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I am currently a master student in physics in my last year and am thinking about doing my PhD in France. The application process seems to be quite different from my home country and I can't find any satisfying sources online. Do I first have to find a thesis before applying to the doctoral school and university? Furthermore, can I only apply to published thesis proposals on the websites of the lab or is it also common to just write the labs and/or researchers I would like to work with for possible open positions? I could also not find any details about what such an application should involve so I would be glad about any further information!

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  • See the answer for France at the link above.
    – Buffy
    Sep 4, 2023 at 17:24

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There are mostly two* kinds of fundings for (theoretical**) PhDs in France:

  • Contracts funded by a project: these are often thesis proposals with a predefined subject and advisor, and the funding is allocated by the project leader(s);
  • Contracts funded by an école doctorale (ED): there is a given number of contracts per year and per ED, and the funding is allocated by the ED board. To apply, you have to find an advisor and to fix a subject with them. The detailed procedure then depends on the ED. Notice that the ED tend to fund mostly local candidates, since they have a limited amount of contracts (and it is often way too few to provide a funding for all the local master students), but this is not a general rule and exceptions are common.

In any case, you should first get in touch with researchers you would like to work with. Looking for researchers that have money (i.e. recently got a research project accepted; in France they are mostly called "ANR" and "ERC" projects) might help to be funded.

You can also ask them to make an internship with them, if you have some time; it is easier for researchers to support the ED application of someone they know (and they usually don't support more than one student per year).


(*) In fact three, but let's forget about the ENS and Polytechnique fundings: if you're a student of these schools, you already know about them.

(**) Some private companies (or administrations) also hire PhD students, usually on more applied subjects. These are either "CIFRE" contracts or "contrats doctoraux de droit privé". Depending on your subfield, you may also find something interesting in this direction! Even for these contracts an academic co-advisor is required, and you get a "true" PhD in the end.

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  • For getting in touch with the researchers - does one already send some kind of application with records etc. or more like a preliminary email to tell them one is interested in working with them? Sep 4, 2023 at 17:28
  • I would say something in between, an informal email but with enough information on who you are. But this probably depends on the context. Sep 4, 2023 at 17:32

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