A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree that is awarded to students who complete an original thesis offering a significant new contribution to knowledge in a particular subject. These qualifications are offered for all subjects and are considered the highest level of academic degree a person can achieve. In a conversation with Academia Magazine, Matiullah Tareen, a PhD scholar from Balochistan, Pakistan shared his views to outline how PhD in Germany should be approached by Pakistani students. He is one of the few students funded by a joint venture between HEC and DAAD through a scholarship titled ‘Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan’.
Tareen highlights his experience as a PhD student coming with a fairly ordinary academic background, but a steely intent to pursue doctoral degree. His research is a combination of development studies combined with sociological and anthropological approach targeting Balochistan. Here is what he shared with us.
What is the enrolling process for a PhD in Germany for a student from Pakistan?
There are many ways Pakistani students can apply for PhD in Germany. Many German programmes encourage international students to pursue doctoral studies in Europe. There are thousands of scholarships, projects, structured programmes, individual authors from different organizations. German Research Foundation (DFG) and DAAD also fund PhD programmes that Pakistani students can take up. The general rule for PhD students is to find their own supervisors, they are asked to draft a proposal and send it to various professors to ask for supervision.
If a professor approves the draft proposal by the supervisor, then students apply for admission in that university. These are the non-academic portions of a student’s struggle to go through the enrolment. Each PhD student will have to do it on his own. Students are responsible to handle all the bureaucratic processes as well. If you can’t find a supervisor to guide a student, PhD students get to choose from other options.
What are the different approaches PhD students can take up?
There are so many different approaches but the most famous programmes are:
- Individual Approach
- Traditional Approach
- Structured Approach
Individual Programme: Students secure their scholarship through an academic body like HEC or DAAD, and then have to secure their admission along with approval of a professor/supervisor. Everything should be applied for by the students and it should be carried out by the students themselves. This process is independent of all sorts of academic interference. But students get ample freedom to pursue their research. For Individual research programmes you are not expected to attend any mandatory courses or subjects.
Traditional Programme: This is the method through which you cannot partly secure your admission through an academic process available for students wanting to pursue their doctoral degree. Students send their proposals to professors and they can offer students a job as a lecturer, teacher assistant, research assistant or can work with them on a project. All professors in Germany get funding for various research projects so that professors can allocate some budget for PhD students working for them or can have you enrolled in the academic faculty where you would be teaching bachelors or masters’ students. You earn as well as you gradually fund your doctoral programme. For traditional research, students are not be required to attend any mandatory courses or subjects.
Structured Programmes: Structured programmes are quite large compared to any other places. It is a relatively new idea existing in some of the subjects. You are not very much free with this approach, which is a drawback. It is a project or a group under a professor working in a specific direction that you join hands with, so when they need some assistants, they make the vacancy public and you would have to write your proposal accordingly covering all the requirements. In structured programmes, students get to work as assistants. Preparing for proposal writing can be a little tricky for students. When they apply through to your proposal, you go through a series of interviews. Once shortlisted, you begin your research with a specific group, jointly working on the same problem. In this case you are not doing an individual research rather a combined research. There might be some mandatory courses the programme would ask you to pursue.
How do you draft your proposal?
It is long process and it will leave you in a state of stress if you are not prepared for it. You should pick topic that is very close to your heart. You should have a good academic career, between above average and excellent. If you have research-based academic and professional background, it will help you greatly. Work with any think tank will be a plus too. But even if you don’t have all of the above, you can still do so but you should have a stellar proposal with a very strong academic idea.
Three most important things for drafting your proposal?
- You should find a topic that has not been attempted by a lot of other researchers. Make sure you choose a unique, yet very important area for research, so that people could relate to it. Don’t go for a subject that has a lot of research done on it already. Professors and supervisors are not looking for such topics of research.
- The scale of your research should be large but specific; you should not try to cover multiple topics. Be very precise, coherent and time bound about your area. It is okay if your research affects multiple areas, but it should not be forced into your proposal.
- Your research should offer a solution over a timeline. When you start and when you end should be clearly defined. A better thought of process gives supervisors a clear idea of PhD students. If you define your research vaguely, you may not get any academic attention.
How to find a supervisor for PhD?
Once you have drafted your proposal, it’s always good to have suggestions and funding for which you look for supervisors. It is not that difficult, but it is time consuming, many students from Pakistan lack patience to find a supervisor. You look for professors from their faculties and screen them through their research and area of interests. Review your professor’s profile before sending your proposal to them.
First note down the names of the universities that support your area of interest, then look for academic faculty and then look for professors working in that area. It is better to speak to at least 25 potential supervisors.
Some will never respond to you, some may respond you in a month’s time, if you get accepted by multiple professors always be grateful to the ones you choose to reject.
You can apply for the individual track and traditional PhD programmes all year long, but structural programmes have their own deadlines. Your proposal should be written in a way that doesn’t make you look desperate, but neither should it make you appear casual.
What are some dos and don’ts for PhD students?
Students are not bound by word limit on their draft, but it should be between 3,000 and 5,000 words ideally; about 6 to 10 pages. So manage your words well.
Managing your time with readings is most important. Read as much as you can and when you are done reading, then read some more. You can’t pursue your research if you don’t stay updated. If your topic is theoretical, you may have to find a lot of empirical and practical resources, but if you choose a subject that is not worked upon, then you would have find your own means of data collection. Mostly, research requires you to start from scratch.
How do you get funding for PhD?
Most of the students can’t imagine funding their PhD themselves. Scholarships don’t fund the PhD, they are just like services that they exempt you from. Working to find relevant data, compiling it and traveling and so on is what adds to your cost, other than your living expense in Europe. This can only be managed if you get constant funding from a professor who would also have experience of PhD study.