At a glance

Expected program duration
3.5 years

Students admitted per year
c. 20-30

Language of instruction

Admission status

Applications for 2020

Applications for 2021

Applications for 2022
Will open in spring 2021



Internal scholarship applicants
23:59 CEST (UTC/GMT +2)
August 31st, annually

External funding applicants
Review time for applications
takes up to three months


BIGS-DR coordination team
Dr. Günther Manske
Ms. Maike Retat-Amin



Eligibility questions

Who can apply to BIGS-DR?

BIGS-DR aims to attract scientists from all over the world with outstanding master's or equivalent degrees in economics, social sciences, sociology, political science, economics, agricultural and resource economics, agronomy, biology, ecology, forestry, mathematics or earth sciences. Candidates preferably have work experience in national or international research institutions, governments, or the private sector. Interest in interdisciplinary research is a prerequisite.

Can external PhD students participate in the courses?

BIGS-DR gives external students the opportunity to attend lectures and seminars here in Bonn. External participants should review our current course program and keep in mind how they plan on financing their time here. As an external participant, you can apply by submitting an application with the following documents in a single PDF file:

  • A motivation letter
  • A BIGS-DR application form
  • A CV
  • University certificates and transcripts
  • Enrollment as a doctoral student at another university
  • One letter of recommendation

Take a look at our application guide for more information about the documents you will need to apply. You may submit your completed application to bigs-dr[at] at least two months prior to the start of the course.

Can I reapply to BIGS-DR?

Our program receives hundreds of very competitive applications every admission season and we are not always able to guarantee a spot for each qualified applicant. Reapplying to BIGS-DR is possible with a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Rewrite your motivation letter
  • Rewrite your Graduate Research Statement (GRS)
  • Update your CV with any relevant details
  • Resubmit two recommendation letters

In accordance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), applicants who wish to reapply must compile their documents anew following our application instructions. Please remember to register online to receive a new registration ID for the current admission period.

I have a completed a one year master's program. Am I eligible to apply?

Applicants who have finished a one year master's degree are also eligible under the condition that they have written a master's thesis.

I am in my final semester of my Master's. Am I eligible to apply?

Yes, students who are in their final semester of their master's study are also eligible to apply. In this case, you may submit your degree certificate once it has been conferred, but latest by the end of October of the year of application. In the meantime, you will need to provide us with copies of your most recent transcripts or written proof of the courses and scores that you have taken thus far.

Do I need a master's degree to apply?

Yes, our program only admits students with a completed (or near completed) master's degree and thesis.

Is there an age limit to apply?

There is no age limit in applying. However, your last academic degree should have been obtained recently. Applicants who were conferred a degree several years ago will need to demonstrate a level of research aptitude by including a recent list of publications.

Do I need to contact professors and supervisors before I apply?

When you apply to BIGS-DR, no prior contact with a faculty member or ZEF senior researchers is necessary. Once you are admitted to the program, BIGS-DR will assist you in finding the right supervisor.

How do I receive a conditional letter of acceptance?

Applicants who are applying with external funding often require a conditional letter of acceptance. Ideally, applicants apply for BIGS-DR and their external funding institution simultaneously. Upon a successful application, applicants are issued a conditional letter of acceptance that they may use to receive their award.

Can I apply for part-time study?

BIGS-DR is a full-time program. If you are applying under a project vacancy, you will need to discuss the time and study contraints with the doctoral program and your project coordinator.

Do I need work experience prior to applying?

Applicants who are applying for our internal scholarship are required to have at least two years of relevant work experiernce. Other externally funded applicants are not strictly required to have any work experience; however, it can be an advantage during the selection process.

Where can I find information about the current research at ZEF?

Feel free to browse through our research & capacity development page, which highlights current themes and projects. Institute publications are all listed under our publications tab.

Application questions

What are the ZEF research themes on the online registration?

The online registration lists a number of research themes that ZEF is in engaged in. This allows you to select the theme that matches your profile, and helps us make sure that you are being provided with the appropriate supervision.

When is the application deadline?

The application deadline for internal scholarship applicants is August 31st, 23:59 CEST (UTC/GMT +2) annually. There is no deadline for externally funded applicants from our side, but we take up to three months to review such an application. Keep that in mind in case deadlines of potential scholarship providers are pending.

Can I send documents for review to determine eligibility?

To guarantee fairness, we do not preview application documents or writing samples. We do not accept single documents unless specifically requested. All documents should be compiled in your application PDF file.

How do I need to sign documents for my application file?

Several of the required application documents must be signed. BIGS-DR does accept digital and handwirtten signatures.

You might experience problems inserting your signature into PDF documents, like the BIGS-DR application form, or the DAAD form, that can happen despite the fact that we only publish non-password protected forms. There is an easy low-tech solution to such problems. Simply print out the form you want to sign, sign it with a pen and scan that form to PDF.

It is acceptable to print out only the last page of the form (with the field for signature). After you have signed the last page you can insert it in lieu, or after the original last page. We do not mid if there is a second version (with signature) of the last page of a particular form in that case.

I have trouble merging my documents. What should I do?

Sometimes applicants face difficulties when trying to merge the required application documents due to password protection or digital signatures. One option to solve this, is to print out the troubled document, fill it out or sign it manually, scan it and the attached it to the application file.

Can I submit a revised document after I have submitted my application?

If you would like to submit a revised document, you must compile your application PDF file once again with the changes, and upload the document again. Please send us a email in that case to let us know that you have changed documents.

How will I know if you have received my application?

For example, your name is John Doe, and your application number is 123. A notification will appear after you have uploaded your application to our application cloud. The notification will read "Uploaded file: 123_John Doe." That means your application has reached our cloud save and sound. We will screen your application after we have received it in our cloud. That can take up to two weeks. We will contact you with a feedback latest after that time. If you do not hear back from us within two weeks, please inform us immediately. We are not responsible for any application lost due to technical problems.

What happens to my personal information after I apply?

The application PDF file and all other accompanying documents will remain at BIGS-DR at all times. Personal data is stored in the BIGS-DR application database for the time required to register applications and scholarships in compliance with the German Federal Data Protection Act. Unsuccessful applications will be destroyed after the review process has concluded. Incomplete applications are not considered and are also destroyed after the review process has concluded.

When will I be notified of the admissions results?

The selection committee usually concludes the review period by the end of the year. Once the review period has concluded, you will be informed of your results indivdually by email.