A large proportion of doctoral research in Germany actually takes place outside universities at specialist research institutes. Studying at one of these means that the bulk of your training will take place in the institute with access to highly specialised facilities and expertise. Your academic degree is normally awarded by a partner university
Individual institutes usually form part of larger networks or associations (gesellschaft) which have their own PhD funding available. Many of these are prominent research bodies, equal in prestige to Europe's top universities.
The Fraunhofer Society is a network of more than 70 institutes focussing on applied research in Science, Engineering and Technology. They support students on individual doctoral projects, usually on a three year work contract.
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The Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific association, with over 40,000 staff and 8,000 doctoral students across its 18 research centres. Most of these centres host Helmholtz Graduate Schools which support PhD projects funded through 3-4 year work contracts.
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The Leibniz Association is a network of over 90 non-university research centres. Many of them host Leibniz Graduate Schools or Leibniz ScienceCampi offering structured doctoral training programmes. Some Leibniz Institutes also host individual doctoral projects. Funding is in the form of a work contract, or a fellowship (usually valued at €1,200-1,400).
Find out more, or search for an advertised Leibniz PhD Project to apply to.
Max Planck Society
The Max Planck Society is one of Germany's most renowned networks of independent research institutes, with a big focus on PhD training. There are over 80 individual Max Planck Institutes, most of which provide funding for individual doctoral projects in Biological and Natural Sciences, as well as the Humanities. In addition, there are several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) set up in partnership with universities to operate structured PhD programmes in partnership with universities outside Germany. Max Planck funding usually provides a work contract.
In addition, there are three Max Planck Schools that are collaborations between universities and research institutes. These focus on Cognition, Matter to Life and Photonics.
Find out more, or search for an advertised Max Planck PhD Research Programme to apply to.
Union of Academies of Sciences and Humanities
The majority of German research institutes focus extensively (though not exclusively) on STEM subjects. However, there are many other independent academies that focus on Humanities and Social Sciences. The Union of Academies of Sciences and Humanities brings together some of these and helps manage a selection of PhD scholarships as well as awards for doctoral students and junior researchers.
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