PhD at Fraunhofer ISI#
Institute director Univ.-Prof. Marion A. Weissenberger-Eibl
The doctoral program at Fraunhofer ISI is structured as a four-year contract and begins with a one-year orientation phase. To start with, the PhD student is employed on a 100% contract, gets to know the projects, internal procedures and topics, and is involved in different projects and acquisitions of the respective Competence Center. Over the course of this year, the PhD student hones their dissertation topic in consultation with the business unit/CC head and their mentor, and formulates a dissertation proposal and a research plan. To support this preparation, the PhD student is given a defined time budget, which is earmarked for putting together a research plan. In parallel, the university side of supervising the PhD is planned. The PhD student can be supported here by Fraunhofer ISI's extensive existing network to university research partners as well as the contact to professors at the institute.
The three-year dissertation phase follows the orientation phase. The PhD student continues to be employed at Fraunhofer ISI on a part-time contract with 80 percent (in justified cases, 70 or 90 percent are also possible). The PhD candidate works 70 percent (or 60 or 80 percent, respectively) on projects of the respective business unit or on projects spanning business units at the institute together with other colleagues. The 10 percent difference represents the time financed for working on their dissertation in the sense of conducting preliminary research for Fraunhofer ISI. In addition, it is assumed that the student spends the rest of the difference in time to a full-time position working on their dissertation (depending on the specific contract, 10, 20 or 30 percent of the student's own time). In all cases, an attempt is made to ensure the best possible match between project topics and the dissertation topic. The PhD student working intensively on projects and acquisitions and successively developing the dissertation topic during the orientation phase forms the basis for this. Coordination with the university supervisor takes place continuously. Writing a dissertation therefore takes place at the interface of project work and independent scientific work with a strong focus on current issues in applied research.
Each PhD student is assigned a mentor from Fraunhofer ISI at the beginning of the orientation phase. Mentors are experienced researchers with a PhD. They usually work in the same Competence Center and support the doctoral student with preparing the dissertation during the orientation phase and accompany the student's progress during the dissertation phase. In particular, this includes the opportunity for regular professional exchanges and discussions of how to proceed with the contents and interim results. In addition, the mentor can provide help with organizing the time schedule, defining milestones and with any problems that arise. The mentor is assigned a defined and flexible time budget for supervising a PhD student. The role of the mentor is to provide intensive support and advice to the PhD candidate, ensure the good quality of the dissertation and systematically identify the possible incorporation of the topic into acquisition and project activities.
The PhD students at Fraunhofer ISI have to deal with a huge variety of topics and complex methods and approaches. To encourage and support the exchange of experiences and best practices, but also how to deal with challenges or problems, Fraunhofer ISI organizes an internal colloquium with all the PhD students and their mentors every six months. This is where all the PhD students have a chance to present and discuss their dissertation project in a plenary session and to benefit from different perspectives from other Competence Centers. In addition, workshops are offered on specialized and organizational topics and presentations by senior researchers are organized. The focus is on the further development of the PhD students through the regular exchange of information concerning the comprehensive wealth of knowledge at Fraunhofer ISI and the opportunity to engage in networking that spans the Competence Centers.
PhD student spokespersons are elected to represent the interests of all PhD students at Fraunhofer ISI vis-à-vis the institute directors, the CC and business unit heads and the staff council. These spokespersons promote the exchange of information among the PhD students at informal events as well, such as regular get-togethers, coffee breaks or other activities, and provide a point of contact for any questions or concerns. They are also responsible for the continuous evaluation of the doctoral program. They can bundle the concerns and issues of the PhD students they represent and are in regular contact with the institute directors.
Alongside the PhD student spokespersons, there are also confidants available, who can help to mediate in the event of conflicts between the PhD students and supervisors, project coordinators, mentors, institute directors and committees at Fraunhofer ISI. The PhD students elect these confidants from among the group of senior researchers for a four-year period and they represent an important additional component to the mentors in the doctoral program. PhD students can speak to them confidentially about individual topics and problems concerning their dissertations. The confidants take an advisory role and, if required, can help to mediate should conflicts arise. In addition, together with the PhD student spokespersons, they monitor and support the long-term development of the doctoral program.
The PhD students have access to Fraunhofer ISI's internal qualification program, the wide range of qualification courses offered by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft as well as external training courses, where required. PhD students take part in the training program for young project managers at Fraunhofer ISI, and, if required, identify and agree on further education/training requirements eed with their supervisors. As part of their further development while working in the field of science, the PhD students are required to publish at least two scientific papers in the subject area of their dissertation. Furthermore, they are encouraged to participate in and present the interim results of their dissertation at national as well as international scientific conferences.
During the one-year orientation phase, the head of the respective Competence Center holds at least two meetings with the PhD student. At these meetings, they discuss the topic of the planned dissertation, the organizational framework conditions with regard to the university supervision, and contractual perspectives. These meetings always take place in close consultation with the mentor. During the dissertation phase, at least one supervisor/employee meeting is held each year to discuss the project work performed and the progress of the dissertation.