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I am a computer science student and am currently doing my Master Thesis in Germany. I am in the second month of the six month duration for the Master Thesis. I wish to pursue a PhD after Masters and I was wondering when the right time is to start applying for PhD positions. I found a few positions that start in September 2015 but I would be done with the Masters only at the end of November. Is it alright to start applying for a position from now itself or should I wait for a few months?

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    Where do you apply in Germany? Graduate School or PhD Researcher position (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter)?I don't think your application will be successful for the former before you have graduated. In the latter case, it may depend on whether you know the prof. If they know you and believe you are a good fit for the position, then they might keep the position vacant for two or three months. – henning Jul 7 '15 at 8:09
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    Also, don't you want to take a couple of weeks off after graduation? ;) – henning Jul 7 '15 at 8:12
  • I intend to apply at universities such as TUM, RWTH Aachen or at institutes such as MPI, DLR etc. There are a few openings at these places that start in October which are interesting and on the similar lines of my Master Thesis and I am worried that I am missing out on such positions. What is the usual time (in advance) when one applies to universities or institutes. Do all the potential candidates apply only after graduating? @henning – smyslov Jul 7 '15 at 8:17
  • I can't give a definitive answer for computer science (political scientist here), but every call for application that I know requires that the applicant has graduated. Only for postdoc positions, being close to graduation (i.e. dissertation is written but not yet defended/published) is sometimes enough. If you don't already have suction with your future boss, I am sure your chances are slim. The first things they will be looking for are your master certificate and letters of recommendation (LoR). You probably can't get a good LoR from your advisor before she has read you thesis. – henning Jul 7 '15 at 8:33
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I'd recommend that you start applying a few months before you graduate. The process may easily take several months, and if you want a direct transition, you need to find something before you actually graduate.

In most cases, it will be possible to delay the start of a position by a few months. So by all means, if you find an interesting position that starts a bit before you expect to graduate, you should still apply. Just state the date of you expected graduation (month/year is fine) with your application.

Note that many potential employers, especially if they don't know you from earlier activities, will want to see results of academic work such as a Masters thesis (or at least a draft for it) or other academic texts. If you can't show anything in that direction, it would be good to first focus on positions where you know the professor.

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The best time to apply depends on the funding type of your Ph.D. position and on whether the start time is fixed. There are generally two funding types, namely, research assistants (wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) and scholarship based funding.

For research assistants, a master degree certificate is a legal prerequisite to get employed and if the supervisor doesn't know you personally then he probably won't consider your application until a semi-final draft of your thesis is already done. Supervisors can delay the start of their project only if they find an excellent match.

As for scholarship-based positions, you can apply a bit earlier depending on the application deadline. You may even start conditionally without having your master degree certificate issued yet which gives you extra flexibility. Note that issuing the master certificate may take a few months after defending the thesis.

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