all. I am currently studying Electrical engineering in master course at one of good German universities. I would like to study in the US for my PhD course, but have some questions about the application.

  1. Unlike other countries' master courses, in Germany, the master course is just a full of course work(approximately 60 CP course work, 30 for Internship, 30 for Thesis). In this system, it is hard, almost impossible, to write a thesis or have a research records before PhD application period. Isn't it negatively evaluated by US universities?

  2. As known, PhD in US universities doesn't require MSc degree, and takes 5 years in average. If I enter into one of universities with MSc degree, is the period of the PhD course shortened to 3 years?

Thank you for your advice in advance.

  • This is not quite an answer: Not having finished the thesis before applying for a PhD is very common in the US. My confidence in this statement is not answer-quality, however. So you should probably still apply. This "30 points for internship" is not universal for Master studies in Germany, by the way - it only applies to a few courses. As far as (2) is concerned: all the Germans I know who did a PhD in the US still had to do the 5 years - which makes sense. In the US, you slowly get acoustomed to research, which is an important part of the PhD studies.
    – DCTLib
    Sep 24, 2015 at 19:26
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    I am a bit confused about your statements "30 for Thesis (...) it is hard, almost impossible, to write a thesis", combined with my knowledge that Master students (and Bachelor students, too!) invariably have to write a thesis before graduating at least at some German universities. Sep 24, 2015 at 19:32
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    @O.R.Mapper The OP means that when the application for PhD studies is due, work on the thesis has typically not even started, so there is nothing about the thesis that can be included in the application (e.g., a summary of the thesis or a letter of recommendation by the thesis advisor).
    – DCTLib
    Sep 24, 2015 at 19:52
  • @DCTLib: Oh, I see. That Is a valid interpretation. I did not consider that applications for PhD studies could start that early. Sep 24, 2015 at 20:17
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    Please, if you're interested in studying in the US, spend some good time and effort working on your English. Your question was painful to read. Embarking on studies in the US with your present level of effectiveness in communicating would be painful for you. Sep 26, 2015 at 5:04

2 Answers 2

  1. In a typical US MS program the research component (MS thesis) represents only a small portion of the formal degree program. For example, 6 credit hours of thesis in a 30 credit hour MS program is quite common. In practice, it's not unusual for a student to spend more than 20% of their time and effort on the thesis. This seems to be similar to what you're describing in Germany. It's certainly true that most MS students who are applying for PhD programs haven't yet finished their MS thesis. However, it is helpful to have some partial results and evidence of this such as a conference poster presentation or even a submitted paper.

  2. US PhD programs usually have required course work in addition to the dissertation. On average it takes students five years or more to finish PhD degrees in the physical sciences, but there typically isn't an explicit time limit for the degree program- you're finished when you've completed the requirements, however long that takes.

Students who come in with an MS degree may be excused from some of the course work, but this will depend very much on the details of the students MS course work. Don't be surprised if you're required to take a number of courses in subjects that you've already studied. Over all you might be able to cut a year off of your time in the PhD program by having a previous MS degree, but don't expect that your two years of MS study will cut the duration of your PhD program by two years.

Completing a PhD in the US often takes longer than 5 years. A study conducted by the NSF (using data up to 2003, so a bit out of date now) showed that the average time to degree (counting only time registered as a student) after the bachelors degree was more like 7 years, with some variation between disciplines.


Q. How many PhD students does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. One, but it takes him nine years.

Seriously, in general it is very hard to predict, before starting, how long it will take to complete a PhD. First, you have to take some foundation courses and pass some qualifying exams. Then, you have to choose a topic and learn lots of stuff relevant to that. Then, you have to be creative. Somewhere in that "creative" step, you might be lucky or unlucky (examples of bad luck: someone publishes your result right when you were about to; you do a series of experiments that you thought would show something useful, but for a myriad of possible reasons, they don't; your advisor dies; etc. etc.). Once you've got some worthwhile results, you still have to write them up.

So, I would advise you to just chug away, without setting yourself a specific timeframe.

Having said all that -- having the Masters under your belt will stand you in good stead. And the students I've seen coming to the U.S. from the German system seem to be very well prepared, and my impression (although I haven't done any formal counts) is that they tend to finish somewhat faster than average.

Tip: In English, you don't do this thing that you do in German with the first letter of the first sentence of a letter. In English, you always use a capital letter for the first letter of a sentence, regardless of whether it's the first paragraph of the letter or not.

  • "In English, you don't do this thing that you do in German with the first letter of the first sentence of a letter." - I'm not sure what you think is "done" to the first letter of the first sentence of a letter in German, but the first sentence in a letter in German is typically interpreted to start with (the German translation of) "Hi" or "Dear" or something to that extent, which is capitalized just like any other first letter of a sentence. Oct 3, 2015 at 9:31
  • @O.R.Mapper - The OP started the Question with a lower case letter ("all"). This reminds me of my German spouse's letter-writing style. My spouse has always justified this custom by saying that's the way letter writing was taught in grade school. I just checked and was told that about 15 years ago there were some spelling changes in German and possibly that was one of the things that was affected by the change. All I know is that the beginning of the OP's post looks weird in English, and I thought it would be helpful to point that out to the OP. Oct 3, 2015 at 18:51
  • I can't find any hints that that part of orthography has changed, but you're probably mixing this up with the case (that actually appears in letters in German) where the first word in a paragraph starts with a small letter because the sentence begins by addressing the recipient in the line above. But it's true that the small "all" in the question here looks weird both in German and in English. Oct 3, 2015 at 21:30
  • @O.R.Mapper - Oh, I didn't realize it was weird in German too. Yes, I thought that "all" was the same thing I see my spouse constantly doing in English, un-capitalizing the first word in a message (I think you're right, that's happening after a greeting). Oct 4, 2015 at 6:07

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