FAQs - Max Planck School of Photonics

General information

Why should I apply to the Max Planck School of Photonics (MPSP)?

The MPSP supports and educates excellent students within its unique postgraduate program. It is distinguished due to its German-wide network of excellent Fellows who are scientists in the field of photonics and practice at universities, Max Planck Institutes, Fraunhofer Institutes, Leibniz Institutes and Helmholtz Research centers. Besides professional training, the MPSP aims to establish ties between outstanding students and excellent researchers in order to actively integrate the participants of the MPSP into the photonics network in Germany.

Which degrees will I obtain if I complete the program?

The overall aim of the program is to obtain your PhD whilst completing your Master's degree on the way. The program is thus structured into two phases: a two-year study phase in which you obtain your Master's and simultaneously lay the groundwork for your PhD, and a second, three-year research phase which is dedicated fully to your PhD project. Therefore, although you will finish the program with two different degrees, the focus of both phases is to work towards the completion of your own specialised research project in the form of a PhD.

Can I apply for the study phase of the program only?

The purpose of the MPSP program is to provide a five-year program with the overall aim of obtaining a PhD. Notwithstanding the integrated study phase, the program is not envisaged solely for obtaining a Master's degree without the intention of advancing to PhD research.

How many students does the MPSP accomodate?

We accept up to 20 students into the study phase and 40 graduates into the research phase annually. As such, the MPSP currently accommodates approximately 40 students in the study phase and 120 graduates in the research phase.

Can I choose the university at which to complete the study phase?

Yes, you can. Before you apply, please familiarise yourself with the various Master's programs offered at the three partner universities in Erlangen, Jena and Karlsruhe, in order to find out which program best suits you. You can then indicate your preference in your application listing one university only, or a ranking of preferences. Providing a ranking will ensure you receive an offer from a different university if, exceptionally, we cannot provide you with an offer from your first choice. We will take your indicated preference into serious consideration. Please note that you cannot change your preference after submitting your application.

Can I choose the university at which to complete the research phase?

Which university you complete the study phase of the program at depends on your area of research and with which institute your supervisor (Fellow) is associated. Potential PhD research topics offered by our Fellows can be found here. Please look into the topics available and indicate up to five that interested you in your application for the study phase. Minor changes to the topics can be discussed with the respective Fellow during the interview. We will do our best to accommodate your preferences and to find a suitable match of Fellows and PhD students. Students that start the program in the study phase will have ample opportunity to figure out where their research interests lie and to identify potential PhD topics with the help of our Fellows.

Do I automatically transfer to the research phase after the completion of the study phase?

The transfer from the study phase to the research phase is subject to the student's final mark in the study, the availability of an MPSP-Fellow suitable for the supervision of the PhD project envisaged and a face-to-face interview with MPSP-Fellows towards the end of the study phase. 


Who can apply for the MPSP program?

By the time of admission to the program, applicants must have completed a Bachelor's and/or Master's degree with significant exposure to physics, engineering or a related subject (B.Sc., B.Eng., or B.Tech. and M.Sc., M.Eng. or M.Tech.) depending on the program for which you are applying. More information on the required documents is available here.

Can I apply although I have not (yet) finished my current academic degree?

Yes, you can apply with a Transcript of Records (ToR) including the marks of all completed courses so far. However, if you are offered a place in the program, the original of your final ToR as well as your degree certificates (including certified translations if necessary) will be required by the start of the program at the latest.

Am I required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test and the GRE subject test?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) general test and the GRE subject test are not mandatory and your application will be considered without them. However, your application will be much stronger if you provide a GRE general test or a GRE subject test (either in mathematics or physics), and we therefore highly recommend you do so. Test scores are considered alongside other application criteria.

Is there a minimum GRE score?

No. We consider the GRE score amongst other criteria based on the whole application. 

Am I required to submit a certificate of proficiency in English?

Yes, solid knowledge of the English language is crucial for the successful participation in the MPSP program which is conducted entirely in English. Proof of proficiency in English can be provided by

  • TOEFL, or an equivalent English test (minimum points/grades): TOEFL PBT (550), TOEFL CBT (215), TOEFL IBT (85), IELTS (6.5), or
  • Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) exam or Cambridge English Advanced (CAE) exam, or
  • German "Abitur" with comprehensive coverage of the English language.
  • Language exemptions: The following students are exempted from providing the proof of English proficiency: nationals from the USA, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada; or B.Sc. or M.Sc. graduates who obtained their qualification in one of these countries.
  • Exemptions may be possible in cases where the language proficiency test is expired or where the previous education phase was taught in English, please contact the MPSP office before submission of your documents: photonics@maxplanckschools.de.

