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Doctoral Training

The doctoral programme at the MPIL offers doctoral fellows an integrated system of doctoral supervision in acknowledgement of their previous accomplishments and in order to emphasize academic independence. It is firmly embedded in the institute’s overall research focus and not conceived as an independent programme. Adhering to the core values of the humanities and social-science disciplines, the doctoral programme is guided by the idea of allowing young research fellows the freedom to grow intellectually through the range of studies sponsored by the institute, while retaining the emphasis on individual doctoral projects for a focussed training programme. These core principles underlie the four pillars of doctoral supervision which are the following.

The responsibility for organizing the doctoral supervision programme resides with the directors. In order to promote the research interests of their doctoral fellows, the directors organize a separate weekly seminar, to which other postdoctoral fellows and habilitation candidates under their supervision are also invited. Each seminar is equally open to the other director and his or her research team and senior research fellows, and not least to interested invitees. Both seminars represent the most vital of the four pillars. The aim of these seminars, on the one hand, is to explore pioneering studies with particular analytical attention to theory and method as well as to the coherence of the argument. The model of exemplary learning applies to that end: seminal works that have had lasting discursive impact on a specific discipline can more powerfully illustrate how successful scholarly works are generated. On the other hand, these seminars are also dedicated to discussion of the individual doctoral projects. During the discussion, participants are expected to state not only what they glean from the text, but also where they identify problems and how they would address these challenges differently. This represents a learning experience for all participants. The directors hold regular one-on-one meetings with their doctoral fellows to discuss their work individually and to assist them with decisions regarding which of the many, sometimes conflicting, ideas they should ideally use. It is common, and even desirable, for doctoral fellows to present their work to their group twice a year. The institute is deliberating the suitability of this tried and tested format for the foundational framework of an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS). 

The second pillar of the doctoral programme at the institute is the weekly meeting of the research staff in which all research fellows of the institute, as well as many guests, participate. This meeting offers a valuable opportunity for the entire institute to congregate on a regular basis, and to exchange experiences. As discussions mostly centre on topics of current relevance to the discipline, doctoral fellows become acquainted with a wide range of topical questions. In addition, doctoral fellows are required to present before this group of up to 80 people, which gives them a chance to hone their “professional skills”. The directors are committed to ensuring that doctoral fellows may use additional opportunities to train presentation skills if they wish to do so. 

Special academic events geared to the research interests of the doctoral fellows constitute the third pillar of the doctoral supervision programme. The Max Planck Masterclass deserves a special mention in this context. For this format a leading scholar in the discipline is invited to discuss his or her theories and research methods over a period of several days with all the researchers at the institute. Moreover, the institute offers ancillary courses and training programmes, such as introductory software and database training seminars, language courses, etc. The aim of the language courses is to help researchers to analyse scholarly materials published in languages other than German or English and, if possible, to train them to write and publish their own works in those languages. 

Events independently organized by the doctoral fellows and other researchers at the institute constitute the fourth pillar of the doctoral training at the institute. They include the doctoral fellows’ seminar as well as discussion groups devoted to diverse special topics, where interested scholars regularly convene to discuss. The institute supports retreats for doctoral fellows and encourages them to undertake research and field trips both within Germany and abroad. 

Doctoral fellowship announcements commonly seek international calls for proposals. Some doctoral fellows are integrated into smaller research groups, often with external funding, for which separate announcements are published. The goals of any dissertation project as well as the applicable framework conditions are normally specified in a supervision agreement. 

In regard to the Thesis Advisory Committees, the institute plans cooperation between the supervisor and the doctoral fellow in the appointment of an external advisor with expertise in the subject area of the dissertation project. This is a wise and expedient approach, especially for doctoral projects with an interdisciplinary focus. Doctoral fellows are encouraged to organize a research visit with the external advisor in order to facilitate closer collaboration between them. In a similar vein, they also might invite scholars to the institute who have made seminal contributions to the field of their own doctoral research. The institute has greatly benefitted from the stimulating discussions these initiatives have generated. In addition, the institute also fosters close contact between the doctoral fellows, habilitation candidates and other senior research fellows of the institute, who support their younger colleagues. 

With a view to ensure compliance with the rules of good scientific practise, once a year, the directors conduct a joint meeting to discuss relevant documents of the Max Planck Society and the Association of German Constitutional Law Professors. 

The institute’s PhD candidates have elected two PhD representatives according to the new Max Planck PhDnet Statutes. It is an established institute tradition that the PhD representatives exercise the office jointly and on equal terms. 

Philipp Sauter is the elected external PhD representative of the MPIL within the Max Planck PhDnet.

Wartan Hofsepjan and Paolo Mazzottiare the elected internal PhD representatives of the MPIL.

We kindly ask that requests concerning the supervision of doctoral theses in the context of an application should be sent to the directors only. Please note that questions for which the answer is available in our extensive Guidelines for Applicants will not be answered.