I am a biomedical engineer; I was offered a PhD position in Germany. They already prepared my contract but never mentioned my salary. I was wondering if there is a polite way to ask how much will be my salary.

  • 13
    Next time ask this question during the interview ... Although for PhD positions in Germany quite often the answer is given in the job posting.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 15:22
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    So you were ready to sign without even knowing how much (or even IF) you were going to be paid? You are not asking whether you will make 50000€ or 65000€ a month! You are (basically) asking how much you can spend for a flat, for food, for the university... and everyone will understand that. I understand, because I am a really shy person, but you need to know.
    – SteffX
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 18:33
  • @SteffX I don't know where you are from, but in job postings in the Netherlands (which is not Germany), this is not always listed, and especially for PhD positions it is a bit useless, because all first year PhD student will earn the same amount, there is a collective agreement.
    – Bernhard
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 20:09
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    People surprise me every day. How can you even consider any position without knowing what will you get in return? Phd is not a slavery (also in a lot of cases it is similar if to compare with a reasonable job), so you should start it only if it is beneficial for you. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 10:05
  • I still did not sign any contract , obviously ! :) My supervisor was not able tell me how much my salary will be during the interview. That was the "problem " . Anyway I contacted the HR and they , hopefully , will give me some advice. Thank you again.
    – Nick
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 10:25

4 Answers 4


They will not tell you a number in Euro, as the person tasked with the hiring decision probably doesn't know the amount either. You need to ask for the paygrade and then use the calculator on this page to find the amount.

It is a very easy conversation, because neither you nor your supervisor can do anything about the payment. No negotiation, no decision making, nothing involved. You cannot say anything wrong (as in, reduce your chances for a good salary).

How to calculate the amount from the paygrade

First, you need to know which tarif applies to you. On the page I linked, choose "TVL West" if you will work in a state of former West Germany, and "TVL Ost" if you are in former East Germany. You will see a blue calculator form in the upper right corner.

The paygrade information your boss tells you will be of the form "E13, 50%". It may have been printed on the job ad, but not always.

E13 is the "level" determined by the job's difficulty, and is fixed for the position. The rules here are so firm, I don't know if it is even possible to have a PhD research job ("wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter") at any other level than E13.

The percentage is the worktime percentage paid. It is up to the institution to decide if they are going to pay you full time, half time, or some other fraction. Paid full time is practically unheard of outside of computer science departments, biomedical should be 50% or some more. The actual time your boss expects you to be present in the office may be different from what your contract says, and it is also up to your supervisor and work to know if you will need to put in some unpaid extra hours outside of fulltime work hours. If you have a cell culture which needs to be fed every day, you might find yourself coming back to the lab on weekends too. But the money you get depends on the number in the contract, and it is simply calculated as a proportion of the money for the full time.

The calculator also asks you for a Stufe. It refers to a pay "raise" based on years of work experience. If you are a freshly minted M. Sc., you start at "1", get upgraded to "2" after one year in 1, then to 3 after two years in 2, etc, up to 6. If you have worked somewhere else before and gained relevant experience (HR judges what is relevant), you can get into a higher group, but not higher than 3 when you are changing institutions, or when you are changing the E level within the same institution.

If you are single, your "Steuerklasse" (tax classification) is I. If you are married, try "IV" for the first calculation. If you are in a civil union with a same sex partner, that also counts, but I don't know how difficult it is to get a civil union or same sex marriage from another country recognized in Germany.

You will get some extra money if you have small children, but I don't know which ages count for how much.

If you are either Catholic or Protestant, you will also pay a church tax. For this, choose the link behind "Kirchensteuer" and enter the state in which you will be working.

Leave everything else at default for the calculation, and press "berechnen".

For example: in my institution, a biology PhD always gets a 50% E13 contract, and assuming he is single, atheist and has no previous work experience, this translates to 1758.68 €, of which he takes home 1208.12 €.

Beside the Stufe for years worked, your salary will rise a little bit every year, as the whole paygrade is adjusted in a negotiation on the highest level between the provinces' governments and the trade unions. You cannot get a pay raise by negotiating with your boss, nor could he give you one if he wanted. The exception would be giving you a few more percent worktime, if you are not already at 100% and if your institution's policy allows it. This is rare and will likely require you to take on one more project beside your PhD work.

