Structured doctoral programme or individual doctorate?

Individual doctorate

Individual doctorates are still the most common type in the humanities and social sciences in Germany. This means that you individually contact a person authorised to supervise you to ask whether they would be interested in supervising your doctoral project.

Features of the individual doctorate:

  • The application for acceptance as a doctoral candidate can be submitted at any time. There are no specific application deadlines.
  • There are normally no formal selection procedures to be fulfilled. The faculty, school or university will simply check that the formal requirements for acceptance as a doctoral candidate have been met.
  • It is up to each candidate to find a suitable supervisor and to bring their own ideas on a possible doctoral topic. The topic can then be agreed on with the supervisor.
  • There is no link between acceptance as a doctoral student and funding. Each student must discuss possible funding and its suitability for them with their supervisor. Securing funding may take some time.
  • It is possible to do a doctorate part-time.
  • The doctoral degree requirements usually consist of the thesis (monograph or cumulative) and an oral examination. Any additional workshops, courses etc. are usually optional.
  • The general conditions of the supervision are worked out on an individual basis.


Structured doctorate

The structured doctorate is also growing in popularity in the humanities and social sciences. A structured doctorate is a doctoral studies programme that includes significantly more requirements as well as additional course offerings and events and often a more intensive degree of supervision. Structured doctorates can have a variety of forms, but the following features are commonly present:

  • Application at certain fixed times (e.g. once a semester, once a year or in the case of temporary programmes such as research training groups, only once for the programme in question or once per funding period, e.g. every three or four years).
  • A limited number of members, with often highly competitive selection processes (application documents, interviews…). Successful completion of a structured doctoral programme can thus also be seen as a mark of excellence and have a positive effect on your future career opportunities.
  • Doctoral students admitted at the same time will study and work together in a cohort. In this respect, there is more intensive support and integration into university life as well as better networking – and less danger of isolation.
  • Special workshops and other events for participants are often compulsory. This results in very good methodological training as well as the acquisition of additional, often professionally useful, skills and other accomplishments. However, it also means an increased time commitment. Sometimes there are even separate doctoral regulations for the programme.
  • Intensive supervision, e.g. via a separate supervision agreement, supervision as part of a team, additional support from postdocs or an obligation to complete regular reports.
  • Limited period for completion of doctorate (varies according to type of funding). Of course, this means additional time pressure for both students and supervisors. It may also mean that only those students whose project is already sufficiently advanced enough to allow completion within the allotted time are likely to be accepted.
  • It is often the case that the doctorate is financed through the candidate holding a doctoral position or being in receipt of a doctoral scholarship. In many cases, “associate membership” is possible for people who are financing themselves through other sources, possibly even doing their doctorate at another university.
  • The thematic focus of the doctorate is likely to be narrowed to some extent.
  • There is often cooperation between different universities/colleges/non-university research institutions.

Structured doctoral programmes at JGU in the humanities and social sciences