I'm currently working on my master's thesis in theoretical and mathematical physics, and I recently spoke with my former post-doc supervisor from my bachelor's thesis. They mentioned that getting a PhD position is relatively easy in Germany, as PhD students are often considered cheap labor. They suggested that if I market myself correctly, it shouldn't be a problem to continue working with the same research group.

I'm curious to know if this is generally the case. Can anyone share their experiences with transitioning from a master's program to a PhD program, particularly in the field of theoretical and mathematical physics? Are there any specific strategies or advice for marketing oneself to potential PhD supervisors or research groups?

  • One factor is that in Germany PhD students (at universities) are usually employees with teaching load or attached to a specific project with the hope of the work aligning with the goal of a dissertation. Therefore you certainly can end up as cheap labor for a professor, while doing thesis work in your free time.
    – tistorm
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 19:47
  • I disagree with what that postdoc told you. Securing a PhD position is not easy anywhere in the world, including Germany, especially in theoretical and mathematical physics. In order to reach out to professors or group leaders in your areas of research, you can send them brief emails giving a brief summary of your research background and interests. You can also provide a link to your Master's thesis and/or research publications. Express your interest in working with them. And you can offer to give a talk based on your research. Good luck!
    – vyali
    Commented Jan 26 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


Since you asked for experiences, I'll share my observations:

They mentioned that getting a PhD position is relatively easy in Germany, as PhD students are often considered cheap labor.

This depends strongly on your subfield, as the amount of PhD positions also depends on the funding available to supervisors. I know people who struggled to find a place since they were determined to specifically pursue a niche theoretical topic in basic research, while others, who were either more flexible or in a "trendier" field, had a much easier time.

That being said, a good PhD student is cheap labor. This can create a win-win situation: it's in the supervisor's interest to find good students for their group (or their friends/collaborators groups) and in the student's interest to get a PhD position. I would say that it's not uncommon for supervisors to intentionally try to cultivate some masters students for their upcoming PhD vacancies, and/or introduce them to other supervisors in the field if they don't have the funding to support them. Some supervisors have a reputation for doing this more than others; in my experience, they see it as a form of mentorship.

I wouldn't be so cynical as to say that this would require any specific marketing. Treat your master thesis work like a part-time version of the job you want to have: be professional, put in a solid effort and show enthusiasm for your chosen field. Tell your supervisor early on that you're considering doing a PhD, and opt in to related opportunities (like giving a poster presentation). Talk to the other group members: both to find out what working there is really like, and to show that you're academically sociable and can take the initiative in talking about your work with others.

If your experience is anything like the ones I'm familiar with, if the master project is going well and your supervisor has funding, you can expect a few unsubtle hints. Otherwise, a lot of supervisors will want to discuss "the future" with you once you're nearing graduation. If they don't bring it up independently, you can just ask them for a meeting. In either case, tell your supervisor explicitly that you want to do a PhD and ask for their help in finding a position.

tl;dr Yes, these groups often "promote from within" but don't overthink it, just focus on doing good work.


I would rather write this post of mine in the comments, but I can't because I don't have the required reputation for it. So I elaborate my statement further, trying to answer your question.

I think that the question should say whether it is easier than in some specific other country. It may come easy to some, but not to others. In the Czech Republic, it is also said that teachers like Ph.D. students, because they are a cheap workforce, but above all, this may not be the reason that applicants have an easier time. In Germany, as in the Czech Republic, it is the ratio of accepted and registered doctoral students for a certain field or for a certain supervisor. Mostly, workplaces or individual academics set quotas for themselves and rarely exceed them.

After researching the German system for Ph.D. students, I found out that in Germany a Ph.D. student often reports to a supervisor who has a project. In other words, the supervisor must secure funding for the doctoral student. If I compare it with the Czech Republic, where the funding of doctoral students is not addressed, or the doctoral student receives a prescribed amount to which the workplace is contributed by the state, but which is often insufficient and the doctoral student would need additional funding, then I would say that it is not easier in Germany. Because that principle suggests that better students are selected for funded projects.

However, as I indicated above, it really comes down to what the quota is and how many students apply for the Ph.D. This does not mean that the quotas have to be met if the quality of the applicants is poor, or that they cannot be slightly exceeded, but they will be approximately respected due to other reasons. Sometimes individual schools publish the statistics of those who applied and were accepted. If not, you can try to ask for it at the study department (or another similar workplace), or find a doctoral group on the Internet and ask them to get at least some information.

Finally, I should state that you can always increase your chances by doing better than average during your master's studies. If you will have activities related to research beyond the scope of your studies, you will be asked to rework your master's thesis into a paper, etc., your chances for admission to Ph.D. studies increase.

  • 3
    Having completed a PhD in Germany recently and having bounced around a few institutions in the progress, I’d like to give my two cents that PhD programs here are really not as selective as you make them out to be. Quite often, there’s not enough interest in the positions being offered that the criteria for picking a PhD student is “a sufficiently motivated bachelors or masters student asked me for a project”, so supervisors are often overjoyed if a productive masters student wants to continue in their group Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 10:16

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