An additional payment in December is customary, but it is not as high as a regular monthly salary.

  • It is incorrect to say that nothing can be done. If the candidate has previous work experience, or unique skills that are not generally available, a case can be made for increasing the "step" in the TV-L 13 scale. However, doing so comes at the cost of not getting salary step increases until the level is "naturally" reached. As an example, someone starting at TV-L 13 Step 3 would have to wait six years instead of three to bump up to TV-L 13 Step 4.
    – aeismail
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 2:43
  • @aeismail This is not what I have experienced. First, the "step" in the cases I have seen is determined by HR, I have seen supervisors or Betriebsraete trying to influence it and failing. Second, the "waiting" for advance cannot be a firm rule, or maybe it has changed in the past. I personally started a job at 3 (taking my step from my old job) and advanced after 3 years. No negotiations involved, that's how HR and the accountants did it - and they never give more money if they are allowed to give less.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 7:06
  • @aeismail I'm TV-L 13 and I get regular adjustments. Maybe these are not the big "scale" jumps, but simply inflation-related adjustments.
    – Federico
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 8:31
  • @Federico this is something very different from raises you can get (or not get) by talking to your advisor.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 8:32
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    @Roland: If you have industrial research experience (particularly if you're coming from overseas, this is possible), then you can qualify to move upwards.
    – aeismail
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 22:13

Just ask, there's nothing wrong about it. From what I know, PhD students in Germany are paid some fraction of the 'TV-L 13' bracket, about 50-70%.

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    100% correspond to 3438€ / month. See link (german). Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 11:30
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    I'd rather calculate with 50 % (almost all PhD students I know have 50 or 60 % contracts). That corresponds to 1200 - 1450 € net (= after compulsory social insurance and income tax are subtracted) per month.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 13:17
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    @cbeleites That also depends largely on the major. In Computer Science it's not unheard to get 80% as well. That's probably one of the best majors to be in though from a monetary point of view. In general I'd be surprised if that wasn't mentioned anywhere in the job offer though.
    – Voo
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 20:47
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    Engineers normally get 100% of the TV-L.
    – aeismail
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 2:43
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    @AndrejaKo: E.g. University of Stuttgart, depending on the institute. I am an aerospace engineer and was offered a 100% position for a PhD (aircraft systems development), two friends of mine (mechanical engineering) have 100% PhD position (research on gearboxes). Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 8:34

Just ask, using polite words. You're over-thinking this.

  • 4
    Some people have social anxiety or Autism Spectrum disorder, and to them it can be difficult to visualize people's reactions. They may be afraid of their polite words being nevertheless perceived as greedy or rude due to social norms they cannot see. It is likely that OP is not in Germany, and therefore not a native speaker of German (if he were, he would not have mentioned Germany), so there may be some language issues as well. I don't think you're being fair to him.
    – EMBLEM
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 2:48
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    @EMBLEM You're over thinking it.
    – Insane
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 8:03
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    @EMBLEM Those are fair points. However, the asker doesn't mention language being an issue so it seems reasonable to assume that either they speak good enough German or they're happy to ask the question in English (German scientists speak impeccable English). Any reasonable boss will understand that somebody from another culture might make cultural mistakes and will see that the request was well-intended, even if it was accidentally rude. Also, knowing what your salary is going to be is a fundamental part of accepting any position: it would be crazy to object to somebody asking about that. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 8:32

Congrats on the position!

I'm not sure how it works in Germany (and perhaps I am wrong since other answers talk about "grades"), but in the UK we often call it "funding" rather than "salary" since the money typically comes from research councils rather than the university itself. Some PhD positions come with funding, some do not, so for me it is completely acceptable to ask.

As a PhD student myself, I would feel much more comfortable asking "will there be any funding available for this position?" rather than "what's my salary?". Hope this helps.

  • 10
    This is not a valid answer in the context of Germany. PhD students are employees, and thus receive a salary.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 19:45
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    I think this is a good answer for a different question. For what it's worth, in Germany, it is called "salary", and it does typically come from the university (or rather, from a state agency that pays salaries to all civil servants, including university employees on behalf of the university). It is possible that the money originally comes from some research funding (as in, funding for a specific grant), but it is also possible the money comes from the regular budget of the institute. Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 19:51
  • Ah, fair enough!
    – Ali
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 11:02

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