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Recently I have received an offer for PhD studentship in Biology from a lab in Germany. I have completed my Bachelors degree and I have solid 2 years of research experience with 3 peer reviewed publications. Now to formally enroll as a PhD student they are asking me for Masters degree which I don't have.

My question is, is it possible to enroll without masters degree into PhD in Germany? I know that in US, UK Masters degree is not a pre-requisite for PhD. How about in Germany? Can't my research experience be accounted as qualification ?

  • Where did you get your bachelors? How many years was it? Did it include an honours year? In what circumstances did you conduct your research? – Dave Clarke Jan 22 '14 at 8:07
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    @DaveClarke In those german universities that I know, all these things are irrelevant. No masters -> cannot enroll into PhD programme. – xLeitix Jan 22 '14 at 11:27
  • @xLeitix: In (non-German) universities I've worked at, we consider whether one degree is equivalent to another. For instance, a British Honours degree can be considered equivalent to a masters. – Dave Clarke Jan 22 '14 at 12:37
  • @DaveClarke That's interesting! I have never heard about an honours degree being considered equivalent to a masters. – xLeitix Jan 22 '14 at 12:41
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    Most PhD's I know of ask for a Master's degree or equivalent research experience (What you hope for). There are also some PhD's that include an MPhil within their 'program'. That would require you to take some taught courses within this first year though. You should enquire at the specific University in Germany. – Amber Jan 22 '14 at 15:17
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Essentially, you cannot start a PhD program without a master's degree in Germany. Some programs feature a dual-degree option, whereby you're admitted to a master's program as well as a PhD program. US and UK programs do basically the same thing, which is why the master's degree is not a prerequisite—you earn it, or the equivalent, along the way to the PhD after the bachelor's.

However, in German universities, most PhD positions are actually government jobs in what is known as the TV-L system. More precisely, it's what's called a "TV-L E13." Now, one of the requirements of the TV-L E13 is a master's degree in the appropriate subject. There really isn't a way to waive this requirement.

What perhaps can be done is to ask if the group is willing to sponsor you as a "Wissentschaftliche Hilfskraft"—essentially, a part-time worker in the group—while you complete the master's program. (If they're eager enough to hire you with a bachelor's, then they should be willing to support you while you get the necessary training.)

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    The UK system is midway between the US and German systems. It's definitely easier to do an admission to a combined master's and PhD program in the UK than it is in Germany. – aeismail Jan 22 '14 at 12:45
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    This answer is wrong. It really depends on the University, the doctoral degree regulations of the faculty, etc. For example my faculty (Maths and Computer Science, FU Berlin) offers Bachelors to enter. They have to attend the first year Master lectures and pass an exam, however, they don't have to complete the Master and they also don't receive the degree. In turn they save 1 year. – barbaz Jan 22 '14 at 15:47
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    Actually, you're still supporting my argument. You are not allowed to start the PhD until you've completed the equivalent of the master's phase. Your program lets them skip the thesis phase. This is very much an exception, not the rule. (Hence the "essentially" at the beginning of the answer.) – aeismail Jan 22 '14 at 15:54
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    The master thesis phase is only 1 semester, i.e. you save another semester and most importantly you do not receive a degree as suggested by your post. The fast-track programs really don't make any sense if there isn't any difference compared to finishing a full Master, and thats exactly what the question was about. – barbaz Jan 22 '14 at 16:21
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    Master's programs are not always two years. Some are three semesters, so you don't have extra savings. But even then, the university has to certify to itself that you have the equivalent of the master's degree. That certification won't work anywhere else. – aeismail Jan 22 '14 at 16:37
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My question is, is it possible to enroll without masters degree into PhD in Germany? I know that in US, UK Masters degree is not a pre-requisite for PhD. How about in Germany?

In Germany, as well as many (most?) other places in central Europe, a Master's degree is a formal requirement for starting a PhD.

The reason for this is mostly historical: in Europe, we did not really have Bachelor's and Master's degrees until 2000 or shortly thereafter. Until then, a "Diploma" (sort of equivalent to master's degree, a bit of a mixture of MSc and MBA) was the first degree you could get from an university. Around 2000, the so-called Bologna process went into action, with the goal of homogenizing the way how higher eduction works across Europe, and the chosen target model was the traditional Bachelor / Master / PhD model of US universities. Of course, adopting this model in the somewhat different realities of european universities meant that what was really implemented in many places was sort of a half-hearted mixture of old and new system. For instance, in my country of origin (Austria), almost every study basically just took the their old "Diplomstudium" (old curriculum, where the equivalent of MSc was the first degree) and more or less randomly awarded a BSc after 3 years. Of course, at this point, the student did not have a completed education in any way - the curriculum was fully designed that students do another 2 years after master studies afterwards (and the majority of students does so). As a result, public opinion, for instance in industry, of people with "only" a bachelor are not very good -- in many ways, those are considered people who stopped their studies prematurely. In a similar vain, universities also require a "completed" undergrad study (which, in Austria, means doing the entire 5-year original master studies) before being allowed to enroll into a PhD programme.

