In Germany, acquiring your doctoral degree usually involves the following steps (in that order):

  1. You hand in your thesis.
  2. The examiners review your thesis.
  3. You defend your thesis and possibly take an oral exam (usually on the same day).
  4. You publish your thesis (or provide proof that you already did so).
  5. The diploma, certificate is prepared, signed, and given to you.

Step 3 usually is the big thing after which you are congratulated, celebrated, and get to wear the mortarboard, as there is hardly anything that can go wrong afterwards. Nonetheless, it is usually prominently made clear that only after step 5 you may call yourself Doktor (doctor) and you can get into big trouble otherwise. I am not asking about this.

However, in German, there is another prominent term for acquiring a doctoral degree or the process of doing so, namely promovieren or Promotion, respectively. I have some reason to believe that these terms refer to a slightly different thing, namely completing everything up to step 3:

  • Some people say this is the case.

  • When publishing your thesis (step 4) at my university, it is common or even required to write Tag der Promotion (day of “Promotion”) in the thesis with the day being the date of the defense (step 3).

However, apart from the above, I failed to find any evidence for this: Internet searches yield all sorts of unrelated stuff and dictionaries do not make such a fine distinction. Hence I am asking: When exactly can you call yourself promoviert in Germany? Be aware that I am looking for some information that goes beyond hearsay (I already have such).

For the search engines: Wann genau ist man promoviert?

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    @BioGeo: For whatever it’s worth, I am quite familiar with my faculty’s examination guidelines and it doesn’t say anything about it. I am also rather confident that the administration will not easily produce an answer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:36
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    @lighthousekeeper: I would not say that the dictionaries do not disagree. Rather, it’s a detail that rarely ever matters in common usage and that is not reflected in the dictionary definition.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:38
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    @Wrzlprmft In Duden, the leading German-language dictionary, "promovieren" is defined as "to acquire the doctoral degree". Strictly speaking, this definition actually contradicts any definition that does not require acquisition of the doctoral degree (such as that of your university) - it's not "less detailed", it's a logical contradiction. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 12:00
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    "Man habilitiert sich, aber man wird promoviert," i.e., strictly speaking. promovieren is something, that somebody else does with you. However, this is drastically different from how the word is used currently where people say "Ich promoviere über…"
    – Dirk
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 13:16
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    @Mawg: I am aware of that site (see my profile) and I decided against asking there since this is more about detailed academic procedure and I thus considered it a better fit here. I do consider the question on-topic on both sites though.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:03

5 Answers 5


The Promotionsordnung of my alma mater says this:

§17(1): "Als Promotionsdatum gilt der Tag der bestandenen mündlichen Prüfung."

(The date of Promotion is the day of the successful oral exam.)

§25(1): "Als vorläufigen Nachweis der Verleihung des Doktorgrades erhält der Bewerber vom Prüfungsamt der TUM eine Urkunde nach Anlage 2, sofern die erforderlichen Exemplare nach § 20 fristgerecht eingereicht worden sind."

(You receive a preliminary certificate when you have submitted the required copies of your dissertation.)

§25(2): "Vor Aushändigung der Urkunde nach Abs. 1 ist der Bewerber nicht befugt, den Doktorgrad zu führen."

(You are not allowed to call yourself a Doktor before you have received this preliminary certficate.)

§25(3): "Der Bewerber erhält ferner eine Urkunde in deutscher und englischer Sprache nach Anlage 3 a oder 3 b, die mit dem Siegel der TUM versehen ist und das Promotionsdatum gemäß § 17 Abs. 1 trägt. ..."

(The date of Promotion is written on the final certificate.)

So, you could say you are promoviert when you have passed the oral exam. But since I'm not a lawyer I'm not qualified to give legal advice. Personally, I would avoid anything that could be seen as you saying you are a doctor before you are allowed to do so. Until then I would say "I've defended my dissertation successfully and am waiting to receive the certificate." When you have your certificate, the date of Promotion is the day of the oral exam.

In practice, you get the preliminary certificate rather quickly. I believe it was something like two weeks after the exam for me, but it depends on how quickly the head of examination and the administration works. The biggest problem was getting a Führungszeugnis in time since I hadn't considered that prior to the exam.

