Despite operating within a common European framework the Austrian PhD is a very distinctive qualification, with a highly structured approach to students' training and development.
Austrian universities don't tend to advertise specific doctoral research projects or invite PhD applicants to propose their own topics in advance. Instead they offer PhD programmes focussing on specific areas.
Some programmes are fairly general, with opportunities for students to work on a broad range of topics.
Others are offered as more specialised structured PhD programmes focussing on research on predetermined topics. These programmes are usually offered within separate doctoral schools (Doktoratskollegs) established by universities.
The Austrian academic year runs from October to September and is made up of two teaching semesters:
- Winter semester - 1st October to 30th January
- Summer semester - 1st March to 30th September
You'll study within an Austrian PhD programme for 6-8 semesters (3-4 years) as a full-time student. It can be possible to take longer, but doing so as an EU/EEA student will incur fees at public universities.
In some cases the length of an Austrian PhD can depend on your existing qualifications. If you hold a Masters degree your PhD will normally be three years long. Students without a Masters may need to study for four years in order to complete additional courses.
The Austrian PhD process
Austrian PhD programmes typically follow a set curriculum involving organised study and training as well as independent research.
During the first part of your doctorate you will complete courses designed to advance your subject knowledge and develop practical research skills. These will be assigned a credit value and organised similarly to the classes and seminars that make up a taught degree (such as a Masters).
Towards the end of your first year you will decide upon an original research topic suited to your programme. This will need to be formally proposed to your supervisor and / or other senior researchers - a process that may also involve an examination procedure to confirm that your are ready to progress to the independent research stage of your PhD.
Once your research project has been accepted you will spend the remainder of your programme working towards an original doctoral thesis. This will be the core component of your PhD and the focus of your final assessment.
You'll be assigned at least one academic supervisor to provide guidance and mentoring during your PhD. This person will oversee the development of your doctoral thesis and may also be responsible for assessing your progress through the programme curriculum.
It's quite common for Austrian universities to assign other support to students in addition to their main supervisor. This could include input from another 'second supervisor' or a more formal 'dissertation committee' made up of other academics associated with your programme.
Assessment and examination
Austrian PhDs use the ECTS credit system in accordance with the Bologna Process. A doctorate is worth 180 credits, all of which must be earned in order to gain the PhD qualification.
Roughly 20-30 credits will be awarded for completing courses within your programme. This may involve the completion of formal assessment such as coursework or credits may simply be awarded for attendance and participation.
The remaining credits will be awarded following the successful submission and examination of your PhD thesis.
This requires a formal thesis defence known as a Rigorosum. The process is similar to the viva voce used in the UK and other countries, but involves a public examination. Two or more academic experts will question you on your thesis in order to determine that your research is original and your subject knowledge is sufficient for the award of a doctoral degree.
Some programmes may also expect PhD candidates to have produced one or more peer-reviewed academic publications before their degree can be awarded.