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What is the PhD and how to be admitted to the Post-doctoral program in Europe

Maksim Khan

29 June 2023



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"PhD candidate" sounds cool! Although the advantages of getting the PhD degree in Europe do not end there. Post Graduate Program graduates not only have in-depth knowledge in their field of study, but they can also expect to earn higher salaries than Bachelors and Masters.

Besides, the European Post-doctoral program is a good starting point for those who want to build a career in international corporations and are specialists in natural, exact or social sciences. In what countries of Europe you can expect to study for free at Post Graduate Program and what are the features of this academic degree, tells the author of the GoStudy blog Alexandra Baranova.

The abbreviation PhD or literally "Philosophic Doctor" come from the Ancient Greece. The term "philosophy" itself means "love of wisdom," so modern people associate it with expatiations about the meaning of life. But the ancient Greeks called philosophy a wide range of knowledge, from medicine and law to theology and astronomy. In the Middle Ages the boundaries between the fields of study were clearer: a student could earn a Post-doctoral program degree in law, theology, medicine, or philosophy. However, the last discipline was still "the science about everything". The PhD degree remains until the present day.

The PhD academic degree in the West is granted at the graduation of Post-doctoral program - the third level of higher education.

It's important to know:

There is a fundamental difference between the PhD program and the professional Post-doctoral program in Europe. The PhD programs place an emphasis on researches and analytical work. Postgraduate students learn how to work in an academic environment, practice their ability to present the results of their work to foreign colleagues, study the scientific literature, and work with large databases. Professional Post-doctoral program is focused on gaining practical skills in a particular field of study. However, graduates of both programs can teach, devote themselves to the research activity, or take on high positions.

How to be admitted to the Post-doctoral program in Europe?

The difficulty of admission to the Post-doctoral program depends on the specific university. Obligatory preliminary nostrification or legalization of the existing Master's degree.

In Germany and Denmark, if you have a Bachelor degree, you can submit an application for a combined program (Master's + Post-doctoral programs). It is recommended that the average score of the degree should be as high as possible, so it is better to think about the continuation of studies in Post-doctoral program in advance. In addition, the student must be fluent in the foreign language of the program (at least the C1 level), prepare a resume, CV, expected research plan, motivation letter, and have several letters of recommendation, including those from the Scientific Adviser.

British universities require passing a series of tests for analytical and mathematical skills, while most Czech universities interview future PhD candidates for admission. This interview allows teachers and applicants to get acquainted and see if they are suitable for each other. In academic environment it is very important to have contacts, like-minded people, and to build relationships with colleagues.

What does Post-doctoral program look like?

The duration of Post-doctoral program studies depends on the university and the field of study. The minimum time is from three to five years, but some do not get the desired degree until seven or eight years of study.

There could be many reasons for that:

  • If your project is directly dependent on getting a grant, sometimes the work may come to a pause due to lack of funds.

  • Post-doctoral program studies are most often not free. In Europe, the cost of the PhD program can be up to three thousand dollars a year.

  • Nobody cancelled the personal reasons: illness, change of family status, the birth of a child - all this can change the focus from scientific work to everyday problems.

  • Post-doctoral program studies require maximum immersion in a subject. If the life situation requires earning money and not just building an academic career, the dissertation writing process can take a long time.

  • Writing a Post-doctoral dissertation of three hundred pages is not a school essay on a couple of spreads in a notebook. Clinical researches show that PhD candidates experience serious stress while an academic paper is being written.

The Post-doctoral program does not have a fixed schedule of lectures like the Bachelor's or Master's programs. The only condition is regular contact with the Academic Advisor. However, there are also differences: some people meet with the "boss" on a weekly basis and report on the work done, while for some people three emails in six months is enough.

In the first year, the student is immersed in the research topic, clarifying the details of the dissertation plan, listening to seminars, and working hard with the literature. This stage is very important, since the volume of the final work should be from one hundred to three hundred pages, and not less than a third - the original text, that is, the author's conclusions and findings, rather than retelling the read literature. At the same time, the topic of the dissertation must be valid, and the results - useful and applicable in practice or for further scientific researches.

In the second year a student may work part-time as a teacher at the academic department, the third and fourth years are usually devoted to writing and defending an academic paper. The progress of their research should be presented by the student at the thematic conferences. Initiative is welcomed: if you decide to share your experience with colleagues in another country, it will only be to your advantage.

Why choose to study for a Post-doctoral program and what to do after graduation?

Typically, future PhD candidates are driven by a desire to develop in the scientific field and a sincere interest in their project. Spoiler: without the last one, writing and defending a dissertation is not an option at all, because it requires dedication. However, there may be other reasons why a person seeks a doctoral degree in Europe:

High salary. This may not be true for all countries and scientific fields, but in engineering, medicine and natural sciences, the doctoral degree directly affects the number of zeros in the bank account.

Deepening knowledge in the field of study. Even for those who do not plan to build an academic career, studying for a Post-doctoral program will help broaden horizons and career prospects.

Love of knowledge. There are inquisitive "eternal students" who enjoy the process of studying and acquiring new knowledge.

Those who have successfully defended their dissertation have several options for employment.

If you have combined work and study in a European Post-doctoral program, you can talk to your superiors about changing your position (expanding your job description, increasing your salary, etc.) after receiving your degree.

An academic career is the traditional option, but you have to really love the scientific activity.

Deep theoretical knowledge in the field of study can be appreciated in the business area. Doctor of Science can consult, write articles, or do analytics.

An academic degree is not uncommon among civil servants. If you plan to build a career in this area, a doctoral degree can open up international prospects.

How to get a doctoral degree in Europe for free?

Free Post-doctoral program studies are available in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Finland.

The Czech Republic:

  • Studying in the Czech language at local universities is free for all students, including foreigners by law.

  • The Czechs are respectful of academic degrees, so the PhD degree is highly valued in the job market.

  • Even if you choose to study at a private university, the Czech Republic has a number of scholarship programs and grants that help cover the cost of education.

  • A postgraduate student at a university in the Czech Republic receives a monthly scholarship of 6 000-13 000 CZK per month. You can increase your income by teaching at the academic department.

  • At universities in the Czech Republic you can do your own research as part of a major international project. The Charles University, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Technical University and Palacký University in Olomouc are particularly active in this regard.


  • Post-doctoral program studies are held in either an individual or a structured program. In the first case, the postgraduate student chooses their own Scientific Adviser and works independently on the project on the basis of the university, research center or industrial enterprise. In the second case, PhD candidate work under the supervision of several Scientific Advisers and the educational process is more intense.

  • Post-doctoral program studies can be in German or in English.

  • For more information about getting a doctoral degree in Germany, visit the Research in Germany website and the website of the specific university.


  • The doctoral degree requires a number of academic papers and a certain number of credits for major and minor, i.e., a more specialized field of study.

  • One of the conditions for admission to the defense is the presence of at least one publication in a scientific journal.

  • The doctoral degree is granted without writing a complete dissertation. If you were "productive" on academic papers during the research, you can collect them, finish them with an introduction and conclusion, get the academic paper of 50-60 pages and the desired PhD degree.

  • The Finnish language is a difficult language to learn. If you are going to study and write an academic paper in the Finnish language, you need to study the language beforehand.

Studying in France will not make a dent in your wallet, either: the minimum cost of studying is $436 a year.

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