Program overview

One of ZEF's directors with students at a ZEF-event.

Where will I study?

The Bonn International Graduate Studies for Development Research (BIGS-DR) is a doctoral program which is part of the Center for Development (ZEF). ZEF is an internationally operating research institute of the University of Bonn under the leadership of three renowned professors in the areas of Ecology, Economics and other Social Sciences.

Doctoral students "in the field".

What is the program's set-up?

The program has a three-year time frame. In the first six to 12 months the students attend an intensive interdisciplinary and disciplinary course program at BIGS-DR, conducted by ZEF’s senior researchers, professors from the University of Bonn and international guest professors. After their research plans have been approved, the students travel abroad to conduct their one to two years of practice-oriented field research in a developing country or a development-oriented organisation. Subsequently, the students write up and finalize their doctoral thesis at BIGS-DR in six to 12 months.

ZEF students at a research seminar.

Which skills can I learn?

BIGS-DR offers a broad and interdisciplinary approach to development research and a sound training in theories and methods of the academic disciplines mentioned above.

ZEF-students at an intercultural seminar.

Which assets does the ZEF doctoral program offer?

The doctoral program is international and diverse. Nearly 600 students have joined our program since its start in 1999, representing nearly 90 countries. Around 40% of our students are female.

BIGS-DR provides excellent and intensive supervision and tutorship. Students are part of a BIGS-DR “batch” of around 30 students, with whom you can exchange professional and personal experiences.

BIGS-DR structured doctoral program enables students to obtain their doctoral degree in three-and-a-half years on average.

The doctoral program has its own service and support team, who help students with housing, administrative duties and family affairs.

A happy new Dr. - made at ZEF!

What kind of degree will I receive?

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 usually 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 University of Bonn.

Can I participate in courses at BIGS-DR without enrolling in the full program?

External doctoral students can participate in one of the doctoral courses.
As an external participant, you have to organize your own funds. You can apply by submitting the following in one PDF file:

  • A letter of application
  • A certified registration as a PhD student at a university
  • A letter of recommendation from your supervisor
  • A CV
  • Copies of certificates
  • The BIGS-DR application form

You may submit your completed application at any time to, but at least two months prior to the start of the course.

Where can I get more information?

Contact the doctoral management team at BIGS-DR!