How do I finance my doctoral research?

Financing doctoral research over the course of several years is a challenge, especially for students not doing their research in their home country and therefore have to get used to an unknown university system.

There are multiple ways to finance doctoral research. One can mainly distinguish between doctoral research during employment and doctoral research financed through scholarships.

Overview Ways to finance your doctoral research

Employment or scholarship - What is the difference?

Generally speaking, the two options differ in the context of social security and labour law.

Employed PhD students pay contributions to the social security scheme and earn corresponding rights. After the end of their employment they might, under certain conditions, have a right to unemployment benefits. They are entitled to paid holidays and continued payment of wages in case of illness. Furthermore, they have the possibility to make use of the various ways of worker participation (website in German only).

PhD students with a scholarship do not pay contributions to the social security scheme. They do not earn rights to unemployment benefits or pension. Furthermore, they have to take out a self-financed health insurance policy.

In the everyday life of PhD students, the differences in the methods of financing are hardly noticeable. The main pros and cons of the two ways of financing doctoral research are discussed in the respective sections. 

Doctoral research during employment

Employment as a research associate

Employment as a research associate at an institute is a good start to an academic career.

Research associates are very well included in the research and teaching of the respective institute and might also be put in charge of administrative tasks.

Hence, PhD students get valuable insights into the diverse tasks and customs of an institute and the corresponding Scientific Community. They gain first experiences in teaching, can expand their own professional network and are in close contact with professors, postdocs and other PhD students of the institute.

However, the many duties that accompany being a research associate can be a considerable amount of work and can interfere with one’s own research.

Research associates are paid according to the Tarifvertrag der Länder (collective wage agreement of the Federal States, link only in German).

How do I find a position as a research associate?

Open positions for research associates at Ulm University can be found here as well as on the websites of the respective institutes.

For positions outside of Ulm University, you can also check the following pages for current job offers:



Positions financed by third party or project funds

Positions financed by third party or project funds are not funded by the university’s regular budget but rather by funds offered by funding agencies like the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) or the European Union as well as private institutions or companies for a specific project.

The academic everyday life of a PhD student doing doctoral research financed by third party or project funds is quite similar to the one of a doctoral candidate having a regular position as a research associate at an institute. However, in the first case one is mostly less involved in teaching.

How do I find a doctoral position financed by third party or project funds?

Open positions financed by third party or project funds at Ulm University can be found here as well as on the websites of the respective institutes.

For positions outside of Ulm University, you can also check the following pages for current job offers:

Off-campus research institutions

Off-campus research institutions also offer PhD positions. The following are some of the off-campus research institutions in Germany:

Normally, PhD candidates are very well included in research groups and the Scientific Community. They have no teaching obligations. The payment is equivalent to the one at universities.

How do I find a position at an off-campus research facility?

The off-campus research institutions publish open positions on their websites.

Ulm’s Science Park is home to the Helmholtz Institute for Electrochemical Energy Storage (Helmholtz-Institut für Elektrochemische Energiespeicherung, HIU), the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung, ZSW) and other institutions.

Industry / Business

Some companies and private institutions have their own research and development departments, sometimes with the possibility to do doctoral research. Here, the emphasis would be on applied research.

As the universities have the exclusive right to award doctorates, one must also find a supervising professor.

Those doing doctoral research at a company have good chances to get a job in the industry afterwards. However, entering an academic career might be more difficult since the required experiences and qualifications in teaching and academic culture are missing.

How do I find a doctoral position in the industry?

Normally, companies publish open doctoral positions, mostly connected to a certain research topic. Speculative applications at companies conducting research in a field corresponding to your own research interests are also possible.

The most common websites for such positions are for example:

Companies also publish open doctoral positions on their own websites.

An overview over general job fairs can be found on the website of the Career Service.

Doctoral research financed through a scholarship


Scholarships can be an alternative to employment. Most scholarships are funded by public funds and have a duration of 2-4 years.

The monetary amount of a scholarship varies and often depends on personal circumstances. For example, there can be extra pay for children or travel lump sums.

Please be aware the applying for a scholarship is very time-consuming. It can take several months until one receives the approval/rejection of one’s application.

One of the advantages of a scholarship is being less tied to a certain place, which on the other hand can result in a less intensive inclusion at the institute or the research facility.

It should also be noted that the maximal duration of many scholarships is three years. In Germany, the average PhD student takes 3.5 - 4.5 years to finish their thesis, but this may vary depending on the subject and the individual situation. However, many doctoral scholarship students face the problem of financing the last phase of their doctoral research.

How do I find a scholarship?

An overview over the biggest scholarship providers and further search possibilities can be found on this website.

Scholarships for PhD students offered by Ulm University can be found here.

DAAD Brochure "The German doctorate"
DAAD Brochure "Funding Your Research in Germany"