I was talking to a potential PhD supervisor about doing a "PhD" in his institution (in Germany). In several occasions he mentioned in an "emphasizing manner" that they award "Dr. rer. nat." in contrast to other doctoral degrees (like "Dr. phil." / PhD). In my environment/institution (also Germany), many have a PhD from universities outside Germany and he is aware of that.

Why would he emphasize that? Are differenct "kinds" of doctoral degrees considered harder to get or more prestigious or something like that?

Note: I had the impression that he was saying "be aware of what you´re getting into, "Dr. rer. nat." is serious business" to exaggerate a little...

The field is CS/maths if that is relevant.

  • Perhaps some old-fashioned pride in the Latin title? AFAIK, there is no practical difference.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 15:32
  • @Walter Could be the reason. See comments of eykanal´s answer.
    – asquared
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 8:01

2 Answers 2


Whether a German department of mathematics grants the title Dr. rer. nat. or Dr. phil. has nothing to do with the research done in the institute or the difficulty of obtaining the degree, but is the result of some historical happenstance. At most universities departments of mathematics are quite young, and they may be split of an older physics department or a philosophy group, in which case they would have just inherited the naming of the title.

The reputation of Dr. rer. nat. and Dr. phil., as long as they were achieved in the same area, are the same. Dr. Ing. is somewhat different, but not easier. Dr. med. is not taken seriously. There is also the Dr. hum. biol. (human biology), which can be obtained by students of other subjects than medicine, and is on a par with Dr. rer. nat., i.e., a Dr. med. for someone who actually did research.


I'm guessing that he has had a number of candidates who were unclear on that from the outset and that he's simply clarifying to make sure there's no confusion prior to your joining the lab. I don't know whether this is likely to affect your long-term career, hopefully someone who knows more about German academics can clarify in the comments.

  • 5
    Well, some people in the natural sciences consider humanities a soft science. In Germany, this difference is expressed in the title you get. Dr.rer.nat. for natural sciences, Dr.ing. for engineering, Dr.med. for medicine and Dr.phil. for the humanities (I think there are more but these are most common). They should be equally hard to get but ... prejudice. Now some departments, like math and psychology can choose whether to award Dr.rer.nat. or Dr.phil. Medicine can be Dr.med. or Dr.rer.nat. and I don't know whether that makes a difference for approbation but I'd check if that's your field. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 13:31
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    @Sumyrda So maybe it is just based on "pride" and him emphasizing it could be meant as advertisement like "join our department, we can award Dr.rer.nat. and that is the best one..."?
    – asquared
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 7:57
  • @JayFromA That's probably it. Or if he is from a field where different Dr.s are possible, he just wanted to inform you which kind he awards. This can also give a hint on what kind of research is done in that department. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 8:23
  • 1
    I'm a German natural scientist and I haven't heard of any prejudice towards Ph.D.s. It's pretty much seen as equivalent to the German Dr.(rer.nat., eng., etc.) in my circles (in fact, I would wager that most don't even know what kind of 'Dr.' their colleagues have, as there's a lot of variety among international titles). There definitely is some prejudice against the Dr. med., though.
    – Fred S
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 10:01
  • 2
    I'm in CS in Germany, where often, different departments award either Dr. rer. nat. or Dr.-Ing. (one common reason being whether those CS departments evolved out of maths ones or out of engineering ones). While I have never met anyone who claimed to make that distinction themselves, the common rumour appears to be that some industry people allegedly prefer Dr.-Ing. because to them, Dr. rer. nat. is just an ivory-tower-scientist with no practical skills, whereas some research people allegedly prefer Dr. rer. nat. because to them, Dr.-Ing. is just a tinkerer with no real research skills. Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:54

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