I am a future PhD student here in Germany and I am worried about whether the PhD German title (Dr.rer.physiol.) will be accepted internationally in general and in Germany in particular. In fact here in Germany there are many different titles that is possible to get after the PhD, the most common is Dr.rer.nat (literally, Doctor in natural sciences), but then You can be also Dr.rer.med, or Dr.rer.phil, Dr.ing. or whatever (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doctoral_degrees_awarded_by_country). But my question is; which is the relevance of one or another title? Could be really make a difference get one instead of another? I am really wondering about because there are not really clear info on this topic and I would like to know what is better for my future career!

Thanks a lot I am looking forward to any answer! Marta


The part of the degree after the "Dr." indicates the discipline in which you obtained your degree. Depending on potential future employers, it can be an important signal about your technical qualification. Especially university department can be quite selective in choosing only candidates with the "right" type of degree for post-doc or faculty appointments. It may also play a role in some industry positions, but probably to a lower extent.

Many university departments offer only a single type of degree - engineering departments the Dr.-Ing., natural science and mathematics departments the Dr. rer. nat., and so on. Sometimes there's multiple degree options in one department - in that case mostly the area that your supervisor is supposed to work in will determine which degree you can be awarded.

It seems the specific degree you are looking at, the "Dr. rer. physiol.", is a degree from a medical department. Doctoral degrees in medicine, traditionally the Dr. med., are a special case in the German academic community since they typically require much less work (a year) compared to other fields (three to six years). Therefore, graduates with a Dr.med. degree are often not perceived as fully qualified scientists, especially in international contexts (see e.g. the German Wikipedia article on Dr.med. degrees) for a short discussion of this point). On the other hand, many people looking for medical treatment would see any practicing medical doctor who does not have the Dr. med. degree as not fully qualified. And as far as I am aware obtaining the Dr. med. degree also requires that you get the full training as a practicing medical doctor, so it's not suitable for example for scientists with a biology or chemistry background who just want to do research in medicine.

In order to cope with this dilemma, the medical departments in Germany have introduced a range of additional doctoral degrees, among them the Dr. rer. physiol. (see www.zeit.de/2009/43/C-Doktor-Med for an article on that). The common feature of these degrees is that they don't qualify you as a practicing medical doctor, but on the other hand they hopefully will require more research work than the Dr. med. degree, and in this way qualify you better as a scientist. Nevertheless, if there is the alternative to get the Dr. rer. nat., it's maybe a safer way career-wise to go for this more traditional natural science degree.

  • In the US, an MD degree is not at all equivalent to a PhD in the context of medical research. In fact, many medical researchers have both an MD and a PhD degree. – Brian Borchers Feb 8 '17 at 23:45
  • Right, you may never call yourself a Dr.med. until you have a licence to practice medicine ("ärztliche Approbation"). The latter is the real qualification. – Horst Grünbusch Feb 9 '17 at 10:59

The title depends on the faculty/department. So Dr. rer. nat. is only given in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. At some universities these departments give more specific titles, so for a biologist a Dr. rer. nat. is equivalent to a Dr. rer. biol.

A Dr. rer. medic or Dr. sc. me. or Dr. sc. hum. is given by various medical faculties for (natural) scientists that may not treat patients. Only if you are allowed to treat patients after the "Approbation", you can use the Dr. med. you earned at the faculty ("medical doctor").

More and more one can also get a "Ph.D. in blabla" degree certified instead of a "Dr. rer. bla".

Note that there are different customs whether one tries a Dr. E.g. in engineering, it is quite rare for an engineer to have a Dr. Ing. Only for high-rank faculty staff ("Chefingenieur", second to the professor who is head of the institute) and of course for the professors a Dr. Ing. is usual. In chemistry, however, more graduates proceed to a Dr. rer. nat.

Most of the time, only the Dr. is used, so one cannot tell if it is actually a Dr. rer. nat or Dr. sc. hum. (The only exception are the medical doctor Dr.med., Dr.med.dent., Dr.med.vet. as the indicate also the "Approbation".)

It is almost never possible in Germany to start a Ph.D. programme only as a B.Sc. graduate.

I assume a Dr.rer.physiol. would be given by a medical faculty. It may happen that with a Dr. from a medical faculty, it's more difficult to get the "Prüfungsberechtigung" (the right to give grades to students) at a natural science faculty even if the research field would match.

However, all this knowledge is quite useless for you to plan your own career. The choice of subject and supervisor is more important to you. This would automatically determine the department and thus the title you would get. If you choose both only for some letters in front of your name, your scientific interest in the subject is too low to endure all the work and frustrations. You can't plan scientific results, so you can't plan a scientific career.

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