I am looking for a Ph.D. in a German-speaking country in Europe. I am looking at some possible institutes for applying on Ph.D. program. Some offer "individual" and some "structured" doctoral programs, and some offer both.

My situation is that I do not come from academic environment, which means that I don't have contact with any potential supervisor. I guess that if you go directly from Master to Phd (in academic environment), you should have thesis subject, which means you apply for Individual doctorate. Instead, I am coming from industrial environment, and I don't have yet thesis subject. I completed my Masters 2 years ago, and left academic circles.

My question is: why choose one of "structured" or "individual" over the other? I believe that structured is "easier" if you don't have potential supervisor or thesis subject, but I would appreciate guidance from those who know this system better.

  • 1
    I agree with @jakebeal. I didn't downvote, but I'd guess the downvotes are because the question is difficult to understand. I can guess what individual vs. structured might mean (I'm thinking of a German-style Ph.D. vs. an American-style Ph.D.), but I might be wrong and in any case I'm puzzled as to what it would mean for the same institute to offer both. I doubt you'll get any useful answers without clarifying. Dec 17, 2014 at 19:12
  • Thank you for the clarification; I have edited the question further to try to reorganize it for best chance of good answers, and nominated it to be reopened. Please feel free to re-edit if you feel that I have not preserved the sense of your question in any particular.
    – jakebeal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 11:02
  • to be honest, I also have the same problem in understanding the different between those two type of PhD at Germany. Is it 'Structured Phd' means that students need to go to class@lecture, and complete all the assessments, and finally do the dissertation..like Master by Coursework?? Plz help me to clear out this thing.TQ
    – user37918
    Jul 31, 2015 at 17:33

1 Answer 1


I think there are some basic misunderstandings here to clear up.

  • You do not necessarily have to have a pre-conceived thesis topic to do a PhD with an individual faculty member at an academic institution in Germany, particularly if you're in the sciences or engineering. This can actually be counterproductive, since usually the faculty member will have funding for a student to work on project X. If you're not interested in working on project X, you're not going to be a good fit for the project, whether or not you had a topic in advance or not.

  • Having a pre-existing relationship with a potential advisor is useful, but not necessary for a project. Often times, they will be looking for the best individual candidate if no "internal" candidate is available.

The primary difference between "structured" and "individual" programs is that the structured programs tend to be a cluster of related PhD projects with a similar infrastructure holding things together, and potentially a different funding mechanism than traditional individual projects. There may also be some differences in the required duties outside of research (for example, there may be reduced teaching requirements, or even none at all). However, in terms of the long-range benefits, there is essentially no difference, except for listing a special program in addition to the faculty where your PhD was awarded. From a functional standpoint, the degree you'll get will be essentially identical.

  • So, what would be correct / optimal path to apply for Individual PhD? Find position and then apply?
    – user24258
    Dec 21, 2014 at 9:01
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    @user24258: Basically, yes.
    – aeismail
    Dec 21, 2014 at 12:57
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    @user24258 You can often find open positions on academic-oriented job sites like jobvector or on the individual institution's page. However not all positions are advertised. If you find a researcher you'd really like to work with, it's worth contacting them even if they don't have an open position on their site. Dec 22, 2014 at 8:19

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