Now, that being said, I find it more than just a bit awkward that your department in Germany did not clarify this in advance. This issue is not an unknown quantity in Germany -- everybody who hires even occasionally from outside of Europe should know about this and handle this issue in advance. I am afraid it will be a difficult problem to solve.

Can't my research experience be accounted as qualification ?

I highly doubt it. This is not just a small administrative hurdle -- in many places (I do not know about Germany, though), the requirement of a Master to get enrolled to a PhD programme is defined by national university law, so it is not a requirement that a university or professor can just waive for you.

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  • Which other countries apart from Germany require a Master for a Ph.D.? My impression is that there are not so many, but I don't know. – Zane Jan 23 '14 at 15:07
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    Certainly Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I think France, Spain and Italy as well. For other european countries, ymmw. However, it is certainly not uncommon in Europe. – xLeitix Jan 23 '14 at 18:37
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    Hmm after having though about this, I remember at least one person that got a German Ph.D. without a Diploma (no master at that time). I think it's really a faculty decision, and any exemption is possible. And I think this holds for every University. National University Law - do you have links? My professors would not care about such a thing. – Zane Jan 24 '14 at 17:07
  • I thought a Diploma in Austria used to take 4 years (8 semesters), so it was exactly halfway between what's now a Bachelor and what's now a Master. (Also, my impression is that in many programmes, they just pushed the old Diploma requirements into the Bachelor and added stuff for the Master.) – sgf Aug 1 '19 at 22:50
  • @sgf Programmes completing with a Magister typically were 4-year programmes, programmes completing with a Diplomingenieur typically were 5-year programmes. Some weird mixtures existed - like my program, which somehow was 4.5 years. At least for my program they definitely did not cram the entire 4.5 years into the bachelor (this would realistically not be feasible). – xLeitix Aug 2 '19 at 10:31
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I know of some cases when it is possible: e.g. when the university offers a so called fast-track PhD program. In this case you are required to have at least a B.Sc. in a related field. Then within the first year of this fast-track program you basically start working on your M.Sc., but you don't write M.Sc thesis. Instead of that when the first year is over, you keep working on your topic for the next couple of years and make a dissertation out of it.

Check out e.g. this page: http://www.gsn.uni-muenchen.de/studies/ft_program/index.html

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I see people claiming that Masters is an absolute requirement to start PhD in Germany. I am not an expert in the field but my supervisor in my university does not have a Masters, he has registered PhD studies immediately after the Bachelors. He is a German and was a student at the same uni. How he did it I don't know. What I know for sure is that such a case exists.

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  • Are you sure he did his PhD (and not just his Bachelors) at a German university? Or maybe he doesn't have a Masters but an old-fashioned diploma? (Not doubting you, just checking.) – Christian Clason Jun 22 '16 at 12:33
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    100%, he was student in the group seated opposite to ours so I would check their poster from time to time, and he did not have a Diplom Ing but a BSc, and graduated recently. Just to confirm I checked his online account now. It has 3 years of Bachelors, 1 year of undefined and then 3 years of PhD in Theoretical Computer Science – Kristof Tak Jun 22 '16 at 21:21
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I believe it is possible. I have no masters but I have Honours (not really known or recognised outside the Commonwealth) and 3 years work experience as a research assistant. I had no trouble enrolling in my PhD in the Netherlands. The actual university guidelines say that candidates must have a Masters unless they have been given a special exemption by the director of the institute. If you've been given an offer then it's likely an exemption will be made, unless the rules are more strict in Germany than in NL.

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Yes, the master's is typically a formal requirement for starting a PhD in Germany.

However, many universities reserve the right to deviate from the usual pathway in exceptional circumstances. There are students who have started a bachelor's without earning their Abitur first and students without a bachelor's who were admitted to master's programs because of their industry experience.

Since they have offered you admission in the program, they may consider you an exception. You shouldn't assume that they simply overlooked that you don't have a master's.

The exact rules differ by federal state (Bundesland) and university. So to answer your question, you have to read the university's policies closely and then contact their admission's office as well as your prospective supervisor.

EDIT: Universities' published policies can be out of date. What really matters is what the people say and write. When I applied for my master's the written policy also said that the bachelor's had to be a four-year program but everyone at the admission office was very clear that they had no such rule, at least not for European bachelors. And indeed, there was no extra paperwork at all.

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