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I have been trying to get a Ph.D. position in Germany so I follow the advertising sites frequently. A few days ago I saw a position from a group of X Institute. I wrote the professor about the requirement and he replied a bachelor is a prerequisite and he encouraged me to apply. Today again I saw an advertisement for a position from a different group from the same institute and the professor said a master is needed as a prerequisite for becoming a Ph.D. student. My question is why the requirement varies from group to group whereas they come from the same institute? Can a professor or supervisor can play a role to waive master if he wants?

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    To be honest I don't know any institute in my area where it is allowed to do a Ph.D with a bachelor in germany. But in general it is possible. As far as I know it is up to the one who is supervising to hire you for the position. If he finds you suited, he can hire you. The university will put some conditions on you once you enroll officially as a Ph.D student like completing courses and successfully finish them if you have a bachelor's degree. The same can happen with a masters degree but to a lesser extent – Amazonasmann Nov 7 '18 at 17:29
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    Anecdotal Ecidence: I heard that if you published during your bachelor course, you are qualified to start a PhD program, because you have already proven that you can do research and work in a scientific manner. I think in practice, you'll probably need outstanding achievements having only a bachelor's degree. – problemofficer Nov 7 '18 at 17:42
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    @problemofficer A number of programs where I live (Canada) are known for being willing to somewhat condense/bundle a master's degree into a PhD, generally adding 8 months/a year to the PhD instead of the potential 2 years a lot of "fully fledged" masters programs seem to take. – mbrig Nov 8 '18 at 1:28
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  • Usually, with a Master in the field of the PhD position (or a closely related field, e.g. PhD positions in physical chemistry will typically accept physicists or chemists; possibly the Master should have a grade better than x), you can be directly accepted.
  • With a Bachelor (or Master from a totally different subject, or Master not from a university but a university of applied sciences, or possibly a degree from a foreign country for which there is no official declaration that it is equivalent to the Master of a German university) your application will probably have to go to a committee first who have a look at your case and decide whether and which additional courses or exams you need to take.

  • If the institute you're talking of is a non-university research institute (e.g. Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Helmholtz, Leibniz): the PhD is not granted by these institutes but by the university they cooperate with. Different groups of the same institute may be cooperating with different professors from different faculties (or even different universities), and thus different rules may apply.
  • I am talking about Leibniz institute @cbeleites – Dukhiatma Nov 7 '18 at 21:33
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    @Dukhiatma: I've been at a Leibniz-Institute a while ago. Our head was (is) professor at the local university, and so are some of the other group heads - but not all in the same faculty (chemistry vs. physics). The exam rules, including those for PhDs are on faculty basis. – cbeleites supports Monica Nov 7 '18 at 21:56
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tl;dr: You'd typically need Master's. Read on to find out why.

The "traditional" German higher education system had only one kind of a degree before PhD, the Diplom. It's typically translated as MSc and it's not wrong: basically, it was a 5 years degree. You'd typically need this degree, and having it from a university (and not a Fachhochschule, a polytechnical university) in order to start a PhD.

Then, Bologna happened.

The current scheme in Germany is: 3 years BSc + 2 years MSc. Though the initial thought was to have a US system, where most of the students exit university with a BSc, it did not took off. Most companies and universities themselves saw "just" BSc as inferior and still required a MSc degree. It got a bit better nowadays.

It is possible to get a job with a BSc, even if it would pay less.

It is also possible to start your PhD with a BSc. But it's much, much harder. In many places special "fast-track" programmes exist. Details depend on the location. Typically, they allow a future PhD candidate to study for their MSc, but in a sort-of accelerated manner, for example, the MSc thesis is then allowed to be a topic from the future PhD. Further, typically the non-MSc holders are payed less, E12 level instead of E13.

All this requires, however, further, and in some cases non-insignificant actions from the advisor. So, there might be a certain willingness to employ a BSc-holder. It might be easier, if it's a four-years BSc. The typical "fits all" requirement is, however, a MSc.


A further notice. There are two sides to doing a PhD in Germany. 1) The general advisor-student relationship. It is about research and mentoring. No money is involved in this relationship. (You might want to register as a (PhD-)student with the university, it costs not much.) 2) The employer-employee relationship. The "funded position" is not really connected to the readiness to supervise a student. (Yes, it is often coinciding, but it is not required to be so.)

My point is: you should really ask very directly, does this particular professor really want to supervise you as a prospective PhD student (even with "only" a BSc), or do they do the former and have money for your position.

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    One should point out as well that a phd in Germany is typically shorter than a phd in the US and focuses nearly purely on research. So a German master (2yrs) + 3 yrs phd equals a US 5 yrs phd, where the first two years very much resemble a German master program – Noldig Nov 7 '18 at 23:43
  • "Then, Bologna happened." - what event does this refer to? – user2357112 supports Monica Nov 8 '18 at 0:03
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    @user2357112 The Bologna Process – SomeWindowsUser Nov 8 '18 at 7:03
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In most programs in Germany, the PhD is a paid position that is known as a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter ("academic employee") and typically requires a master's degree as a prerequisite.

There are some exceptions to this—there are some programs where students enroll in a master's program that leads to a PhD position once the master's thesis has been completed. But such programs are relatively uncommon and should not be expected as a master's course.

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    Most of the paid positions are designated as E13 in the the union agreement (Tv-L), which by said agreement require a masters degree. I would add the detail that it is not possible to waive this prerequisite for such positions. The professor can still take you as a student (If the university allows it) and even pay you from other sources (if he has some), he just can't employ you on those specific positions, even if he wants to. – mlk Nov 7 '18 at 17:47
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    Well, TV-L says for E-13 (and 14 and 15) roughly translated "... as well as other employees who execute similar tasks on the basis of equivalent ability and experienct". I'd argue that doing a PhD is similar in that respect, and PhD students without a Master in a relevant field in my experience have to have a PhD committee decide whether they can be accepted as PhD students (possibly: after which additional exams). Thus such a student would have a very good claim to have been found equivalent. I do see the rist that the employing institution may try to pay only E 12, though. – cbeleites supports Monica Nov 7 '18 at 19:23
  • @cbeleites-and one more thing. I think they only care about masters but doesn't matter if its from a different field. For example, I have seen one group accept a student who did his masters in finance and economics to do Ph.D. in neuroscience. The professor accepted him as his girlfriend was a Ph.D. student in his lab. So I think at the end of the day a masters degree in anything matters, doesn't matter if you have appropriate skills and publications. – Dukhiatma Nov 8 '18 at 11:53

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