Instructions for External PhD Students

Here are my instructions on external PhD students:

Getting started as an external PhD student

I select a small number of external PhD student and I do want to highlight that it is a privilege to be selected as one. I only select students whom I consider outstanding and who have a day to day advisor whom I trust 100%. So, well done so far!

However, it directly comes with a few major expectations:

  • I want to be involved in your work and I expect you to make sure that I am involved. I do not serve as a PhD advisor if I am not part of the ongoing research. We need regular meetings - even if they are not as frequent as the meetings of the internal students.
  • We expect the same performance as for an internal student! We have high expectations on research quality.
  • Please try to collaborate with internal IAS members. So check out their homepages and get them involved in your research. Research is a team sport and you really have an excellent group of people to collaborate with here at IAS.

As a first step, I suggest you write a short research plan for yourself. As you may know, no research plan survives the first contact with the subject of study - but having no plan at the start guarantees that you will end up in a dead end. On the other hand, I can give you much better long term advice when we have your personal initial plan as a starting point for our discussions.

Make sure to read the following texts:

BTW: Also, give at least one talk per year in the Oberseminar...

Administrative Hurdles

Step 1: Admission is at the department level. Right at the beginning of your Ph.D. we should get you admitted - please fill and sign

and pre-fill

Send both to where our fine secretaries will take care of the rest.

Step 2: Registration at university level. Once that is completed, we need to officially fill

in addition due a German law on university statistics. Please make sure to read

which is for all Ph.D. students at TU Darmstadt.


Once you will be two years with us, I expect, in theory, you should be half way with your PhD and could graduate in another one to two years. Thus, I think sometime in the second half of this year, you should come up for your “quals”. That means, I want you to write a preliminary thesis, copy the current journal papers into it and outline a plan for the remainder of your PhD. See:

Here is my PhD proposal (yes, I am ashamed of it, it should be a lower bound at best and the thesis became better) for reference:

Also look at the theses of our recent PhD graduates! That should really help!

For the quals paper, I expect you to:

  • prepare all thesis parts that you can already prepare (e.g., abstract, Ch. 1: Introduction,

tables of symbols and abbreviations, your CV, your planned+current publication list, …)

  • Use \include{JournalPaper1.tex} for including your journal paper drafts. Don’t smoothen

things yet. If you don’t have journal papers

  • Instead of Ch. 5: Conclusion add Ch. 5: Plans until Graduation (which can be 1 page)

Past theses give a good guideline. Please don’t create any redundant or unnecessary text or elements except for “Ch. 5: Plans until Graduation.”

I strongly recommend to keep a file “Future_Work.tex” around where you “dump” all unfinished ideas. You could even put it into the Appendix of the Quals paper and later add it to the “Ch. 5: Conclusion” in the thesis.

The “quals” may be Qualen (German for huge pains) as we simulate a defense with the postdocs posing as committee members. But it *really* helps - you will know where your weaknesses and accomplishments are. Typically, your output will improve substantially.

So fair warning when you are half way (e.g. 18-24 months after starting and 18-24 before finishing), I expect you to have these three things ready:

  • the quals paper
  • a time plan for the second half
  • ideas for your external committee member
  • a quals talk = a test defense

We aim at making the quals hard such that the defense becomes easy!


I don’t want you to write a book which no one reads. I don’t want you to maximize the number of papers. I also don’t want you to get your first outside feedback. Nevertheless, I *DO* want you to have a high quality thesis. That means each meat thesis chapter should have the quality to be publishable in a reasonably quality journal. I will *require* that all meat thesis chapters to have been submitted to journals before you *defend*. That’s my absolute gold standard for theses.

I *recommend* that you have at least one accepted (more is better: I can argue better for a good grade, we can tell critical thesis committee “fuck off, three experts in the field have signed off on this chapter!”, you have the maximal readership & reward for your thesis chapters, and you have smoothened out all problems and typos). Most importantly, it makes sure that I have read your thesis chapters *LONG* before they become a thesis and that we are collaborators instead of adversaries during your defense.

BTW: Often journal papers will only be printed during your postdoctoral life - which can help you bridge the post-PhD publication gap by a paper…

I recommend attending a few defenses before yours. You will notice that I will ask the meanest question. I do that on purpose: After the defense, I can subsequently argue for better grades without anybody getting suspicious… :):)

Here is a summary of the steps involved in graduation:


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