Research in Germany: Build your career, starting here:
Original content kindly provided by Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) - Edited by Fahima Haque
With all this talk of a globalized world we live in and undergraduate students clamoring to study abroad and even down to the recent opening of New York University’s independently operated Dubai campus, more and more students are looking towards abroad to continue their studies. Whether you are attracted to the idea of being immersed in a disparate culture, or excited by the opportunity to research side by side with renowned specialists, completing a graduate degree or earning a PhD is a bold way to take your education to the next level.
Rankings and research & development
As expected, certain kinds of degrees are better suited for specific countries. If you’re interested in a research-based Masters or PhD degree, Germany may be the perfect place for you. Science and research in Germany are characterized by a wide variety of exciting disciplines and top-notch facilities. With a culture of deeply integrated theory and applied research, graduate school in Germany can put you on the forefront to making a difference in society, science, industry and education. There are approximately 750 publicly funded research institutions in Germany, in conjunction with research and development centers run by major industrial players around the country.
In fact, Germany registers an average of one patent every 22 minutes - more than any other country in the world. In fact, Germany will not be slowing its momentum in R&D anytime soon.
Because competition is a key element in science and research, both for researchers and for their institutions, the bar is always being raised. You can take a look at how German universities stack up in a number of different fields by viewing the ranking systems.
The German approach to academics
It’s important to note that such a rigorous approach to schooling can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what is your approach to education. Kyle Rees, 22, graduate of College of Charleston in South Carolina, spent a month and a half in Aachen, Germany when he was 16 during a high-school exchange trip.
“I think it would take a certain type of person who is very detail oriented, focused and ready for a rigorous academic program,” he said. “The school system in Germany is much more "path oriented". I mean path oriented in the sense that tests were used to separate students at a younger age and send them down different career paths. From what I gathered, when you were in the American equivalent to 5th grade, your scores on national tests began being recorded and monitored. If you did exceptionally well, were dedicated and showed proficiency in several subjects, you went to Gymnasium. Kids in the middle may have been encouraged to consider a technical vocation school during high school. These are called Realschules. Kids on the bottom end of the spectrum usually attended Hauptschule. Gymnasium kids were destined for University, which is the kind of school I went and observed,” he said.
“I would return but it would be hard to say if I could live or study there. I think it would take a certain type of person who is very detail oriented, focused and ready for a rigorous academic program,” he said.
Other students found the lure of German culture impossible to ignore. Cameron Schroeder, 22, rising senior at Syracuse University in New York took a gap year between high school and college to spend five months in Mainz, Germany, a town about 40 minutes west of Frankfurt.
“My father's family is German and my father had exchanged with a German student his junior year in high school. We have remained friends with that family since. I also am fascinated with the German culture, history, music, and soccer of course. I had the afternoons free to explore on my own. I was lucky because my host family took my language acquisition very seriously. They refused to speak to me in English so that only made my German better,” she said.
Where to? Mapping out your research opportunities
Beyond the basics of rigorous academics or the opportunity to become bilingual or even trilingual, the almost 400 universities in Germany focus on multiple disciplines that can appeal to any kind of student. Here are just a few examples of what kinds of research opportunities are available:
Companies / Industrial Research:
Have you heard of Daimler, Siemens, Bosch, BMW, Volkswagen, SAP or BASF? These are just some of the German companies that are world leaders in innovation. If you’d like to design the next sports car, software platform or cancer-fighting drug, consider taking your skills to German companies or industry.
There are a number of world-renowned research institutes in Germany with an extensive array of opportunities for researchers and scholars from around the world. Click on each institute’s name to read more about their research and locations:
- Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
- Leibniz Association
- Max Planck Society
But don’t just take statistics and links at face value - choosing to study in Europe is no small task. Sometimes making such a huge decision can be based on a gut feeling; Gabrielle Siegers, a postdoctoral fellow in cell biology at Princess Margaret Hospital’s Ontario Cancer Institute who earned her PhD from the University of Freiburg in Germany, for instance, knew instantly Germany was where she wanted to remain for her studies: “My love affair with Germany began while backpacking through Europe at 18. I returned during my third year of undergraduate studies (Biochemistry) as an Ontario-Baden-Wuerttemberg (OBW) exchange student. When I first arrived, I could barely string together a single sentence in German. By the end, I was fluent and didn’t want to return to Canada!” she said.
For others, time spent flexing their academic muscles in Germany opened up many professional doors. James Hurley earned his PhD at Philipps-Universität Marburg and is currently Manager of New Product Development at Wilflex Inks/PolyOne Corp: “My experiences earning my doctorate and doing a post-doc in Germany helped me land a position with BASF, where I worked for 8 years on engineering thermoplastics both in Germany and the US. In my current position with Wilflex Inks/PolyOne Corp., I routinely deal with our raw material suppliers, many of whom are German. On many occasions, I have contacted their German R&D staff directly with questions and requests for additional information. Because of my experience in Germany and language skills, the barriers to scientific discussions are very low, which facilitates a good exchange.”
Because choosing a university abroad isn’t just about the education, but also a potential future home, we’ve compiled a crash-course list of links to help you further understand the in’s and out’s of Germany:
- Research Areas - from nanotechnology to the social sciences, here’s where you find more information about your field of interest.
- English-Language Degrees – search this database of 800+ degree programs in English.
- PhD Demystified– start here for all you need to know on getting your doctorate in Germany.
- Funding – find out the array of options to fund your research career.
- Work Hard, Play Hard – finally some basic information on travel, culture, festivals and everything life in Germany has to offer!
Fahima Haque is a recent college graduate from American University with a Bachelor in Journalism and a freelance writer.