Application process

When and where can I apply?

Applications can be submitted via an online platform during the application phase which will start on August 15 2020 and close on December 1st 2020 (for take in academic year 2021/2022). Applications can only be submitted during this time.

First, applicants are required to submit their online applications. Shortlisted applicants will then be required to take an online test. In a last step, applicants that succeeded in the online test shall be interviewed per Skype or telephone. 

For more details see below, as well as on the application page here.

How does the online application process work?

Step 0: Register at Portal, choose MPSP MSc or PhD

Step 1: Add the contact details of at least two referees and invite them ("Submit to Send E-mails to referees" at the bottom of the page) to fill out a reference questionnaire. Doing this first will allow your referees more time to provide their references. You also have the option to upload letters of reference. However, the invitation-based reference is considered the default option and strongly recommended.

Step 2: Please fill out the rest of the application form by adding the required information and uploading the required documents. Click Save whenever you add any new content. You may revisit and modify your application at any time prior to final submission. Once the application is completed you submit it ("Submit Application"). Please make sure that you revised the application thoroughly before submitting. Your application is only considered complete if application and both letters of reference have been submitted before the deadline of application. After submission you will no longer be able to edit your application. Your submitted data will be available to view throughout the application process.

Applications can only be submitted via the online platform within the indicated application period. Applications via email cannot be considered.

How do I submit feedback from my referees?

The first step in the application portal is to add the contact details of two referees who can attest to your research, academic, or professional abilities in the context of your interest in pursuing a graduate degree. After having filled out the form, press the Submit to Send E-mails to Referees button. An email invitation will then be sent, providing the Referees with all the necessary information to electronically fill out the reference questionnaire. We recommend that you personally contact the referee regarding your reference form before triggering the email invitation.

You have to complete this section and trigger the email invitation to your referees at first in order to continue with your application. This will give the referees sufficient time to submit the reference forms before the deadline of submission. Importantly, at least two referees need to be invited to fill out reference questionnaire before you can submit your application.

You will receive an email of confirmation as soon as a referee has submitted a reference questionnaire. It will not be possible to make any modifications or corrections to the information about your referees, once they have been contacted.

In some cases, email invitations may be directed to the spam folder of a referee's email account. Therefore, it may make sense to confirm with the respective referee that email invitation has arrived in the regular folder.

Which documents are required for the application?

The list of all documents required for the application process can be found here.

Can I start my application and complete it later?

Yes, until you finalize your submission you can change your application. After registering at the application portal, you need to enter contact information of your reference persons first. The application portal will then send out emails and invite them to provide feedback about you. You cannot complete the application until you entered those contact information.

What does the selection test for the study phase comprise?

The selection test for the study phase can be taken from any location with internet access. It is wide-ranging and comprises a catalogue of questions relating to photonics, physics, maths and electrical engineering that must be answered within a specified time span.

What should I include in the curriculum vitae (CV)?

Please list all stages of your education in chronological order. The CV must contain a clear statement about your current status and/or occupation including information on current employment, unemployment, or parental leave. Any prizes, scholarships, extraordinary social, cultural or sportive activities may also be part of your CV.

What is a "school leaving certificate"?

It is the school certificate with which you gained qualification for admission to a university or another higher academic institution (e.g. the Abitur in Germany, International Baccalaureate, the graduation of a high school in the USA, the A-Levels in the UK, etc.).

Do I need to upload transcripts from my Bachelor and/or Master studies?

Please upload transcripts from all your degree-level studies. In fact, these documents are highly relevant for your application.

How should I provide my letters of recommendation?

Our preferred way of receiving feedback from your reference person is through a questionnaire that is submitted by the MPSP application portal. When you register as an applicant, the first step to take is entering at least two referees that will then be contacted automatically to provide feedback.

However, you could also upload letters of recommendation in the application portal. Please make sure that each letter of recommendation is signed. If one or both referees prefer personalized recommendation letters, they should contain a date and an official letterhead/stamp from the higher education institution with which the referee is affiliated. Uploading those documents is not recommended since it can downgrade your application.

What if one of my references will not provide a letter?

You need two referees for your application. We cannot make any exceptions, please therefore ask another person feedback.

How many potential supervisors or research topics from the school should I mention in the application?

