BIGS-DR provides a tailor-made doctoral program to expand knowledge in development research, within a specific discipline and beyond. The mandatory course program comprises three modules, starting each year in October.

Embarking on a doctoral study in a new place can be challenging, regardless of whether one is from Germany or another country. Starting in October, BIGS-DR students become members of a batch of international doctoral students from various disciplines who will proceed through the program together and step by step. This batch ensures peer-to-peer support and often results in lifelong connections with batchmates.

Step by Step to a Doctorate

Starting at ZEF

During the first six to twelve months of residence in Bonn, students work with their main supervisor and tutor to refine their research proposals, develop a budget plan, and organize the infrastructure and institutional arrangements in their research countries. Students must present their research proposals to researchers at ZEF and faculty for comments and suggestions before starting the fieldwork. Conducting doctoral research with secondary data and without own fieldwork is also possible. ZEF provides doctoral students with shared offices, computing, conference facilities, and an in-house- library.

Course Modules

Coursework at ZEF consists of compulsory modules reflecting the strategic research themes at ZEF. During the first weeks, all BIGS-DR students of one batch take the same modules with an interdisciplinary focus on development research. The elective modules in economics, social sciences, public health, system modeling, and ecology enhance the theoretical and methodological foundations in the respective disciplines.

» ZEF Course Modules


Field research

After finishing the course modules, students work with their tutors and supervisors on their research plan. After final approval by their supervisors, students travel to their research countries to conduct field research. The time frame depends on the chosen research topic, the funding, and applied methods. Upon returning to ZEF, students write up their doctoral theses. Most students finish their PhDs and obtain their doctoral degrees within four years.

International networks

ZEF has intensive cooperation networks in most parts of the world, which doctoral students can tap into for their own research and career development. The Santander Research Grant or other funding opportunities enable short research stays with strategic partners of the University of Bonn to discuss findings, get other perspectives, and build career networks. BIGS-DR also cooperates closely with the University of Tokyo (i.e. IPADS and GPSS-GLI) in the fields of teaching and student exchange.

Last step: Graduation

Most BIGS-DR students submit their dissertations to the respective faculty after a maximum of four years. The time frame depends on the topic, funding, and other circumstances. Upon successful defense of their dissertation, students are awarded a doctoral degree from one of the Faculties of the  University of Bonn. ZEF is affiliated with the Faculties of Agriculture, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and Arts.



Dr. Silke Tönsjost
Academic Coordinator
+49 (0)228 / 73-1794

Max Voit
+49 (0)228 / 73-1727

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