What a PhD in France Actually Looks Like

What a PhD in France Actually Looks Like

Written by Taru Medha

A PhD in France can be a great addition to your qualifications. With more emphasis on research training, you’ll need to be ready for the challenge.

This guide covers everything you need to know about what your French PhD will look like to prepare you for the road ahead.

Since France is a part of the Bologna system, a PhD in France is considered a third-cycle degree and can be obtained after completing a Masters or a similar second-cycle degree.

Academic calendar for a PhD in France

A PhD programme in France is usually advertised as part of a doctoral school. It lasts for 3-4 years ending with a thesis submission and a public viva examination. Each academic year begins in September or October, and ends in May or June. The year is divided into two semesters with the first ending with a two-week break at Christmas and the second usually beginning in January and ending with a longer, two-month break in the summer.

What makes a PhD in France different from other countries?

Even though the basic structure of the programme is similar to most other PhDs around the world, the extra emphasis on professional research training sets the French PhD apart.

This means you’ll be required to complete some extra course components, like research courses and training sessions, along with writing your thesis.

Research courses include teaching sessions and seminars that account for up to 150 hours of your doctorate. These can include modules on research ethics, career-centric courses or even language courses.

Assessments during a PhD in France

Despite there being a major training component in French PhDs, the main form of assessment is the production of an original doctoral thesis.

First, your thesis will be examined by two external assessors, appointed by the head of your doctoral school. They will determine whether it is fit for presentation.

If your thesis is approved, a thesis jury will be appointed. This will consist of 3-8 members specialising in your field of research. At least half of the members will be French and external to your institution and doctoral school. The other half will be members of the National University Council (Conseil national des universités). After presenting your research methods and results, you will debate and ‘defend’ them to the jury during a public viva voce (oral examination). Don’t worry, even though at least half the members of the panel will be French, you don’t have to necessarily give your presentation in French.

Before your presentation, a description of your thesis is circulated within the university. Afterwards, your full thesis is also made available.

The jury will grade your thesis as: honourable, very honourable or very honourable “cum laude”. The highest grade in France is reserved for students who demonstrate exceptional qualities in their thesis and presentation.

Now that you know what a PhD in France will demand of you, you can decide whether it is the way forward for you. Read our other guides on the top universities in France for a PhD and student life in the country for more information.

Think you’re ready to find the perfect project for you?

Search our database of PhD programmes in France.

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Last Updated: 17 November 2023