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    IANAL always confuses me...
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 8:15
  • @Philipp Because you don't know what it means or because you don't know why people add it to their posts?
    – user9482
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 8:21
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    @Philipp Since I suspect the people who came up with it are lawyers, I can't imagine a high level of innocence.
    – user9482
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 8:28
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    @Philipp: Relevant questions on other sites: 1, 2, 3.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 11:43
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    @Philipp It was a popular term on USENET and the Slashdot about 10 to 20 years ago.
    – anonymous
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:29

If you want to be pedantic (and which mathematician doesn't?), the Duden (the traditional German dictionary) defines the base verb promovieren as

  1. a. die Doktorwürde erlangen, b. (über ein bestimmtes Thema) eine Dissertation schreiben
  2. jemandem die Doktorwürde verleihen
  3. (bildungssprachlich veraltend) fördern, unterstützen

Here, Doktorwürde is a slightly more pompous synonym of Doktorgrad (the PhD degree).

Point 1 covers the intransitive usage: a. to acquire the doctoral degree and b. to be in the process of (working towards) acquiring the doctoral degree. Point 2 covers the transitive usage: to confer the doctoral degree (on someone). (Point 3 is going out of fashion and coincides with the English cognate to promote in the sense of to support or encourage.)

Note that 1a. and 1b. are different meanings, but only one of these -- namely 1a. (or 2.) make sense as a past participle; 1a. and 2. are also the only meanings concerned with a formal status of any kind.

Hence, you are promoviert as soon as the university confers the degree, which is done (retroactively, which often leads to confusion as you point out in your question) by handing you the official diploma (or the preliminary diploma, if such a thing exists).

  • 4
    The Duden has lost any official status twenty years ago, and even before its official status was only with respect to orthography, not regarding the meaning of words. As for the latter, it only documents the meaning of words, which it can only do up to a certain precision. It will usually not cover such fine distinctions as I mentioned in the question and if it does, it usually explicitly mentions this.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 15:16
  • @Wrzlprmft Fair enough, I changed to "traditional" which I hope is noncontroversial. And of course you are free to use the word promoviert in any sense you wish, but the common use (and hence the way it would be understood in general) is the one I gave. Whether calling yourself promoviert before the degree is conferred is a civil offence on the same level as calling yourself Doktor is a different question. (If I had to guess -- because I'm a pedant but not a lawyer -- I would say yes; any way of falsely pretending to have a doctoral degree would open yourself up to litigation.) Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 17:59

The faculty of natural sciences of the Leibniz-University Hannover has a slightly more elaborate page on the Promotionsverfahren on their webpages. I will be quoting from the original plus their official English translation.

Die Promotion in acht Schritten

Das Promotionsverfahren umfasst acht Schritte, die als Überblick im Folgenden skizziert werden:


Schritt 6: Mündliche Prüfung oder Disputation und Gesamtbeurteilung der Promotion


Schritt 8: Promotion

Die Promotion wird durch Aushändigung oder Zustellung der Promotionsurkunde vollzogen, nachdem Sie die Veröffentlichung der Dissertation nachgewiesen haben und nachdem Sie nachgewiesenermaßen alle Ressourcen zurückgegeben haben, die Ihnen für Ihr Promotionsprojekt vorübergehend zur Verfügung gestellt worden sind.


Eight steps to obtaining a doctorate

The procedure for obtaining a doctorate has eight steps, which are outlined below.


Step 6: Oral examination or thesis defence and overall assessment of the doctoral research


Step 8: Conferral of doctorate

The doctorate shall be conferred by handing over or delivering the doctoral diploma after you have proved that the doctoral thesis has been published and provided proof that you have returned all the resources which were temporarily made available to you for your doctoral project.

This webpage makes it pretty clear that the faculty of natural sciences of the Leibniz-University Hannover considers Promotion (and thus, although it is not explicitly mentioned, likely also promovieren) to cover the entirety of your steps 1 to 5.

Furthermore, the requirements for the reverse of the title page additionally state that the Tag der Promotion is considered to be the day of step 6 according to the website or step 3 in your overview.

