Russia joined the Bologna Process in 2003, which brought its higher education system more in line with other European countries. This means that university students follow a familiar three-stage cycle of a Bachelors followed by a Masters and then a PhD.
However, Russian universities do use slightly different terminology to describe these stages:
- Level 1 – bakalavr (Bachelors) degrees
- Level 2 – specialist or magistr (Masters) degrees
- Level 3 – kandidat nauk (Candidate of Science) and doktor nauk (Doctor of Science) degrees
You’ll notice that there are two level 3 qualifications here. The ‘Candidate of Science’ is equivalent to a standard PhD elsewhere in Europe, while the ‘Doctor of Science’ is more similar to a post-doctoral degree.
To keep things simple, this page focuses on the Candidate of Science qualification. If you want to find out more about post-doctoral degrees, please head over to our sister site, FindAPostDoc.com.
Something else to bear in mind when looking for a PhD in Russia is that they are sometimes referred to as ‘post-graduate’ (or postgraduate) qualifications. Masters degrees aren’t usually described as postgraduate qualifications in Russia.
Russian doctoral degrees
The route to becoming a Candidate of Science is often referred to as the aspirantura, with prospective PhD students known as aspirants.
The aspiranta typically involves a combination of the following elements of a doctoral studies programme:
- Lectures and seminars
- Pedagogical courses
- Writing and presenting a dissertation, then defend it in front of a committee
The PhD can be studied of a full-time or a part-time basis, but can’t take longer than three or four years, respectively.
Once you’ve begun the aspirantura, you’ll be appointed a supervisor (you don’t usually contact your prospective supervisor during the application process like in other countries).
This supervisor will fulfil the duties of a tutor, helping you create a study plan and making sure you’re on the right track with your research.
Assessment and examination
The aspirantura is a rigorous academic process and you’ll be expected to take examinations in several subjects over the course of your PhD. You may also be tested on your skills in Philosophy and a foreign language.
The dissertation is a key part of becoming a Candidate of Science in Russia. This important piece of work will be assessed based on the originality of the contribution it makes to your academic discipline, as well as the strength of your research.
Like in other countries, you’ll usually have to pass a kind of viva before graduating. In Russia, this takes the form of a public defence in front of a Dissertation Council of around 20 people.
You’ll present your findings and take part in a discussion, after which the council will vote on whether your thesis is up to scratch. If at least two thirds of those present give your dissertation a pass, you’ll be successful in your journey to becoming a Candidate of Science!