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
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
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
For 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.