At the end of your doctorate, you defend your dissertation orally, either as a disputation or as a rigorosum (see Rigorosum). The disputation is open to the public. Family members or friends can often attend the defence. The disputation is chaired by the chairperson of the doctoral committee (often also called the doctoral board). At the disputation, you usually give a lecture on your doctoral topic and the new scientific findings. A presentation can usually also be shown here. This is followed by a discussion with the invited doctoral committee. The examination may go beyond the topic of the dissertation and the candidate may also be asked thematically related questions. The entire disputation usually lasts 60-90 minutes. Afterwards, the doctoral committee leaves to discuss the grade. At the announcement, the candidate is informed of the grades of the dissertation, the disputation and the overall grade by the chairperson of the doctoral committee.
The exact procedure of the disputation can be found in the doctoral regulations of the faculty/department. The disputation is the most common form of the oral final doctoral examination in Germany.


A dissertation (colloquially also "diss") is the written form of the doctoral thesis, which is based on one's own research and is intended to produce new findings in the specific subject. It serves as proof that the doctoral candidate can work independently in a scientific manner.

Third-party Funds ("Drittmittel")

Third-party funding is money that universities use to finance themselves in addition to internal funds. These funds come either from the state (e.g. from certain federal ministries), the EU, foundations or private companies. Professors, post-doctoral researchers and academic staff who have completed their doctorate can apply for and obtain third-party funding. The funds are project-related and limited to a specific period of time. Depending on the funding programme, personnel funds and/or material funds can be applied for.


An exposé is a written abstract of one's own research project, a "roadmap". It states which questions the doctoral thesis is to answer, which methods are to be used for this purpose and in which steps the questions are to be answered. The exposé consists of 5-15 pages and is usually submitted to the supervisor* when applying for a doctorate.

Grade of the doctorate

he overall grade of the doctorate is composed of the individual grades of the dissertation & the oral defence. The grade of the written thesis is usually weighted more heavily. The announcement is made by the doctoral committee.

Table: List of doctoral degrees
Latin name English name note''
summa cum laude with honors corresponds to grade "1+", an outstanding performance''
magna cum laude very good corresponds to grade "1"''
cum laude good corresponds to grade "2"''
rite sufficient, passed corresponds to grade "3-4" ''
insufficienter insufficient not passed

Few universities award the grade 'satis bene' between a 'cum laude' and a 'rite'. The grade 'summa cum laude' can only be awarded if both the written dissertation and the oral defence have been assessed as excellent (summa cum laude). Some universities also impose further requirements for the award of this grade, such as additional reviews.

Cumulative dissertation

A cumulative dissertation (also called a publication dissertation or collective dissertation) is a doctoral thesis consisting of several (2-3) shorter works. These are published in scientific journals in the process of the doctorate. The publications require a common overarching theme, as they are submitted at the end of the doctorate, supplemented by an introduction and conclusion, as a complete dissertation. The structure of the cumulative dissertation is defined in the doctoral regulations of the faculty/department. Not all faculties/departments offer cumulative doctorates.

Cumulative dissertations are a frequent form of publication, especially in the natural sciences and economics. The opposite of a cumulative doctorate is a monograph - a doctoral thesis consisting of a single longer text.

Monographic dissertation

The monographic dissertation (also called dissertation thesis) is a coherent, completed and previously unpublished scientific treatise. Depending on the examination regulations, results may have already been published in advance. In this case, they must be marked appropriately in the dissertation.

Doctorate (in German "Promotion")

The award of a doctoral degree is referred to as a doctorate. Within the framework of the doctoral thesis/promotion, doctoral candidates demonstrate their ability to conduct independent scientific work in a defined field of research, also by independently writing a scientific paper. The aim is to gain new scientific knowledge. The doctorate is the highest academic degree. The scientific education is considered to be completed once it has been obtained. Project applications, e.g. to the German Research Foundation or many foundations, can now be submitted independently. The doctorate is the prerequisite for an academic career.

Doctoral Committee

A doctoral committee is an university working group that makes decisions on the doctoral process and decides, among other things, under which conditions graduates (including those from Universities of Applied Sciences) are admitted to the doctorate.

Doctoral Regulations

The doctoral regulations define the framework conditions for a doctorate and the entire procedure. Usually, faculties or departments have their own doctoral regulations. However, there are also inter-university agreements. The doctoral regulations regulate, among other things, the admission requirements (also for HAW graduates), the type and scope of the dissertation and disputation, as well as the final publication. Doctoral regulations can be found on the pages of the faculties or universities with the right to award doctorates.

Doctoral Agreement (also Supervision Agreement)

The doctoral agreement is a kind of contract between the doctoral candidate and the supervisor concerning their working relationship during the entire doctoral studies. It specifies various aspects of the cooperation, some of which are based on the doctoral regulations. The agreement includes, among other things, the title of the doctorate, the preparation plan, the rules of good scientific practice, as well as the rights and obligations of the doctoral candidate and the supervisor. A written supervision agreement is recommended.

Doctoral Position (also Qualification Position)

A doctoral position is a position at the university where the person selected (through a call for applications) works on his/her doctoral project. Generally, the position is limited to 3 years with 75% of the weekly working time, paid according to TV-L E 13. Professional supervision or mentoring by a professor at the university is provided. The position provides for doctoral students to also teach at the university (regularly 3 SWS/semester for a 75% TV-L E13 position). In a doctoral position, you belong to the status group of academic staff.


At the end of your doctorate, you defend your dissertation orally, either as a disputation (see Disputation) or as a Rigorosum. The Rigorosum is more like a classical oral examination than a discussion. Depending on the examination regulations, in addition to the doctoral topic, the entire subject knowledge of the study programme or previously determined main topics are also examined. The Rigorosum is usually not open to the public.

The exact procedure of the Rigorosum can be found in the doctoral regulations of the faculty/department.

TV-L E 13

Employees in the public sector of the federal states are grouped in the "Tarifvertrag für die Länder im öffentlichen Dienst" ("Collective Agreement for the federal states in the public sector”), TV-L for short. The agreement comprises 15 pay grades ("E"), each pay grade contains again 6 pay grades. The pay grades 13 to 15 are for employees in positions for which a university degree is required.

The Act of Academic Fixed-Term Contract - Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG)

The WissZeitVG regulates the fixed-term nature of employment contracts in science. The twelve-year rule is particularly important here (WissZeitVG §2 paragraph 1). Academic staff for their own academic or artistic qualification may be employed on fixed-term contracts for a total of twelve years - six years before and six years after the doctorate. The total permissible fixed-term period may be extended by 2 years per child due to the care of one or more children under the age of 18. After this period, academics at all German universities can only hold permanent positions. However, for some third-party funded positions and for parental leave replacements, this regulation does not apply, so that fixed-term appointments can be made beyond this time frame.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has extended the maximum fixed-term period for scientists.


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