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
    Apr 28 at 19:47

1 Answer 1


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.

  • 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 Sep 26 at 10:16

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