I came across this website:


At the same time I am interested in pursuing a part-time PhD in Finance in Germany.

Anyone familiar with what is meant by "traditional way of doing a PhD in Germany" / "individual doctorate in Germany"?

Also, does it somehow better comply to a part-time formula?

  • 2
    The question seems to be explained in your link. is there anything in particular in the text you had trouble understanding?
    – henning
    Jun 1, 2019 at 13:50
  • 1
    @henning, thanks for your answer! I would like to understand whether this individual doctorate complies with a part-time formula.
    – Vitomir
    Jun 1, 2019 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


The traditional German PhD is either self-funded or funded through a fixed-term (usually three years) part-time (mostly in the humanities) or full-time (less frequent, mostly in STEM) position at the university at which the PhD is pursued.

Regardless whether full-time or part-time position, you can formally use a certain share of your contractual working time to work on your PhD project. (I don't remember exactly, but probably something like 50 percent.) The remaining part is reserved for unrelated tasks, such as teaching, administration, or other research. This is usually specified in more or less detail in your work contract. In practice, however, your contractual work duties may be more or less related to your PhD project, and if you are lucky, they may even be perfectly aligned or identical. If you have a part-time position, it is generally expected that you also make progress on your PhD thesis during your free time, so that you may complete the thesis within the duration of the fixed-term contract.

It follows that in both traditional and structured PhD programs, and with both full and part-time positions, pursuing a PhD is in general regarded as requiring your full commitment, as if in a full-time job. However, this does not preclude exceptions, which will have to be negotiated on a per-case basis with your institutions and your supervisor.

My guess is that the traditional program offers more flexibility in this regard, because you don't have to follow a certain curriculum, your progress does not have to be aligned with the rest of your cohort, and you don't normally have to complete any coursework.

  • If you have a nominally part-time position but are expected to work during your free time "as in a full-time job", doesn't it just mean that they are giving you half salary for full working hours? How can this be ethical? Jun 1, 2019 at 21:37
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    @AlbertoSantini: there are some trade-offs hidden here which range from situations that I'd consider perfectly fair to downright unethical. There is an "old school" pov on PhD that says that as a thesis, it is an exam and thus solely the candiate's independent work. Thus, the candidate should not be hampered in their thesis work by an employment contract. The other pov is that it is unfair to get substantial amounts of research done by PhD student free labor. The current resulting compromise is usually somewhere between 50 and 65 % wage employment contract which mostly pays for research work. Jun 1, 2019 at 22:19
  • I have seen what I conder serious disadvantages due to the employment contract: PhD student havinh found out and published that the proposed approach fundamentally cannot work out as envisioned by the project proposal. Student asked whether they can move on to a new (related) subject but were told to stick with the old plan because that's what the funding was given for. Which is something an employer is legally allowed to do, but which leads to a very awkward thesis situation: the student may be judged by external committee that their research was lacking in the sense that they did not draw... Jun 1, 2019 at 22:22
  • ... the appropriate consequences from their early findings. With the pov "the thesis is completely in the responsibility of the candidate" also comes the freedom for the student to define their subject and adjust it accordingly. (There are other pitfalls such as the employer having the right to not publish results and findings). Of course, being paid by a nice employer for the thesis work is much better than not being paid. Personally, I consider this partial wage that gives full employee disadvantages a bad compromise. IMHO a scholarship would be more fair and less risk for the candidate. Jun 1, 2019 at 22:26
  • @Alberto Santini as cbeleites says, it all depends on the frame of reference. Originaly, the PhD thesis was seen as merely a matter of personal education and career advancement, and the part-time job, which could be completely unrelated thematically to the PhD, was a generous enough means to financially support the student during the PhD years. It was certainly better than having to rely on a job outside the university and working on the PhD on the weekends and during vacation. (cont.)
    – henning
    Jun 2, 2019 at 8:55

In addition to @hennings answer

  • There may still be a few places where the traditional PhD is done "the old way". This is self-funded in the sense that you are not paid for the PhD research. Many of those PhD students still earn their living at the university, e.g. by teaching. But earning your living in industry would often be considered fine in such a situation. In the past, the expectation for such situations were that you'd turn out 3 year's equivalent of research in, say, 6 years, when working an unrelated 50 % job.
  • There are also so-called external PhD students. They work (full time or part time) in industry and their industry job is related to their PhD project. They are still associated with a group at a university but due to their industry job they usually hardly show up at university outside the presentations they give and the meetings with there supervising professor.
    These PhD projects usually have less research freedom as the industry employer wants to see results of the research asap.
  • One thing to keep in mind is that the traditional PhD thesis in Germany doesn't require the PhD student to be associated with the university until just before the submission procedure starts. In theory it is possible to show up with a more-or-less finished long-form thesis and then ask a professor whether they'll accept you as PhD student with this thesis.
    In practice, it may not be that easy to interest a professor in your work if you are entirely unknown to them, and, most importandly, unless you already have experience in academia, a thesis entirely written on your own without contact to a research group will rarely meet the academic standards.
    But it does mean that there is the possibility to get some flexibility with industry experience alongside research.
  • That's an excellent addition.
    – henning
    Jun 1, 2019 at 20:11
  • @henning thank you :-) Jun 1, 2019 at 20:17
  • Thank you to both of you for the great answers. May I ask if there is a preferred channel or one that has been proved to be pretty successful in contacting professors for the part-time formula?
    – Vitomir
    Jun 1, 2019 at 21:35
  • @VitoC there are already quite a few questions and answers on this site about finding and applying for PhD positions. I suggest having a look and posting a separate question if you don't find what you're looking for.
    – henning
    Jun 3, 2019 at 14:05

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