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I am a German PhD student in South America and am worried about whether my PhD title will be accepted in Germany (as Dr.) and internationally in general.

If you successfully complete a PhD in the EU, you are allowed to carry the title "Dr.", as any PhD in Germany does.

I am working in a faculty with a professor with international experience, who, for research reasons, left a reasonably strong department in Europe for the position in South America, which is incidentally one of the strongest two departments in South America.

I am attending international conferences every now and then, have two papers published in international journals (one jointly, one alone) and two more papers in preparation.

For all I know, I can reasonably expect that my research performance (and eventually, my PhD thesis) is not below the European standard.

The default format for PhDs from a non-EU country is something like "Hans Wurst (Doutorado, Universidade de Ipanema)", which looks like I should just use my self-confidence instead and not mention that I did a PhD unless someone asks.

I don't know if it's off-topic, because this might just be "too localized", but of course I am wondering if it is possible to have my PhD accredited to use my PhD title in Germany like any "normal" PhD.

I'm also wondering, whether the international community is as strict as German law, or whether I should just call myself "Hans Wurst, PhD" on job applications, my professional webpage, etc. (where the place will be listed somewhere), and hope nobody tells me it should be "Hans Wurst (Doutorado, Universidade de Ipanema)" instead.

Did I make a mistake in my career planning in that the only title that is worth carrying (until full tenure, I guess) I can't carry without a large number of not-so-fancy accessories?

  • It would be helpful if you check the possible accreditation of your title in Germany (I don't know local rules). Also, if you have a strong research and your professor is well connected internationally, you may able to set up a joint degree between your SAfrican university and an German one. it is not easy, and very much depends on your political skills. You may able to find a German university eager to build international programs willing to be partner in this. – Greg Aug 9 '14 at 15:51
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How your PhD is counted depends a lot on from which country you obtained it. Currently, degrees from Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, and most doctoral-granting American universities are recognized as fully equivalent to "Dr." Beyond that, however, the PhD is listed as a PhD, so long as it's been granted by an institution accredited to give out doctoral degrees. (It has to be legitimately "earned.") You just would not technically be allowed to call yourself "Herr Dr. Hans Wurst"; you'd be "Herr Hans Wurst, Ph.D." (or whatever the formal name of your degree is).

Unfortunately, the classification of the degree does matter in Germany. Someone who holds a Dr. rer. nat. (sciences), for instance, will have a harder time getting a position in an engineering faculty than someone who holds a Dr.-Ing. (engineering). PhD's may or may not count as being equivalent to either degree, unless the specific regulations of the universities allow for this. (This can make a difference in setting up thesis committees, depending upon the regulations of the faculty in question. Yes, it's really annoying, but that's the way the system is set up.)

Fortunately, as Nate says in his answer, the rest of the world is nowhere near as strict as German law (even the modified version now in effect).

Also, you can apply to the Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen (Central Authority for Foreign Education) for recognition of a foreign-obtained degree as equivalent to the corresponding German degree.

  • I said "South America" because Australia, Japan, Israel, Canada & the US are not in South America. My university gives out a "Doutorado", which translates to "Doktor". I guess that makes me "Herr Hans Wurst, Doutorado" nonetheless. – Martian Jan 30 '14 at 22:58
  • Thank you for the link. I had found this link before. The database already cites my university as being of the highest rank "H+"; in general, the "Doutorado" is also listed as being "equivalent to German PhD program" but also emphasizes that this doesn't imply the quality of the PhD is actually equivalent. In particular, it doesn't entail authorization to carry a title from this university. I wonder whether filing an accreditation process may just tell me what I already know: My "Doutorado" is equivalent to a German PhD, but as title I may only carry "Hans Wurst, Doutorado (Univ. de Ipanema)". – Martian Jan 30 '14 at 23:15
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    Whenever I read anything about the German academic system, I find myself happy to be in the US and not have these worries. In the US nobody really cares what title you use or even which university you got your PhD from. The strength of your research record is everything! (I almost never use the title "PhD" or "Dr" for anything.) – Lev Reyzin Jan 31 '14 at 3:00
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Did I make a mistake in my career planning in that the only title that is worth carrying (until full tenure, I guess) I can’t carry without a large number of not-so-fancy accessories?

