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Doctoral Program

ZEF offers a three-year structured doctoral studies program.

The program was started in 1999. In terms of size (currently about 120 PhD students), internationality (students from around 85 different countries) and interdisciplinarity, the program is unique in Germany and Europe.

Target group
The program aims at educating future decision makers, especially from developing countries, for international careers in a development context. Applicants should be students with an outstanding master or equivalent degree; young university scientists; or young professionals employed in research or government institutes, or in the private sector.

ZEF and its Doctoral Program apply an interdisciplinary approach to research on development issues, but also trains the students' disciplinary skills. Combining theories, methods, and practical experience in the areas of social, economic, and ecological change enables students to explore new fields and be competitive on an international job market.

Educational concept
The ZEF Doctoral Studies Program offers an intensive course program of about 700 teaching hours per year. The courses are conducted by ZEF’s senior researchers, professors from other faculties at the University of Bonn, and guest professors. Leading international researchers conduct research and teach in ZEF's doctoral studies program.

The ZEF Doctoral Studies Program offers a intensive structured program of courses. These courses include the classical fields of environmental disciplines within natural sciences, and the economic, political, and social-cultural dimensions of development. The entire program is conducted in English. Students are required to finalize two course modules and pass their exams prior to undertaking their field research.

For further details have a look at Study Rules of the ZEF Doctoral Studies Program (version from February, 2011).

Field research
After completing their 6-9 months course work at ZEF, the doctoral students conduct 6-12 months of practical field research in a developing country or a development-related institution. After returning to ZEF, they write up their thesis, which takes on average another year.

Service and support
The structure of the doctoral program is tailored to the individual academic needs of the students, in particular for those coming from developing countries. ZEF provides intense study counseling and academic support services by tutors and mentors. It offers an all-round service to ensure that you can  settle quickly into your studies and everyday life in Bonn. The services range from helping to find a place to live over support for visa application to preparations for the field research.

Academic degrees
Students who finish and defend their theses successfully obtain a doctoral degree in sociology, political science, social anthropology, economics, agricultural economics, agriculture, forestry, mathematics or natural science. The degrees are granted by the respective university faculty, which is usual the faculty of the first supervisor.

Students may pursue their doctoral study under direct supervision of ZEF professors but can also be associated with ZEF while being supervised elsewhere. Arrangements within the selected German university are made to ensure that a student is accepted by a distinguished advisor and is acceptable to his/her faculty. The majority of doctoral students are supervised and examined by professors of the the University of Bonn. But the doctoral degree may also be obtained within "sandwich programs" from other qualified universities in Europe or overseas.

FAQs - doing a doctorate in Germany

Here is information material of the ZEF Doctoral Studies Program available for download.

Flyer (published in July 2010)

Brochure 10 Years ZEF Doctoral Studies Program (October 2009)

Fact and Figures 10 Years ZEF Doctoral (October 2009)

Brochure (published in January 2013)


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Dr. Günther Manske,
ZEF Doctoral Studies Program
Walter-Flex-Str. 3,
53113 Bonn, Germany
Tel: +49 228 / 73-17 94
Fax: +49 228 / 73-1889

Maike Retat-Amin
Tel: +49 228 / 73-17 27