In the United States, a student who will successfully enter academia will do some research as an undergraduate, and then in graduate school focus mainly on research. (Obviously this is just a generalization).

My question is: how is this different in other countries in terms of how students are involved in research? In what ways at what ages? For example, the United states has lots of government funded programs where undergraduates can meaningfully participate in research. Are there comparable programs in other countries?

  • +1 I think this is a good question that can gather answers from different countries and serve as a guide for people around the world. However, the question assumes knowledge about the US education system - which most people in e.g. Europe are not familiar with. One of the answers - or preferably an edit to the question - should describe the US system.
    – user68958
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 19:39
  • @corey979 Good idea, but I'm not sure I'm qualified to describe the US system in detail. Maybe someone can edit my question.
    – while1fork
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 19:42
  • 3
    This can vary a lot between fields, perhaps more than between countries...
    – Arnaud D.
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 19:47

1 Answer 1



Below I describe the default setting as general as possible. Things of course differ across fields, universities and even faculties. I base my generalizations on friends' experience on other fields/universities/faculties. Of course, there will be individuals who could have had a different (exceptional) path.

This can be of course expanded into hundreds of pages, but being to detailed is not the point here.

  • People finish high school at the age of 19.
  • Regarding academic education - studies - nowadays the Bologna Process is applied in most European countries. This means that studies are divided into three levels:

    1. Licentiate (not to be mistaken with bachelor's) - lasting 3 years (mostly attainable at universities), or engineer's - usually lasting 3.5 years (attainable mostly at technical universities). One studies a particular field from the very beginning - e.g., when studying physics, one does not have courses in biology (well, in general, as there is also biophysics, which obviously joins both) and vice versa, etc. It's common that this level ends with a preparation of a small thesis (under an advisor's supervision) - usually something between 10-20 pages - some might call it simply a student project. In most cases a few weeks of research is enough for completion.

    2. Magister - in many aspects equivalent to master's - lasting two years, being a bit more specialized - for example having a licentiate in physics, one can pursue a magister degree in astrophysics, or condensed matter, atomic physics, particle physics etc. Theoretically, one should spend most of the two years doing research for their master's thesis, but usually people choose a particular topic halfway through, and start research during their second year. Especially that there are still several courses to complete; usually more during the first rather than the second year.

    3. Doctor or PhD - lasting four years. During the first one or two years there are some courses, sometimes taught by visiting professors, or senior faculty members. These are usually about the field of expertise of the lecturer - and these can change from year to year if the lecturer changes, e.g. once it can be about accretion disks on black holes, but the next year will have a course on relativistic magnetohydrodynamics. Usually, but not always, there's a seminar that has to be attended throughout the whole studies, or some other minor courses that need to be completed. However, usually there's only one course per semester, and rest of the time is spent on research.

  • To sum up:

    1. One mostly learns;
    2. one learns a lot and starts to do research based on that knowledge;
    3. one learns a bit, and does a lot of research.

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