No. You make the good old German mistake of thinking that ‘carrying’ the title has any relevance whatsoever. You will have the equivalent of a doctoral degree from a respectable university (presumably) backed with a reasonable publication record. This is what’s going to matter. Whether it will be called a doctorate or a PhD does not matter to any employer (that you would actually want to work for). Also, for practical purposes, the people that care about such things will be calling you Dr. Hans Wurst anyway, even if you technically have a slightly different title. It’s close enough.

The default format for PhDs from a non-EU country is something like “Hans Wurst (Doutorado, Universidade de Ipanema)”, which looks like I should just use my self-confidence instead and not mention that I did a PhD unless someone asks.

I don’t quite understand. You don’t want to mention your PhD because of ... what exactly?

I’m also wondering whether the international community is as strict as German law, or whether I should just call myself “Hans Wurst, PhD” on job applications, my professional webpage, etc. (where the place will be listed somewhere), and hope nobody tells me it should be “Hans Wurst (Doutorado, Universidade de Ipanema)” instead.

Practically, on anything but the most formal documents, I have seen people in similar situations call themselves anything out of: Dr. Hans Wurst; Hans Wurst, PhD; or Hans Wurst, PhD (Universidade de Ipanema). All of those mean essentially the same thing to the pragmatic observer.

Clarifications

First off, I am not German myself, but Austrian with strong ties to Germany (and Austria is the place that Germans make fun of because we are presumably so fond of our academic titles), so I do think I am able to comment on this issue.

Second, I think it is required to distinguish a few things which are somewhat mangled up in my above response as well as the questions:

Will the OP formally be allowed to carry the title Dr. Hans Wurst?

No, not without going through nostrification, as indicated in other answers.

Will people informally still refer to him as they would to the holder of a European PhD? (e.g., put a Dr. Hans Wurst on his door in the office?). Basically, would people in their day-to-day life consider the difference to be a technicality?

Yes, I am convinced that would be the case in most places. If non-EU people were treated as “not really doctors at all”, we would not have any foreign faculty or postdocs. In Vienna, while I did my postdoc there, we had people who had received PhDs from Austria, Germany, the US, and China, and they all were uniformly referred to as “Drs.” by peers and university administration alike. It may not be formally correct, but people are also not stupid (in general).

Will it make a difference in his professional life?

Assuming the university is indeed excellent (I have personally never heard of it, but my knowledge of African universities is very limited), it should really not make a difference. I guess the main problem is that if the university is not very well-known, a hiring committee might not go through the trouble of actually finding out whether or not the university is good. However, at least in academic posts, I would not assume that the OP will have any disadvantage in comparison to a holder of a German PhD. International experience is usually considered a big plus. The examples provided by aeismail and Nate Eldredge are completely opposed to every personal experience I’ve ever had.

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    xLeitix, are you actually German? I'm not either, but my understanding is they do take the use of the Dr. title extremely seriously; its misuse is actually a criminal offense. Here is a case where an American PhD was investigated by the police for using the title improperly. They have since amended the rules to allow the title to be used by holders of a PhD from a US research university (can't find a link right now, sorry), but as to South America I do not know. – Nate Eldredge Jan 30 '14 at 22:36
  • That's not to say I think it will make a difference to @Martian's career, but it could affect you on the level of etiquette / proper usage. – Nate Eldredge Jan 30 '14 at 22:37
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    @Martian I also hold a Doctorate in Austria since a little more than 2 years now, and I also had it been added to all my official documents etc. (mostly because my parents insisted on it :) ), and I can safely say that my non-professional life has not changed in any recognizable way since then. The times where being Dr. XY has brought you instant respect and better treatment by anybody are, for the largest part, gone. – xLeitix Jan 31 '14 at 6:30
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    @NateEldredge: to put the criminal offense in context: it is the same criminal offense as pretending any other professional grade. I.e. the same as pretending to be a tax advisor or accredited accountant without having the accreditation or claiming to be a pharmacist without having the grade, etc. – cbeleites Jan 31 '14 at 9:05
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    How did this become a discussion about "african universities"? The OP says they are in South America, and Ipanema is in Brazil. – O. R. Mapper Jun 1 '14 at 21:56
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To address your last question: the international community is not as strict as Germany. Here in the US, there are no formal regulations on the use of the title. If you hold an earned doctorate from a reasonable university somewhere in the world, nobody is going to complain about your use of "Dr." or "Ph.D." or both. Even holders of honorary doctorates, or those from non-accredited universities, usually get away with it. On the other hand, we typically don't use those titles as universally as Germans do.

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