I assume this is because the Promotion is considered to be the entirety of the process, while anything that happens after the defence is considered automatically happening.


There is even a title for this strange time between the oral exam and obtaining the certificate that (retroactively) awards you the doctorate. You must have published the thesis (or handed in enough copies) before you can use the final degree. This goes back to Theodor Mommsen ("Die Promotionsreform", In Preußische Jahrbücher, 1876, Vol. 37, April, pp. 335–352.) who was angry at the universities for selling doctorates (and theses) to anyone who shoved enough money over the table (see Ulrich Rasche, "Mommsen, Marx und May: Der Doktorhandel der deutschen Universitäten im 19. Jahrhundert und was wir daraus lernen sollten" in Forschung & Lehre, 03/2013).

The title is "Dr. des.", Doktor designatus or designated Doctor. Of course, other people are allowed to call you "doctor" and you are no longer obligated to say "no, no, I am still working on my doctorate." I really enjoy calling those who have survived the oral exams (Rigorosum) "Dr.".

  • It's important to point out, though, that only some faculties allow their doctoral graduates to use this title. In other cases, the relevant regulation (Promotionsordnung, PO) actually forbids people to use this title. There is also a grey area of cases where the PO does not mention the title all. In theses cases, it might not be a bad idea to apply a conservative interpretation, that is, not use the title when it has not been awarded. Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 20:27

The general answer is (as @Rolands example of TU Munich shows):

Whatever your university faculty's regulation tells.

They grant you the title, so they also are legally enabled to decide from what point in time on you can "wear" your title. The right to grant doctoral degrees lays in the hands of university faculties or institutes*. For example in the education law of federal state Saxony (Sächsisches Hochschulfreiheitsgesetz) you find the legal notice in Paragraph §40 "Promotion" that says that the details have to be declared by the regulations of the universities.

§ 40 Promotion [...] (5) Das Nähere [...] regelt eine Promotionsordnung. [...]

Universities are free in the handling of their process of proving the necessary qualification, as they are in their self organization. This freedom is legally granted by the freedom of teaching and research (Grundgesetz [Germany's "constitution"] article 5 paragraph (3))

(!experience based statement:) Usually any final university degree is granted from the day passing the last exam (a defense / Disputation / Rigorosum etc. or even without writing a thesis e.g. in some xyz "of arts" degrees). One should find the legal rules about the exmatriculation / certification date in either the study regulation of the program, or a general regulation for the whole institution (like at TU Munich)

Anyway the earliest time you can give proof about your title, is after receiving the final certificate (or a temporary one like in @Roland's example) of your granting institution. I'd suggest waiting these couple of days or weeks (if your staff members in the examination office are on vacation, or the dean who's signature is needed)

The publishing of the dissertation is usually an obligatorily step, that can be fulfilled after the title was granted. It depends on whatever is written in the study regulation (Prüfungsordnung / Promotionsordnung) of the institute or faculty that can decorate people with a title.

Keep in mind that there can exist great differences between faculties (e.g. doctoral degrees in arts could not require a dissertation if the federal laws allow that, another possibility is a cumulative doctorate due a number of published articles in A+ journals)

In doubt wait with the use of the degree until you have the written evidence (certificate)

*federal exceptions exist: e.g. Hessen, Baden-Württemberg in planning. These federal states have conducted laws - or plan to - that enable universities of applied sciences (earlier called "Fachhochschulen") to grant doctoral degrees.

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    That's exactly the kind of answer that the OP is not looking for.
    – Dirk
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:20
  • Wrzlprmft asked when a person can call himself promoviert. Above I mentioned that the only legal and official way to receive such a degree in Germany leads over faculties that hold a right to grant such degrees. Or does he look for suggestions how to get some of those honorary doctors one could buy from theological church universities in the usa for a donation? (They are not eligible to use the name prefix Dr. in Germany) Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:40
  • Sorry, but I concur with @Dirk. This is not about the degree itself.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 15:18
  • If it is about the word promoviert itself. Shouldn't the question then be moved to German:SE? Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 10:05

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