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Max Plank vs US PHD


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So I am a senior in a top university in the US and I'm applying to phd programs in plant biology this year.  Recently I was at a small plant biology conference and I met a pretty well-known professor from my school.  He later told me that if I was interested in doing my phd in germany he knew a plant bio professor there that he could connect me with and I could probably do my phd there.  This sounds like a really cool opportunity, but I have a few concerns.  Obviously max plank is a really good institution, but it seems to me like US profs look down on foreign phds a little.    On the other hand the phd would only take 3 years and it would be cool to live in another country. The german prof is really famous and does some pretty cool stuff, but I don't speak german and I don't have a masters. The professor that I talked to said that this would not be a problem, but I was wondering if anyone else had any thoughts on the pros and cons of getting a phd in another country?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not speaking English is unlikely to be a problem at a Max Planck- most good German departments will have a big international component and do most everything in English because of it.


3 years for a PhD can seem like a pro, but has its issues... A 3 year PhD is part of the reason some Americans look down on European PhD's- it is not realistic to think you will receive equivalent training in 3 years as you would in a typical 5-6 year American PhD. This is less of an issue for Germans because of how their system is set up. Essentially all Germans would do a 2-year masters in their field before a PhD. Then the PhD does not include any coursework, rotations, qualifying exam, etc. The German master's sort of corresponds to the first 2 years of an American PhD program- which is obviously time-saving to skip, but may not be the greatest idea as far as your training is concerned.


Rotations are also an extreme rarity in Germany, so if you went there you'd likely be committed to work with this one specific person. That could go great, but if it doesn't, you have very little back up plan, and living in a foreign country where you have minimal connections, established support network, friends, understanding of how their system is set up, is not going to make that easier.

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I'd also suggest that even though you might complete a PhD in 3 years; you might not be intellectually ready for the rigors of what comes next. Doing and PhD and running your own research program both have their difficulties, but its important to remember that you will not have your advisors guidance when running your own program. Often, advisors at my school(earth science) will offer their students a 1 year research assistantship after the end of their 5 year degree to let them work on getting top post docs/ faculty positions. Its important to remember that the progress/intelligence/craftness of a PhD student over the years does not increase linearly, but exponentially: students who spend 5 years in graduate school will tend to be better trained than students who only spend 3. Of course, there are exceptions (and you may very well be one, I am not placing any kind of value judgment), but think about what you want to do at the end if raise this concern with your advisors/future advisors. 

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