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I am a native of a South East Asian Country (3rd World) and completed my masters in mathematics in May 2021. I am looking to apply to some German Universities for PhD Program for session of 2022.

So, I am thinking of writing to those professors whose interests align with mine asking for funded PhD positions.

I want to know that which month of the session is the right time to send an email to professors in Germany. I want to work with as a PhD student for funded positions.

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    This is not an answer to your question, but it might be useful information anyway: Your chances of landing a PhD position in Germany might increase if you consider applying for a DAAD scholarship to fund your PhD studies ("DAAD" is an acronym for "Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst", in English: "German Academic Exchange Service"; link to their webpage). This might be interesting for potential advisors, too, since a DAAD scholarship for you means that the funding does not need to be taken from their regular positions nor from one of their grants. Aug 9, 2021 at 15:22

7 Answers 7

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  • The majority of funding for PhD students is coming from third-party funds (or from the states), for which there is no hiring season. The exceptions are graduate school scholarships, which are very rare.
  • You write that you want to write directly to professors whose interests align with yours. You can do that, but you have to stand out from the crowd here. Professors get tons of badly formatted e-mails asking for PhD scholarships because their interest supposedly aligns with the one of the professor. The majority of these e-mails do not state what this interest would be, however. They are deleted in 3-5 seconds (rough estimate). So if you write an e-mail without prior personal contact, do this well to ensure that you are not seen as belonging to this group:
    • Use a proper sender e-mail address. Don't send the mail from luckygeese123@vip.163.com, but rather from firstname.lastname.14@gmail.com, or even better, using your current university of alumni e-mail address.
    • Use your full name as sender's name.
    • Sign your mail with the same name as your sender name.
    • Start the mail properly. E.g., "Dear Professor XYZ,"
    • Should you use HTML e-mails, make sure that they do not look like copied and pasted together. Uniform font and uniform font size are a must. No color. Allowed are itemizations, enumerations, bold, italic. No other formatting elements.
    • Write early in the mail (first three sentences) what the area of interest is that you have in common with the professor. Be as precise as possible, but choose topics in which the professor has at least two publications. This shows that you actually had a close look, which puts you ahead of 99% of the crowd. This will make the professor have a closer look at your "case" if they happen to have some funding. Also mention in your first three sentences what your existing expertise in the area is. Did you do research in it already? Did you write a thesis on it or a closely related topic? You want to demonstrate that you are a low-risk candidate.
    • If you happen to be in Germany already, you want to demonstrate that you know already how doing a PhD in Germany works. The fact that you talked about "session of 2022" shows that you don't, however. So look it up!
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    While all of this is answer is true @YannicMuller, a word of warning is still in order - your chances of actually getting a positive reply to a cold email application, are very slim. So, if you want to apply this way do it like DCTLib says, but be prepared for a negative response (or no response).
    – xLeitix
    Aug 8, 2021 at 7:48
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    @YannicMuller This answer is already the best advice. You might get a positive response if you follow this advice. There is no way to guarantee a positive response.
    – JenB
    Aug 8, 2021 at 13:01
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    It probably depends on the field, but in my personal environment, chances would be quite a bit higher if you apply for PhD positions that are actually advertised. I don't know many (any?) professors who have spare money waiting for the perfect applicant to cold contact them... Actually, in many cases, it is illegal to hire someone without first making an official job advertisement. I'm not sure I know anyone who got hired based on a cold contact email.
    – jhin
    Aug 8, 2021 at 13:41
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    @jhin It is not so uncommon people get hired on a cold contact email, if they are a good fit and there is some kind of link to the PI (in the sense that the PI can meaningfully judge their abilities). The job advertisement can always be made afterwards.
    – user151413
    Aug 8, 2021 at 23:11
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    @jhin There are many other states. Examples are: (a) nobody had the time to make a formal advertisement yet, (b) administrative details still have to be resolved before a formal advertisement can be made (c) there is a grant coming with 99% probability, but before the funding letter has arrived, no formal advertisement is possible, (d) the last ad led to 0 suitable candidates while a lot of work was wasted on the search process, so a formal advertisement will only be made after a good candidate is available. Formal advertisements are BTW not always necessary for third-party funded positions.
    – DCTLib
    Aug 9, 2021 at 8:00
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In Germany, PhD students generally do not have any course requirements (which typically would lead to a standardized starting month). Funding is usually via regular staff positions (which heavily involve teaching), or on grants. The former will be filled again when their previous holder leaves, and the latter whenever available.