During the application process applicants for the research phase can identify up to five different research topics. If you start the program in the study phase you will be able to find an appropriate supervisor for internships and your Master's thesis during the course of the study.

When will I get feedback on my application?

You will receive an automatic confirmation of receipt after completion of your online application. All applicants shall receive notice on the success of their application as soon as possible. Shortlisted applicants shall then also be provided with details regarding the next steps of the selection procedure. Final decisions shall be made by April next year.

Life in Germany

How do students finance the study and research phase of the program?

During the study phase of the program, students receive generous stipends with a minimum of 1365€ gross per month from the Max Planck Society. During the research phase of the program, students are employed full-time by the university or research institute of the respective MPSP-Fellow (the salary is granted according to the tariff agreement for the public civil service of the federal states (TV-L/TVöD E13, 100%) and is slighlty higher than the amount of the stipend granted during the study phase).

How high are the usual living expenses?

This depends on your location. Living expenses will tend to be slightly lower in Jena and Erlangen in comparison to Karlsruhe, especially in terms of rent. The universities estimate that students will need between 700€ and 800€ per month on average. 




Where do students live during the duration of the program?

Students are expected to arrange their own housing for the duration of the program. However, we are happy to help in finding appropriate accommodation in a student dormitory, or in a private or shared flat to rent.

Do I need a visa to study in Germany? 

Students are responsible for checking their own visa requirements. For some guidance, see here for the Federal Foreign Office's FAQs on living in Germany. 

Who can I contact if I have any further questions?

Please feel free to contact our coordination team at any time via email .

Study Phase

I have been offered a place at the MPSP. Why do I have to apply separately for the teaching university?

The MPSP is an association of various institutions. We have three teaching universities that each have their own individual rules and regulations. Some of the universities only need us to forward the application documents you sent to the MPSP. However, some universities need you apply separately in order for you to be able to enrol there as a student. It’s only a formal requirement.

The MPSP coordination office is in Jena. Why is the scholarship paid by the MPI Erlangen?

All scholarship agreements are concluded between the student and the HR department at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, regardless at which teaching university the student is studying. However, students must have been offered a place at one of the teaching universities in order to receive the scholarship payment.

Am I guaranteed a PhD position after I complete the study phase?

We would like everyone who finishes the study phase to move onto the research phase in order to obtain their PhD. There is no additional application or selection process, and the transition is part of the program. However, we cannot guarantee that there will be a Fellow with matching research interests, and we cannot oblige any of the Fellows to supervise/employ you. To make the process as smooth as possible, we offer all kinds of events/meetings/internship opportunities in order for you to get to know the MPSP Fellows and to establish contact to those who you could envisage as a PhD supervisor. You should keep this in mind when you attend the MSc program. Ideally, you would do your MSc thesis work in one of the MPSP Fellow’s labs and stay there for your PhD. If you finish the MSc program and cannot find a matching Fellow or your grades are insufficient, you will not be able to continue with the MPSP program. However, even if this happens it is not a tragedy, at there are many “regular” PhD positions in Germany for which you can apply in such a case.

Is there another application process for transitioning from the study phase to the research phase?  

See answer above   

Which financial support will I receive?

During the study phase of the program, students receive generous stipends with a minimum of 1365€ gross per month from the Max Planck Society. During the research phase of the program, the PhD candidates are employed full-time by the university or research institute of the respective MPSP Fellow (the salary is granted according to the tariff agreement for the public civil service of the federal states (TV-L/TVöD E13, 100%) and is slightly higher than the amount of the stipend granted during the study phase).

When do I need to be in Germany?

The winter semester starts in October. However, there are two MPSP events that are scheduled to take place in September before the official start of the university semester, namely the Welcome Day for new students and the Autumn School. Unfortunately, due to the current situation with the corona virus, we cannot yet say for sure whether they will be able to take place in person. We will announce details on both events on the website as soon as we have more information.

 Where do I register?

When you have arrived in Germany, your first point of reference for registering at the university should be the international office of the respective institution. Before you can enrol for your program, you need to register as a resident at the local residents’ registration office, as well as for health insurance.

Research Phase

After the final interviews, I was notified that I have been recommended for admission to the MPSP. What happens now?

The final interviews were conducted by a group of MPSP Fellows who were trying to determine whether you could be recommended for admission to the MPSP generally, independent of your field of expertise. After these more general interviews, the Fellow that had previously expressed an interest in your application will interview you again with more specific questions on your respective field and, depending on the outcome, may contact you shortly thereafter to offer you a position.


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