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I will be working in Munich, Germany for a relatively small engineering company. I have always wanted to obtain an engineering PhD on a part-time basis.

I have been intrigued by the “individual doctorate” option in Germany, which seems to allow the flexibility to work full-time or part-time and thus continue to move forward in one’s career.

My questions are:

  1. Is this option of an individual doctorate generally available to anyone who can find a professor/supervisor to work with them throughout the research agenda?

  2. If one's current project at their job qualifies as original work and one can find a willing supervisor, can one simply proceed with their work at their current job and simultaneously earn a PhD?

  3. Is it generally feasible to work full-time and obtain a PhD via the “individual doctorate” path? If so, how common is this?

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    If you want your company work to count as a PhD, you will also have to convince your employer to allow you to publish the work. That may not be in their interest. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 22 '18 at 4:47
  • Ad 1. No, you still need to satisfy the formal requirements for submitting a PhD (e.g., a suitable Masters degree, check the regulations). Ad 3. Feasible, but not easy due to the conflicting time demands. Not very common, since for this reason most students prefer to be funded by the university. – Christian Clason Jan 22 '18 at 8:12
  • @WolfgangBangerth Isn't it possible for the thesis to be confidential? I know in France you can ask for it to remain unavailable for a year. You can even ask that part of the thesis defense remain non-public (there still should be a public component though). – user9646 Jan 22 '18 at 8:43
  • @ChristianClason Why not post this as an answer? – henning -- reinstate Monica Jan 22 '18 at 9:19
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    @NajibIdrissi It may be possible, but then if you stack up requirements and challenges it will get harder and harder to find a supervisor. If you are student who does not work as part of the profs. research group, presumably wants to work on a somewhat different research project within a company, and does not wish to publish ... why would a professor care to advise you? – xLeitix Jan 22 '18 at 11:47
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Um, I had to google "Individual Doctorate" since I wasn't sure what the German was supposed to be, but apparently this is just the default way to do a PhD in Germany? In which case:

  1. Yes. When I was a PhD student in Germany, the only documents required by the university administration were the B.Sc. and M.Sc. transcripts/diplomas and a letter from my advisor stating "I am supervising this student". There was no selection, everyone who handed those in was enrolled.

  2. Yes, but only if the company agrees. (As @Wolfgang Bangerth notes, many companies will not allow you to divulge details about the work, as they are basically their trade secrets.) Note that in Germany theses have to be officially published, so the "jury is under NDA" workaround that exists in other countries cannot be used.

  3. It is feasible, but the success rate is much lower than for PhD students. I don't know anyone who worked at a private company, but we had close contact with a Fraunhofer institute group, and even for employees of a research institute who had that option explicitly planned for in their employment contact, many of them gave up along the way. The work required for an actual, useful product is very different from research (e.g. there is nothing novel about making sure I/O works correctly for a wide variety of formats, so you are likely to get scooped by some full-time PhD student who is just duct taping five scripts together and copy-pasted the input data into their source file).

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  • To 2: Also a lot of departments/universities regulate that you have to have a cumulative thesis, which does include having to publish parts of your results in journals or at conferences along the way. So even if your company is okay with you using the finished results in a thesis after they started using those results themselves, they also need to be fine with the publishing or presentation of intermediate results. Which is a problem if there is competition. – skymningen Jan 22 '18 at 14:40
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    @skymningen: While I've seen departments set formal publication requirements (e.g. minimum number of journal articles published before you're allowed to hand in your thesis), I don't think I've ever seen a mandatory cumulative thesis (i.e. you're not allowed to write a new document)! Do you have an example? – nengel Jan 22 '18 at 16:04
  • I guess I was mistaken with the meaning of cumulative here (or more specifically what is called cumulative in the department is a different thing). There is no official minimal number of papers that I know of (although the unofficial number of two might well be stated somewhere official), but you cannot finish your thesis without any papers and you use those papers as a basis for your thesis. Whatever you would call that, you need to publish before the thesis is published, because the paper should at least be "under review" to be added to the thesis. – skymningen Jan 22 '18 at 16:10
  • Hmm, there is no specific word for it that I know of in English, aside from "publication requirements" (which doesn't say anything about what precisely is required, or if it's a formal or informal requirement, but does imply that some form of prior publication has to happen). – nengel Jan 22 '18 at 16:16
  • Well, basically what is expected here is that something other than the thesis, meaning publications, is adding up or adding to the thesis ('cumulative'), and you definitely cannot get your Ph.D. just based on a monographic thesis. – skymningen Jan 22 '18 at 16:29

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