How to become a PhD student?

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If you have decided that you would like to write a PhD, there are several avenues you can take. Here, you get an overview of your options if you are considering applying for a PhD.


Universities regularly advertise a number of scholarships on their websites for which you can apply. You can also find PhD scholarships advertised in our magazine, Magisterbladet as well as online at, where you can create a job agent.

The application

A PhD application is often longer and more in-depth than a regular application. Here, you typically have to present your research project, demonstrate that you have a general idea of the area of research within which you want to work and show how you wish to contribute to it. Often, you will also be asked to prepare a timetable and set out e.g. study periods abroad or the budget.

Before you prepare your application/project description, it is important that you familiarise yourself with the formal requirements for your application. Typically, these may be found in the universities’ advertisements as well as on their websites.

PhD projects may also be advertised as being part of a more comprehensive research project carried out by a team of researchers. Therefore, it may be a good idea to contact one or more potential supervisors and present your ideas for an upcoming research project. This way, you are also able to receive important feedback and sparring while working on your application.



Most commonly PhD programmes are completed within an employment relationship where you are employed as a PhD fellow and enrolled at a university. If the university has advertised available scholarships, the university will be financing your salary as a PhD fellow.

External funding

If you have been granted external funding for your PhD project, you can apply for enrolment at a university. This requires that you can document your source of external funding which covers study costs and a reasonable level of salary/support for 3 years. Usually, this is taken to mean that the external funding as a minimum must cover certain fixed costs. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the requirements for external funding at the individual universities.

Find guidance for applying for research funding here

Funding Programmes

There is a number of Danish and international programmes which provide support and fund research. You can learn more about these programmes at the website of the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.

Industrial PhD

As an industrial PhD student, you are enrolled at a university while also being employed in a private or public sector company. The industrial PhD programme has a specific industrial focus and the company may receive a subsidy for your salary while you complete the project. A special employment contract must be entered into with the company, which will cover the cost of your salary. DM can help you review the contract to secure the terms agreed for industrial PhD students. The industrial PhD programme falls under auspices of the Innovation Fund.

Learn more about the industrial PhD programme (in Danish)

Independent PhD

A rarely used option is the not-employed PhD student - a so-called independent PhD student. You can choose to be a private PhD student, either because you are employed elsewhere in a position which has nothing to do with your PhD or because you fund your PhD scholarship yourself. However, as an independent PhD student, you must fulfil the conditions in the PhD Executive Order before you can obtain a PhD degree.

As an independent PhD student, you must pay tuition fees to the university where you are enrolled.

PhD at a university college

In 2013, the university colleges expanded their opportunities to carry out research. Therefore, it has become more common for teachers - often employed as lecturers at the university college programmes - to complete a PhD degree in collaboration with the university colleges. This type of PhD programme may be funded entirely by the university college or may be co-financed with e.g. a university and often involves the PhD student being redeemed from his or her teaching obligations at the university college for a period of time through internal buyout (so-called “frikøb”).

PhD projects of this type often focus on topics relevant to the major welfare professions - and are typically carried out in close dialogue with e.g. public institutions.

Other areas

Regardless of your employment, there are options for completing a PhD in connection with your employment provided that this may be agreed with your employer. In the healthcare sector (hospitals) and the cultural arena (museums) there is a practice of programmes for employees being enrolled at a university for the purpose of completing a PhD.

When you are offered enrolment and employment as a PhD student

When you are offered participation in a PhD programme at a university, you must be enrolled at the university as a PhD student and - unless you are enrolled as an independent PhD student - you must also enter into an employment contract. As a result, Danish PhD students differ from PhD students in many other countries, such as England or Germany, where they are more closely associated with the university as not-employed students. Therefore, your terms of employment are also in line with the prevailing agreements in the labour market, generally.

You should be aware that enrolment and employment are two different things. Enrolment is an administrative consequence of being admitted as a PhD student and relates to the educational circumstances relating to the PhD programme.

If you are employed at a university, your employment is governed by the Collective agreement for state-employed academics concluded between the Ministry of Finance and AC/The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (the AC collective agreement). The AC collective agreement includes, amongst others, a basic salary plan, in which you are placed according to your level of education and seniority, as well as rules on working hours. PhD fellows have their own annex to the AC collective agreement, where you can see, amongst others, your rights in relation to pension, parental leave and illness.

If you are employed in a municipality or region, the collective agreements relating to these areas will govern your employment. Finally, it is possible that you are employed on an independent basis with a private company. This would apply in connection with e.g. enrolment and employment under the industrial PhD scheme.

Life as a PhD student

Katrine Falcon Søby talks about her PhD project and her thoughts on life as a PhD student.


You can use DM to review your contract and advise you on salary and rights.