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About a month ago I applied for a PhD position in Germany under a research training group funded by the German Research Council. There are 12 open positions for this program. Before I applied I was told that promising candidates will be contacted in July. Then I heard that the department received nearly 200 applications for 12 open positions. I was a little disheartened but I thought I would wait July out before giving up hope.

But then I found out today that the department reposted the job ad to advertise the same position, with a new deadline! I haven't heard back from them about my application, so I don't even know if I'm allowed to reapply, or if I have been effectively rejected and probably should move on.

I guess my question is: is it usual not to find any suitable candidates from such a large pool, or is the admissions panel just being too picky?

EDIT 1 (23/7): The program is interdisciplinary, they're looking for a wide range of backgrounds within two main disciplines (one of them I have 3 degrees in and the other I have explicitly expressed my keen interest). Because of that the program will also have a series of lectures and seminars to introduce students from one discipline to the theories and methods of the other. They're even allowing them to join master level courses! So it doesn't seem like they're looking for the perfect fit necessarily.

EDIT 2 (23/7): They did have a terrible application portal when I first applied. So maybe the first round of applications was so disorganized they want everyone to apply again. But I didn't get an email encouraging me to reapply

UPDATE (23/7): I was told that my application is still under review, and I don't need to reapply. Yay!

UPDATE (17/11): Just wanted to edit this post to say that I did end up getting that PhD. Thank you everyone for keeping my anxiety at bay!

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    Have you considered that they may be late in making a decision and are extending the deadline to continue collecting candidates? – Canadian Coder Jul 22 '15 at 20:41
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    Perhaps, although with 200~ applicants I would think they'd at least find a handful they're interested in and they don't need any more applications to read through. – iamnarra Jul 22 '15 at 21:08
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    I have made a new title suggestion in response to the close votes. If you disagree, you can rollback to your version. – Cape Code Jul 23 '15 at 6:42
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    Also consider that affirmative actions (positive Diskriminierung als politische Maßnahme) can take influence here also. Some public German authorities are forced to reach a target percentage of women, handicapped persons or people with a migration background.Maybe in the first application round there were too many white/male/straight/Christian/German natives and they re-opened the deadline in hope of a more diverse applicant pool. – André Kleinschmidt Jul 23 '15 at 7:55
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    Thanks @André Kleinschmidt, that is also a possibility. They did mention that affirmative action rule in the job ad. Funnily enough I am a non-German female from a non-Western country...I'm still waiting to hear what happened to my first application before reapplying. – iamnarra Jul 23 '15 at 8:04
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I guess my question is: is it usual not to find any suitable candidates from such a large pool, or is the admissions panel just being too picky?

As somebody who recently did not hire a single candidate from a pool of about 100 applicants, I can say that it is indeed possible that they just did not find enough good people.

We were looking for a PhD student in computer science, with a focus on software and cloud engineering. We put out announcements to a few of the widely-distributed mailing lists in the field. Here's roughly what happened:

  • A few candidates had completely inappropriate backgrounds. E.g., one applicant had a master in biology.
  • About 30% to 40% of the applicants were computer scientists, but with a completely different specialisation in their undergrad and master. For instance, many students applied who used to work on theory, AI or Machine Learning. We are not interested in such backgrounds.
  • Easily more than 50% of the applicants, based on their application material, did not have a sufficient command of the English language.
  • More than half of the applicants came from Asian universities where we did not know the university nor the professors writing the letters. All of them had reasonable grades and positive but very generic letters. Most had done internships at companies we have never heard of. As we had no way to distinguish the good from the bad students with those (to us) seemingly identical application materials, we deemed the risk too high.
  • About 25% of the applicants had, or pretended to have, multiple papers in predatory open access journals. The few times I actually looked up these papers, I was either unable to find them, or they were obviously of very low quality.
  • The vast majority of applications were supremely generic, and obviously sent in identical form to any PhD student posting in a Western university.

At the end of the day, we found 3 or 4 candidates that we were genuinely interested in, and after Skype interviews etc. it just did not work out with any of them.

  • Thanks @xLeitix! This really put things in perspective! The thing is, the program is interdisciplinary, they're looking for a wide range of backgrounds within two main disciplines (one of them I have 3 degrees in and the other I have explicitly expressed my keen interest). Because of that the program will also have a series of lectures and seminars to introduce students from one discipline to the theories and methods of the other. They're even allowing them to join master level courses! So it doesn't seem like they're looking for the perfect fit, and I thought I'd shown some potential. – iamnarra Jul 23 '15 at 4:30
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    @iamnarra My impression is that in a highly interdisciplinary program, you need to be even more selective in terms of backgrounds. You don't want people with backgrounds in A or B, but rather with A and at least a little bit of B, or vice versa. – xLeitix Jul 23 '15 at 7:10
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    In the Netherlands jobless people are also obliged to apply for jobs in order to receive their benefits, and I think Germany is the same. And there are way more jobless people than vacancies. It's not unusual that over 50% of the applications are from people who have no chance whatsoever (cleaner without any schooling applying as academic software developer) and are obviously just sending the same letter to all job openings they see. – RemcoGerlich Jul 23 '15 at 7:29
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    @RemcoGerlich I don't think that is a big factor in PhD student applications. – xLeitix Jul 23 '15 at 7:43
  • @xLeitix fair enough. It's just disappointing because I put in so much effort in explaining in my statements how I have the skills and research/work experience (albeit tangential) to succeed in Field B. – iamnarra Jul 23 '15 at 7:52
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This answer may or may not apply to German universities and this funding source. In the USA, sometimes a firm or university will "hit the reset" button on a personnel search or other solicitation, purely for internal reasons. Maybe someone higher up on the organization objected to their process or criteria and they had to restart the process. Maybe there were internal organization changes about who is or is not involved in the interview/decision process. Maybe the final decision-maker(s) changed. Maybe it has to do with some quirk or change in accounting (e.g. which budget year applies). And so on...

If I were you, I would resubmit your application unless you have been explicitly rejected. The only downside is that they could say "no" (again).

  • Thanks @MrMeritology! They did have a terrible application portal when I first applied (they got each document as a separate email) and now they've installed a new one. So maybe the first round of applications was so disorganized they want everyone to apply again. But I didn't get an email encouraging me to reapply... – iamnarra Jul 23 '15 at 4:34
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    @iamnarra Yes, if their original portal screwed things up for some percentage of applicants, it would make sense for them to restart the process. Never underestimate the capacity of any administrative process to screw things up for any reason or no reason. Treat absence of information as NO information. – MrMeritology Jul 23 '15 at 4:44

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