In December of this year (2020) I'll graduate with an MA in Applied Linguistics from a US university (via distance learning/online). I have been living and working as a full-time teacher at a bilingual school in Germany since 2012 and specialize in bilingual education (English/German) with a focus on the subjects of History and English. After graduating, I would like to pursue a PhD in a related field (linguistics) at a university in Germany with the career intention of conducting research and lecturing/instructing at a university. I have seen a lot of German universities host paid PhD research projects with very interesting topics, which seems like a direction to pursue, but I am not sure if the pay will be enough to support my family. I am the main provider for my wife and son (3 y.o.) and we won't be able to financially handle a huge cut to my current salary (about 4,000 Euro gross/brutto per month).

As to my questions, I am looking for some advice about the potential career-path. Does it make sense for an American to pursue a German PhD with a BA and MA degree from the US? Financially, would it be possible to continue to support my family while pursuing a PhD in Germany? Is it worth it at my age (35 y.o.) to pursue a PhD?

If the information helps, I plan on staying in Germany permanently as my wife is German, I do not want to continue teaching at the secondary school level, and I am fluent in German. Any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated!

  • 3
    You know the statistics on what percentage of PhDs in your field actually find a job teaching at a university? Temporarily? Permanently? Apr 22 '20 at 18:40
  • 1
    Would your wife and son be okay with this ectreme movement?
    – user111388
    Apr 22 '20 at 19:08
  • @AlexanderWoo I unfortunately haven't been able to locate that information. I understand it's a relatively exclusive field to join, especially as a foreigner. Perhaps it is a safer bet to continue teaching at a secondary school.
    – speaslee
    Apr 28 '20 at 20:41
  • 1
    @user111388 Thanks for your question! While my son is still very young (3 y.o.), I don't think the decision will effect him much. My wife, on the other hand, is very concerned with finances. My hope is to pursue a PhD that is financed about as well (based on circumstances (i.e. cost of living expenses)) as my current job pays.
    – speaslee
    Apr 28 '20 at 20:46

You can compute your prospective salary yourself: http://oeffentlicher-dienst.info/c/t/rechner/tv-l/allg?id=tv-l-2020

Typically, TV-E13 but only 50% or 65% depending who funds your position. Whether that is enough is up to you and your wife. A career at the German university is a high risk gamble, and it take quite a while before you know whether you make it or not. If it does not work out, then you will have invested a lot of time in a career that did not work out.

  • Thank you @Maarten Buis for your reply. You and the other respondents have given me a lot to contemplate. Your response has put a bit of doubt into me if it's worth it to pursue a career in academics. Teaching is a safe bet considering I already have a solid teaching position, but I have the drive and desire to do more and explore other aspects and levels of teaching. I imagine a PhD will help in that cause, but I am naturally worried about the financial investment.
    – speaslee
    Apr 28 '20 at 20:56

There are many aspects of your question for which I also am curious about. I just want to point out that the numerical difference in your net salary might not mean that much depending on the city. I know for a fact that the old west German capital Bonn is way more cheaper than the current capital Berlin. Also, even though your net income might be lower, you might get a lot more benefits (cheaper healthcare, scholarships through DAAD, possible child payments or unemployement for your SO?). I believe the 300ish euro termly fee that every university student pays has perks such as public transport (and even maybe cheap dining hall benefits). I have seen in some phd program webpages that mention some benefits for students with kids.

What I am getting to is the living conditions for a student in Germany and for a student in US is very different (or possibly for any other country).

Update: I have obtained some figures.

DAAD offers long term scholarships. They usually pay around 850 euros + benefits. These benefits include:

  • Child benefit (about 200 euros per month)
  • Marital benefit (about 270 euros as long as your SO makes less than 450 euros)
  • rent subsidy (up to 250 euros*, conditions apply, roughly you are subsidized for anything reasonable above 25% of your income)
  • health insurance for you and your dependants
  • some amount of language course for you and your dependants

I also believe you can still work part time under conditions.

*this amount is actually for single scholarship holders. Conditions are different for scholarship holders with family but those don't include a designated maximum upper limit.

  • Thank you very much for your reply! This puts things into a bit more perspective for me regarding finances. That is my main concern with transferring from my full-time teaching job to working full-time towards my PhD. It's a bit reassuring that there are some additional benefits to being a student with children.
    – speaslee
    Apr 28 '20 at 20:39
  • @speaslee I actually have some rough figures regarding one of your options. I am editing them in the answer now. Aug 6 '20 at 15:32
  • If I'm not mistaken, DAAD usually sends Germans abroad, not the other way around. PhD students are mostly financed as regular (part-time) jobs in Germany, so expect something like 1600-1800 Euros net for a 30h/week position.
    – henning
    Aug 6 '20 at 18:51
  • @henning--reinstateMonica It definitely supports froeigners for their studies in Germany. These include masters degrees, short term research projects etc. Ref: daad.de/go/en/stipa50026200 , daad.de/go/en/stipa57140602 , daad.de/go/en/stipa57135739 Aug 6 '20 at 18:59
  • 1
    It's not at all obvious that OP would be eligible for DAAD funding since they are already living and working in Germany.
    – Roland
    Aug 7 '20 at 6:08

I would reach out to some professors in your field at nearby universities and discuss the local prospects with them. As mentioned in another answer, non-technical PhD positions are usually only half positions. However, if you currently have a full-time job, do look into reducing to part-time work. That can at least pay the rent (and health insurance) and see if you can get a half position (that will, of course, expect you to work full time as well). Getting a professorship will involve a lot of luck, so you need to ask yourself why you are doing this: To be a Herr Dr.? No. Because you have a passion for research? Yes. To get a permanent position? No.

It is also possible to submit a dissertation to a German university without having a position, that is, one that you wrote in your "free time", if your job leaves you enough. That way, if it is really a passion for research that is driving you, you can pursue that PhD without financial problems. Some universities now have coursework required, but that is even possible to obtain at a distance university such as the Fernuni Hagen and then have the credits accepted at another university. Ask around, it's a jungle of red tape!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.