Step by Step to a Doctorate

The program has a 3-4 years time frame. In the first six to twelve months, students will attend an intensive course program  conducted by ZEF's senior researchers, professors from the University of Bonn, and international guest professors. After students have finalized their research plans, they will conduct their field research in a developing country or a development-oriented organization for one to two years. Students will then return to Bonn for their last year and complete their doctoral theses for the remaining months.

The academic year officially begins in October of every year. New students should plan to arrive earlier to take part in welcome events and orientation.


BIGS-DR Courses

The BIGS-DR course program includes three blocks of courses spread over the first and third year of the program. At the end of module 1 and 2, students are expected to pass an exam.

Module I: Interdisciplinary Course

The interdisciplinary course offers BIGS-DR students insight to other disciplines and provides them with interdisciplinary skills for their future doctoral research. This course provides a sound theoretical background and skills to address the complex and interlinked issues of development.  This course is mandatory for all students.

Module II: Disciplinary Course

The disciplinary courses in economics, social sciences, and ecology, continue with the theoretical and methodological foundations for the different disciplines. These courses are mandatory for students of the respective discipline.

Module III

This module is comprised of courses on specific topics, specific training for individual students provided in laboratories at the University of Bonn, or other cooperating institutes in Germany or abroad.

Special courses

BIGS-DR also offers training in topics such as statistics & GIS, remote sensing, programming, SPSS and STATA, as well as soft skills


Student are required to take courses which amount to at least 50 ECTS credits (ECTS = European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System). 

Students are required to finalize course module 1 and 2 and pass their exams prior to undertaking their field research. Students are given two attempts to pass an exam. If a student fails twice, or fails two exams total, or achieves less than 50 ECTS credits, the ZEF Directorate will decide if the student can continue to study at BIGS-DR. Successful participation in the courses is a prerequisite to obtaining a doctoral degree supported by BIGS-DR.

During the first six to twelve months of residence in Bonn, the students are also expected to work with their tutor and supervisor on fine-tuning their proposals, developing the necessary budgets, and organizing the infrastructure as well as institutional arrangements in the host countries where they will conduct their field research. You have to present your proposal to the scholars in residence and the interested faculty for comments and suggestions before clearance is given to travel abroad.