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So from my previous questions and from what I heard, I found out (iirc) that people who apply for a PhD in the US make a personal statement or statement of purpose while those in the UK, and I infer most of Europe, make a PhD proposal.

From what I understand, this involves reading several textbooks or journals (IMHO, there's a lot more reading to be done if one is changing fields).

So, is that what students intending to study in Europe commonly do? How long does this take? I mean, should much of one's PhD proposal research have been done in masteral studies?

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    "and I infer most of Europe" - I doubt that inference is valid. From what I've seen with respect to unstructured doctoral candidacies in Germany, neither "statements of purpose" nor "PhD proposals" seem to stand at the beginning of becoming a doctoral candidate. – O. R. Mapper Jul 2 '15 at 22:29
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    You get in touch with the professor from a group some of whose members work on topics you are interested in. You then ask which projects/grants will soon provide open positions in that group, while also providing some very early and very vague ideas for extending upon existing research from the group, or providing new input for the upcoming projects (even though these ideas will likely be discarded, as they are usually unrealistic and/or not novel, given that in that stage, you hardly have a good overview of the existing related work - this is mostly to show you have the necessary fantasy ... – O. R. Mapper Jul 23 '15 at 6:50
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    ... and motivation to find possibly interesting things to look into yourself). Then, you write an application letter (highlighting your preferences and special skills, as for any job) and a short CV to the head of the group you talked to in order to formally apply for the job. Preferrably, most of this happens during the last few months of the Master thesis, or the first few months right after submitting the Master thesis. At least that's a common way to go for a CS PhD in Germany. – O. R. Mapper Jul 23 '15 at 6:53
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    "that sounds a lot like the US?" - which aspects in particular do you think are very similar (though note that this may rather belong into a new question)? In short, you write in your question that in the U.S., you have to write a statement of purpose, and the linked questions imply that it needs to be accompanied with recommendation letters, and that all of this needs to be submitted to an admission committee. What I described does not involve any letters of reference, the first contact with the group is often established informally (with the application being only a later step), ... – O. R. Mapper Jul 29 '15 at 19:48
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    ... the statement of purpose seems to be expected to fill 1.5 to 2 pages in the U.S., whereas the application I mentioned would rather involve a brief letter (not more than one page, including salutation and letter head etc.) (with the information on possible directions of research being discussed in personal meetings or per e-mail), and the application is not submitted to a committee, but directly to the head of the group you apply to, who will then decide on ... – O. R. Mapper Jul 29 '15 at 19:51
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+50

As far as I can tell there is no one single commonly accepted application process in Europe, despite what you might have read/heard/interpreted.

In my experience there are 3 ways to get enrolled in a PhD program in continental Europe:

  1. You find a job advert at a uni where they are looking for a candidate to carry out (parts of) a project. In this case you are practically applying for a pre-determined job, and they assess you based on your skills, education and personality (for group chemistry)

  2. You find a group you want to work for, based on your interests. You get in touch with a group leader/PI regarding your interest in doing graduate studies in that group/lab. If they have the money to recruit you and a project of common interest (a project that appeals to you and the direction that particular group is going with their research) you start there, often on a short term "trial period" initially (the actual/formal name of this period varies widely across the universities and countries)

  3. You get invited to do a project at a group, with people you know previously. This occurs often if you do your master thesis/diploma work at that group, or if you know one of the prof.s at the department.

Beyond that, the formalities of what you need to write/submit in your official application would be specific to each uni I would guess.

EDIT: I have to actually correct myself, I do know people that had to pitch project proposals for graduate studies, however it still fits more into Option #2 above, where they got in contact with a group that worked on the field of interest and given that there's money for recruitment they were asked to formulate a short project proposal.

These people were applying for PhD positions in more humanitarian sciences however, one was going for behavioural/organizational economics and the other was more towards sociology I think.

  • Seriously? I heard in the US you give some one or two page statement of purpose but in Europe you have to give like a 10-page proposal including abstract, background, methodology, expectations, bibliography, etc. You mean to say people just show up just after they finish a master's just like a job interview? I heard people even talk with faculty members by Skype about their proposal before they apply to the university itself. Thanks posdef Why are US PhDs different from European PhDs? – Jack Bauer Jul 30 '15 at 17:33
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    @JackBauer Nobody I know, in Sweden or otherwise, have done that 10-page proposal that you mention, AFAIK. It's however possible that the (prospective) PhD student gets involved in project proposal for applying to funds or ethical permits, although I have to say it's rather unlikely.. (PS: did you want me to comment on that other question, or?) – posdef Jul 30 '15 at 19:00
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    @JackBauer I have applied to many places all over Europe, and never had to write more than half a page on future research (mostly stating what have you done, and what are you interested in). It is true that some universities do use the same application system for PhD and postdoc/research/faculty positions (that do require extensive research proposals), but they usually note that for PhD that field is not required. – Davidmh Jul 30 '15 at 19:15
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    @Jack Your supervisor – Moritz Aug 1 '15 at 8:28
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    @JackBauer PI stands for "Principal Investigator" and is more or less synonymous with Group Leader. I am not sure what you want me to comment on the (numerous) links you have provided; the level subject expertise you are expected to have prior to and the amount of credits you are expected to take during PhD studies varies immensely, even on at a department level, let alone faculties, universities and countries. – posdef Aug 3 '15 at 9:48
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While your background (education, skills, experience) should fit for a PhD vacancy, it is generally not necessary to write your own PhD proposal.

Many (most) universities in Europe have a section on their website that lists open PhD vacancies (either on the top level of the university website, or at the individual institutes). It is best to find a vacancy that fits with your interests and background, and simply apply for it (by sending an application letter + CV).

There are some websites that list open PhD vacancies for multiple universities, e.g.

You can have a look there whether you find any position that suits you.

  • Seriously? I heard in the US you give some one or two page statement of purpose but in Europe you have to give like a 10-page proposal including abstract, background, methodology, expectations, bibliography, etc. You mean to say people just show up just after they finish a master's just like a job interview? I heard people even talk with faculty members by Skype about their proposal before they apply to the university itself. Thanks Danny Why are US PhDs different from European PhDs? – Jack Bauer Jul 30 '15 at 17:32
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Most of the people I know (in biotechnology, Austria) applied for a PhD position similar to a normal job offer. If they fit into the team, they are hired for 30h. It is on you to finish your PhD courses at university.

About 50 % of the PhD students in our university are hired by external companies which itself are spin-offs from different universities with the purpose of collaborating with company partners from industry.

About two third of the PhD students just inscribe at the desired university (which is free of charge and usually not a problem). The rest applies for a certain PhD program. Usually people start looking in their last year of the masters degree.

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