General information on applying for a grant

The requirements for grant applications vary widely depending on the awarding organisation. However, the application process and required paperwork, such as the research proposal, are quite similar. Applications from international doctoral candidates vary in terms of the required profiles.

Key steps to a grant

Developing your individual financing strategy takes several steps. First of all, you should conduct in-depth research on potential funding organisations. After clarifying what your chances of obtaining a grant from them are, make your personal selection. This is where the actual application process begins. Usually, applicants go through a selection procedure with several steps. First, you will need to put together your application documents. Pre-selection of candidates based on these documents is often followed by selection through an oral interview.

1. Researching the sponsoring organisations
There are a number of grant databases that you can use for targeted search on organisations that may fund your individual doctorate project. You can filter the organisations according to their application requirements.

2. Clarifying your chances of obtaining a grant
Take a careful look at your pre-selection of potential funding organisations and read through the application requirements of foundations that are of interest to you in detail. The Graduate Academy can provide you with information on scholarships according to the Thuringian Higher Education Act (Landesgraduiertenstipendien). Moreover, the FSU's liaison professors can advise you on the profiles of the 13 Organisations for the Promotion of Young Talent in Germany. Rather than spreading your applications arbitrarily across all the well-known foundations, it is advisable to prioritise applications and send them to foundations the profile of which matches yours.

3. Make your personal selection
Get an expert feedback on the foundations you have selected (e.g. on your "Top 5"). Your supervising professor or, if applicable, the coordinators of the structured doctorate programmes at Friedrich Schiller University will support you.

4. The application documents
Every foundation has its own requirements. As a rule, requirements include a motivation letter, CV, university degree certificate as well as a research proposal and two letters of recommendation from associate professors. Decision makers in the selection process wish to find out whether you meet the personal criteria for successfully completing a doctoral degree - in other words, whether you will have the persistence to finalise a dissertation. The dissertation project described in the research proposal will also be scrutinised. The research proposal will be read by established scientists in your field of research who can judge both its relevance for research and its feasibility. Consequently it makes sense to discuss the contents of your synopsis with your supervisor.

5. Preparing for an oral interview (if applicable)
The document-based pre-selection process is often followed by oral interviews. Depending on the foundation, this part of the application process can range from a single personal interview to an assessment centre with group discussions and an individual presentation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here you can find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the process of applying for a scholarship.

What is a statement of purpose/letter of motivation?
A statement of purpose or letter of motivation is an important part of every application. When you are applying for a scholarship for your PhD, the decision committee tries to find out who has the dedication necessary in order to successfully complete a multi-year time to degree. In addition, the committee also checks if the applicant is the right person to receive a scholarship. In other words, does your personal profile fit the appropriate profile of the foundation?

In your statement of purpose or letter of motivation, include information about

  • Why you are seeking to do a doctorate,
  • What your personal strengths are,
  • And why this is the appropriate scholarship for you.

What is an exposé?
An exposé is a summary of your plans for your PhD. It is generally between five and 12 pages long. In your exposé, you should define the major questions that will be addressed in your dissertation as well as the goals of your dissertation. You should address the current state of research, summarise any results you may have, and explain your planned methodology. Some foundations and funding institutions would also like to see your timeline for research (Work plan and timetable).

The exposé is an important part of a scholarship application. It will be read by established scholars who will evaluate the relevance of your project as well as its feasibility. You should try to be as elaborate and precise as possible when writing your exposé. Discuss the content of your exposé with your supervisor, and pay attention to the rules of good scientific practice.

How definite is your work plan and timetable?
Your work plan and timetable present your envisaged steps of your dissertation in the form of a table, from its state today all the way to its conclusion. Your plan should clearly show that your PhD can be completed within the limited time period of two to three years. Individual stages of your work can be based on the rough outline of your dissertation. It is a natural part of research to change or re-work your dissertation topic. The most important part is that the committee considers your work plan and timetable to be realistic and coherent.

How do I get a letter of recommendation from an instructor/professor?
Most scholarship programmes require a letter of recommendation from one or two university instructors. The first letter of recommendation should be from your future supervisor. The second letter of recommendation should be from a university instructor of your choice.

Many professors are prepared to write a letter of recommendation for their PhD students. Some would like your support in the matter. The best thing to do is ask if you can help your recommender with his or her work, be it sending your recommender a copy of your CV and diplomas or providing input in the form of starting points.

It is usually not possible to see the finished letter of recommendation, because many foundations request that the letter of recommendation is sent directly to them.

How do I find a supervisor?
At the beginning of your doctorate, you will need to find a supervisor. There is no central application process for a PhD at German universities.

There are many ways to find a supervisor for your PhD (also see Ways to your PhD):

  • A university instructor from your faculty offers a doctoral position (such as a job as an academic employee/teaching and research assistant in either a university-funded or a third-party funded job, or as a PhD student within a structured PhD programme): You apply for PhD positions just as you would for other jobs. When applying for a doctoral position within the framework of a structured PhD programme, please pay attention to the appropriate procedure for the programme.
  • You plan to finance your PhD yourself (such as via a scholarship) and need a supervisor for your dissertation: contact the appropriate instructors and heads of junior research groups. Don't be shy; ask about making a personal appointment.

What is a "Bildungsinländer" (academic national)? What is a "Bildungsausländer" (foreign student)?
When applying for a scholarship, there are usually different application requirements for academic nationals and foreign students.

You are considered to be an academic national if you received your university entrance qualification in Germany or at a German school in a different country, no matter what your nationality is. If you received this qualification at a non-German educational institution, you are considered a foreign student.

When can I begin to apply for a PhD scholarship?
The rules for this vary depending on the organisation offering the scholarship. Typically, you will need a copy of your university diploma in order to apply for a doctoral scholarship. Formal acceptance by the university is usually not necessary. However, you will need to have a supervisor who will write you a letter of recommendation and also help you with your exposé.

How long does the application process last?
The length of the application process is dependent on many different factors. One important factor is the date of application: Some scholarship providers have set application deadlines. Other organisations will accept applications at any time. After that, there is the process of review and the selection of candidates. The selection process typically lasts between three and six months.

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