to familiarize themselves with the procedure in case of suspected misconduct. The Graduate Academy offers regular workshops on the topic of good scientific practice.


Ombudspersons act as contact points in case of conflicts or problems. At the University of Tübingen there are different types of ombudspersons for specific topics:

  • Ombudspersons for good scientific practice: The DFG calls upon all research institutions in Germany to appoint ombudspersons for good scientific practice. At the University of Tübingen, these ombudspersons (formerly confidants) come from three areas: the humanities, the natural sciences and medicine. In each area, 2 ombudspersons are appointed by the Senate, and there are 2 deputies for each area. The ombudspersons can be contacted by all scientists at the university in case of questions regarding good scientific practice or suspected cases of scientific misconduct. Inquiries will be treated confidentially. The ombudspersons for good scientific practice are not located at the faculty level, i.e. scientists can contact any ombudsperson. In many cases it may be useful to contact an ombudsperson who is close to your own subject. If there is a suspicion of scientific misconduct, the ombudspersons will investigate it. If the suspicion is confirmed, the ombudsperson will pass the case on to the Commission for the Investigation of Misconduct, which will initiate official proceedings.

  • Ombudspersons for doctoral matters: Since 2014, the State University Act of the State of Baden-Württemberg has provided for the appointment of special ombudspersons as contact persons for doctoral students (§38 (4) LHG). These ombudspersons are located at the University of Tübingen at the faculty level. They are the point of contact for doctoral students in the event of conflicts that arise during the course of the doctorate, e.g. between the doctoral candidate and the supervisor. The doctoral regulations of the faculties determine who is to be the ombudsperson. As a rule, the office is held by the deans or vice-deans.

Consultation from the Graduate Academy

The Graduate Academy offers a consulting service for those interested in doctoral studies and doctoral candidates. Here you can clarify all outstanding questions.

Funding Opportunities for Doctoral Candidates

There are various ways to finance a doctorate (scholarships, paid doctoral positions, self-financing). Here you can find further information and forwarding.

Student Administration

As a doctoral student, you must also be enrolled. You can find information about the most important points concerning the organization of studies and related topics here.

Career Paths

The doctorate offers different possibilities to realize one's own life goals in professional careers. Here you will find an overview of your possibilities and detailed information.

Offices for Doctoral Matters

During your doctorate, your respective faculty is an important contact point. Here you will receive the certificate of acceptance as a doctoral student, submit your dissertation upon completion and receive an invitation to your doctoral colloquium. In most faculties, the respective doctoral office takes over these tasks. This is usually located in the dean's office of the faculty. If you have any questions regarding formalities related to your doctoral studies (application for acceptance, submission, language requirements, change of supervisor, etc.), it is best to contact the office for doctoral matters. On the respective website you will also find important information (e.g. information sheet on the doctoral procedure, notes on cumulative promotion, etc.) as well as the currently valid doctoral regulations.

Your contact person

Dr. Martina Bross

Program Coordinator Graduate Academy

Doctoral candidates and those interested in doing a PhD

+49 7071 29-76464

m.brossspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de