As such, there is no clear "PhD application season" in Germany.

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    ... and both are usually filled through a regular process after advertising the position, not when the professor gets a cold-contact email application.
    – jhin
    Aug 8, 2021 at 15:21
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    @jhin What do you consider a "regular" process of advertisement? (I disagree.)
    – user151413
    Aug 8, 2021 at 23:12
  • @user151413 I mean an official advertisement on job sites, the university page, etc. - aren't universities actually required to do this?
    – jhin
    Aug 9, 2021 at 7:40
  • @jhin: I'm a bit surprised by the various claims here that all positions in Germany were required to be officially advertised. Do you have a reference to a law (say, in any federal state) where this is stated? In pure maths, I've seen many people getting non-permanent "Landesstellen" (as PhD students or Postdocs) that were never officially advertised. I've also seen grant applications which named a concrete candidate for a position that should be funded by the grant. Aug 9, 2021 at 15:07
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    @BCLC No. For example, in the UK a lot of PhD funding is done via CDTs; and most of those will start in October. I'd expect that CDT application deadlines will peak around Spring.
    – Arno
    Aug 9, 2021 at 22:26
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tl;dr: The right time is now.

It doesn't matter what the current point in the recruitment cycle is. It is never too early to write, introduce yourself, express interest, discuss a potential visit, possibly be put in touch with other Ph.D. candidates in the group etc.

It may be the case that the official time to apply is still far away, but you will be making a professional contact; getting potential useful advice; and maybe find opportunity to collaborate and increase your chances of being of interest to the group. Plus, if you are asked to visit - you will get to know an additional academic environment up close.

At worst, the Professor might tell you to remind them in a few months.

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Actually, I think that if you write emails like "I am X, have a master from Y and my interests are in Z" where Z are also interests of the recipient, the chances are low that you get a meaningful answer.

The university you graduated from is probably unknown to the recipient, and therefore you need to show that you are really able to do research in Z. If you published a paper or have a master thesis online, I would link to it.

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In general, I think you are much less likely to get a response to a cold email like this, than applying to an advertised PhD program. (When I received emails like this as a postdoc -- which immediately was a red flag since I didn't have any hiring powers -- if I didn't delete them my response would be a link to the institute's website). The advertisements should be posted on the website of the University or institute you are applying to. There is very likely also a "job board" section of a journal or institution in your field that lists these types of ads.

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Most PhD positions in Germany are regular (fixed-term) employment positions, and they are offered whenever a vacancy arises, i.e. there is no recurring deadline. Since those positions are often (sometimes must be) advertised, you should monitor relevant job bulletins. I'm not a mathematician, but I imagine the German Mathematical Society or similar groups have a newsletter or liststerv over which job postings are distributed, for example.

Some PhD positions in Germany are funded by stipends, in particular those at graduate schools (less common than in the US), but there are also other foundations that may offer stipends for PhD students. In both cases, positions are offered periodically, namely twice per year (once per semester), mostly in spring and fall. For example, the BIGS graduate school invites applications until 30 November and 30 April each year.

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  • "those positions must be advertise": May I ask for a reference for this claim? The second paragraph of this article in the German Wikipedia claims the contrary. I also made the experience (in pure maths) that many non-permanent positions are never advertised. Aug 9, 2021 at 15:12
  • @Jochen Glueck personal experience, but I recognize that wikipedia says the contrary.
    – henning
    Aug 9, 2021 at 15:55
  • can this be generalised to european?
    – BCLC
    Aug 9, 2021 at 22:20
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    @BCLC it also applies to Austria, more I can't say with confidence. But you could post another question.
    – henning
    Aug 10, 2021 at 4:56
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As many people already said, you are more likely to get a response if you actually apply to an offered position. Nevertheless I can confirm that that PhD students are not only hired on offered positions, but also in response to cold emails or just "being around" and fitting into the group while showing good work. So in any case you want to show the professors what you have already achieved. Note that the results of your work (e.g. master thesis) are not as important as how you presented it and how it was conducted. To explain this further, in my thesis I was working on an open question and could not present meaningful results, while I was able to come up with good theoretical explanations for it.

In addition it is highly important that you do not only write to the best renowned institutions, as they usually have many more applicants (per position) than the smaller ones. Also: stay strong and do not let yourself go because of some negative or missing replies. Usually you will get a lot of those, especially when applying via cold emails without apparent positions.

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