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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!

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    You know the statistics on what percentage of PhDs in your field actually find a job teaching at a university? Temporarily? Permanently? – Alexander Woo Apr 22 at 18:40
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    Would your wife and son be okay with this ectreme movement? – user111388 Apr 22 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 at 20:41
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    @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 at 20:46
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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.

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  • 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 at 20:56
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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.

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  • 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 at 20:39
  • @speaslee I actually have some rough figures regarding one of your options. I am editing them in the answer now. – Boaty Mcboatface Aug 6 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 -- reinstate Monica Aug 6 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 – Boaty Mcboatface Aug 6 at 18:59
  • @Bobby Mcboatface Good to know. – henning -- reinstate Monica Aug 6 at 19:06
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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!

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