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© Sebastian Knoth

Structured doctoral programs

The number of structured doctoral programs offered at the University of Cologne has increased significantly in the last years. These programs are labeled according to their scope and funding background (Graduate School, International Research Training Group, Innovative Training Group, Research School etc.). Several are collaborations of the University of Cologne and non-university research institutions, e.g. Max-Planck-Institutes or Helmholtz Centers.

Structured doctoral programs often focus on certain research areas, many of them with an interdisciplinary approach, and include auxiliary training elements. Additionally, many of them are characterized by a pronounced international orientiation. If you are interested in this path to a doctorate, you should look for a doctoral program suiting your research interests and/or project proposal. 

Specified design of doctoral studies

Structured doctoral programs differ fundamentally from individual doctoral studies, especially regarding the intensity of doctoral training and support. Apart from meetings with your supervisors, this typically includes regular progress reports as well as lectures and seminars. The objective is to foster your scientific training and support you in efficiently planning and conducting your research. Moreover, you are part of a network of young researchers, providing many opportunities for academic and personal exchange.

Many structured doctoral programs implement regular (usually annual) progress reports or intermediate exams in order to monitor individual progress and help identify potential problems early on. In some programs, this annual report is required for scholarship extensions. 


Curriculum and optional activities

Another key feature of structured doctoral programs is a range of compulsory and optional curricular activities. Scope and amount of these curricula vary considerably from program to program: In some cases, a number of compulsory offers related to a specific field exist; in other cases members are encouraged to attend a range of research and career-oriented offers. However, the amount of mandatory activities decreases considerably after the first year. Towards the third year, working on your doctoral dissertation (thesis) takes center stage.



Supervision in a structured doctoral program is provided by a thesis advisory committee, usually consisting of a main supervisor and two co-supervisors. In general, they will also be members of your dissertation committee. The thesis advisory committee is usually selected at the beginning of or during a candidate’s first year. Still, it is recommended to identify at least one suitable supervisor among the members of the structured doctoral program prior to your application. 


Funding for doctoral candidates

Structured doctoral program granting scholarships or work contracts typically advertise these positions once a year. These grants are usually limited to a maximum of three years and often require proof of progress after one year.

Many programs also provide mobility grants to support research travels and participation in national and international conferences. Additionally, there are usually funds available for specific needs such as proofreading, child care, etc.

Some structured doctoral programs are open to doctoral candidates with funding from other sources (referring to them as "fellows" or "associated members"). The respective admission procedures are similar or identical. In some cases, doctoral programs explicitly require third party funding for their members. Please visit the respective websites or contact the program coordinator for more details on application deadlines, admission criteria and further information.

Advice and tips for your application can be found here: Apply for admission to a structured doctoral program.