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Experiences of International Doctoral Candidates at TU9 Universities

Thanos Krontiris from Greece, doctoral candidate and research assistant at the Institute of Electrical Engineering, TU Darmstadt

  

Thanos Krontiris

What are the advantages in studying for a doctorate in the traditional way?
There are many advantages in studying for a doctorate at a German technical university: apart from advanced specialist skills and practice-related, state-of-the-art research, you acquire additional qualifications such as independent learning and working, and efficient time management. Of equal importance is the regular financing of a doctoral project, either through the traditional model of a research assistant attached to a chair or in the form of a scholarship. Especially the first of these provides an excellent insight into academic life through the involvement in university teaching.
 
Why did you choose TU Darmstadt for your doctoral studies?
 My motivation for taking a doctorate at TU Darmstadt was not only because the research topic was relevant and up to date; the international reputation of the university in the field of electrical engineering, and especially in research, also influenced my decision.


How does one look for a position as a research assistant?
 Looking for a PhD position directly from abroad turned out to be difficult: many universities are unfortunately unsure about the quality of foreign university degrees. For this reason, previous personal contact to the supervisor is a crucial factor. In my case it was a major advantage that I had written my Diplom thesis at TU Berlin, as part of a student exchange programme. So I was able to include a letter of recommendation from a German university professor in my application, which improved my chances of being accepted.


My personal experience has shown that when you are looking for a PhD position, unsolicited applications - addressed directly to a professor - can be more effective than applications for a publicly advertised position. It is also important to start looking in good time, as it can take several months to secure the funding.


Why did you choose the traditional path to a doctorate?
I preferred the “traditional model” of a research assistant at a graduate school, because it was important for me to be involved in university life and especially in teaching. This experience is crucial for continuing in an academic career.
Studying for a doctorate at TU Darmstadt gave me an excellent insight into research and university life in general in Germany. The German doctorate in engineering – the in-depth, independent devotion to a current research topic – is for me not only a new teaching paradigm but also a valuable supplement to my studies so far.

   

 

Hale Yilmaz from Turkey, doctoral candidate and research assistant at the Institute of International Economics, RWTH Aachen

  

Hale Yilmaz

My main reason for choosing Germany for my doctorate was the intensive and independent style of working. After graduating in industrial engineering with special emphasis on mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen, I really wanted to stay on at the university as a research assistant. I wanted to supervise projects where I could make use of the interface function of industrial engineers. My advisor Prof. Lorz has always encouraged me to cooperate with other disciplines, so that I am currently running interdisciplinary projects with students of economics, mechanical engineering, textile engineering and business administration.


Apart from that, at our TU9 university we have the chance to take part in the CDS (Centre for Doctoral Studies), which offers courses to reinforce key qualifications. In this way, as well as concentrating on my academic research, I can learn about other methods of working and communication techniques, and receive further training. The PhD supplement at the end of the scientific thesis is a transcript of all the attainments during one’s doctoral studies.


I was fascinated by this combination of independent work and continuous further education through a variety of courses. After more than two years of studying for my doctorate and at an advanced stage of my thesis I can only confirm that studying for a doctorate in Germany was the right choice for me.

  

 

Francisco Velázquez Escobar from Mexico, doctoral candidate at the Institute of Chemistry, TU Berlin

 

Frankcisco VelazquezFor one year now, I have been a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Chemistry, Technische Universität Berlin. I work as a research assistant in Prof. Dr. Peter Hildebrandt’s group, focussing on biophysical chemistry. I chose this field because I am very interested in fundamental research.


A chemist is only fully qualified after taking a doctorate, no matter whether you want to continue in academic life or are interested in a career in industry. In both cases, the choice of supervisor and the corresponding project is crucial.


The decisive reason for me to remain at TU Berlin is the opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange between researchers from different subject areas. This is guaranteed at TU Berlin through major research projects such as e.g. the Cluster of Excellence “Unifying Concepts of Catalysis” (UNICAT).
A graduate school offers numerous networking opportunities. Admittedly, as a research assistant in an institute you have to make your own contacts to other scientists, but this makes you more independent. Above all, it is a valuable experience to concentrate on one topic for a long time and to develop it further.

 

Traditional Doctorate

 

The traditional German doctorate is awarded for producing a substantial, independent research thesis unter the supervision of a university professor. This means that after selecting your own research topic, you draw up a research portfolio with which you look for a supervisor (so-called "Doktorvater" or "Doktormutter") at the university. Your supervisor will then help, supervise and support you during your research.

 

Working in Engineering Departments or at Research Institutions

As a traditional doctoral candidate, you can work as a research assistant at an engineering department which collaborates with industry, or at one of the affiliated institutes (research institutions like the Fraunhofer Institutes). Emphasis is placed on practical, applied research commissioned by industry and public institutions; for this reason, the thesis project is defined in agreement with your supervisor. The doctoral candidates are employed at the university or affiliated institute and they usually hold full-time positions. The tasks include specific responsibilities within various projects, communication with customers, project acquisition activities, and writing research proposals. PhD students not only work as researchers but also perform teaching and organizational and management tasks. If you decide on this option you should keep in mind that German skills are necessary and demands are very high, but the experience you have gained through completing your doctorate will have prepared you for independent professional activity in the research sector. You will also be a welcome researcher at universities, research institutions and in industry. Such PhD or research assistant vacancies are advertised on the institute‘s webpages or the job databases.

 

Laboratory-Based Research

Another traditional option is laboratory-based research. This model is available in the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) and to a large extent in the engineering sciences and computer science. Research work is mainly conducted in the lab, at the technology centre, or at the workstation in the institute, and you will be employed part-time as a research assistant. The research topic is either set by your supervisor or you and your supervisor arrive at a mutually agreed research topic. Usually there are workgroups whose members work on closely related topics. As you are employed in an institute, you have to perform certain tasks not directly related to your PhD project, such as assisting in teaching, or maintenance of machines, equipment and appliances in the lab. Concerning your research work, there is regular communication between PhD students and the professor. The institutes usually offer regular seminars and other educational events for doctoral candidates. The following degrees may be awarded: Dr.-Ing. by the engineering faculties, Dr.rer.nat by the natural science faculties.  
Such PhD or research assistant vacancies are advertised on the institute‘s webpages or the job databases.