Everything You Need To Know About The Ph.D. Study In Denmark
And why you should apply for one.
Table of contents
- I. A Ph.D. Program Takes Only 3 Years
- II. You Are Employed
- II. How To Find A Ph.D. Position And Apply
- a. Application process
- b. Where to find Ph.D. positions
For many years, not many Asian students like me considered Denmark a place for their Ph.D. studies.
Twelve years ago, when I was looking for a Ph.D. position in Europe, Denmark was not on my map. What I knew about the country was only one or two famous fairy tales of H. C. Andersen, the Laudrups brothers, and Peter Schmeichel in football.
Being a small country, Denmark was underrated when Asian people think about science and technology. Ten years ago, a Vietnamese student like me would have preferred the biggest countries like the USA, England, Germany, or France for her advanced study.
But when I was accepted for a Ph.D. position at DTU (the Technical University of Denmark), I knew it was one of the best fellowships in the world.
Here is why.
I. A Ph.D. Program Takes Only 3 Years
It is one of the shortest Ph.D. programs in the world. If you have a Master's degree, it only takes three years to complete.
You have to conduct all the following duties within this duration.
Absolutely. Publications are the most important outcomes when you complete your Ph.D. You must focus on your research and the planned project right after starting the program.
You have to do experiments and find solutions. Failed. Repeat. Failed. Try again. Succeed. Finally, you have something to publish papers to present at conferences.
Three years is not long enough to produce many publications. Most professors would understand that and accept you might have only a few papers when finishing your study.
2. Take courses
You must complete coursework for 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) points.
In Europe, you don't have to take courses at only the university you belong to. Even summer schools all over the world can also be counted.
My 30 ECTS points consisted of different types of coursework. 20 of them were the three Ph.D.-level courses at DTU. 7.5 points were counted for my three summer schools in Belgium, Turkey, and Brazil. And 2.5 was about the Presentation and Writing skills course.
All of my courses were of the simple type “pass or not”.
3. Teaching Assistant
You might have to assist your professor in tutoring some of his courses.
It was about helping you to have some experience working with students. Especially for those who want to apply for teaching duty positions after Ph.D. Your CV must have some teaching experience.
Such an experience was not my problem, as I had seven years with thousands of students in Vietnam. The thing was, the students here were studying in the Danish language. Luckily, all of them could discuss their assignments with me in English, and I could understand their Danish assignments on math.
4. External research
Denmark supports Ph.D. students to research at any university worldwide for a few months.
Most (Danish students) would choose the USA for 3 to 6 months. But it depends on the research topic and your professor’s network.
Alp Bassa was one of the best coauthors of Peter. So, we agreed to do my external stay at Sabancı University in Istanbul (Turkey) for around two months.
5. Ph.D. thesis
A thesis is the most important outcome of a Ph.D. You have to finish it and hand it in at the end of the program. A Ph.D. committee of 3–5 professors from different countries will read and accept your thesis before your Ph.D. defense.
Writing a Ph.D. thesis is a difficult task. Especially when you choose to write the full monograph, in which you have to write everything from the background to the methods and results. Depending on the fields, an average monograph could end up with 150 pages. Such a lengthy thesis could take at least three months to complete.
However, within only three years, I would spend more time writing publications and attending conferences than writing my thesis.
So, I chose another type for my Ph.D. dissertation. The article compilation.
There were only five parts in my 52-page Ph.D. thesis in mathematics.
Introduction, where I wrote an overview of my project and told a story to connect three of my publications.
The first article.
The second article.
The third article.
Conclusion, where I summarized the results I had achieved from my research.
II. You Are Employed
A Ph.D. student in Denmark is not a student. You are an employee. The university pays you a salary for working for them.
In Denmark, you can also apply for an industrial Ph.D. program, where a company will pay the salary as you work for them.
It is a good type of collaboration between the academy and the industry. You solve a real problem (that can make a lot of money) using the advanced techniques you are researching.
Your Ph.D. salary is not high when you compare it with other titles in the job market. But for a student, it is very high compared with the Ph.D. scholarships you get from other countries.
In 2023, a last-year Ph.D. student might have a monthly salary of 32.000-40.000 Danish kroner (about $4.700-$5.800 in US dollars) including pension. Quite a lot.
If you are single, you can save a lot of money.
If you are married and have children like me, it is still manageable for your family with a single income. (That was why my wife left her good job in Vietnam and decided to go with Mai-Khanh and me to Denmark for my studies.)
Being considered an employee, you don’t have a deduction on transportation like the students in other countries. But you have a lot of benefits.
Like the US 401(k) plan, a Danish university contributes around 15% of your gross salary to your pension plan. You contribute about 5%.
If you continue to work and contribute to your pension plan, you won’t worry about money when you retire at 69. The only thing to worry about is your health.
3. Parental leave
If you are a mother and give birth to a new baby during your study, you can be at home for up to one-year taking care of your baby. No study. You might not get a full salary all the time. But the parental leave and your income are balanced.
As I worked at DTU, I could get three months of parental leave with a full salary.
When the baby is one year old, you can put her in daycare and return to study.
The mother's Ph.D. study is extended for one more year. And if you are the father, three months are extended.
That parental leave scheme is applied to everyone who is working in Denmark.
4. Travel expense
As an employee, you are paid for the travel related to your job.
Conference fee. Hotel. Flight. Transportation. Everything.
You are also given money for private breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Very nice.
I love attending and presenting at conferences and summer schools. During my three years of the Ph.D., I went to more than six conferences and three summer schools. Most in Europe. One in China. One in Brazil. That gave me a lot of friends around the world.
5. Five weeks of holidays each year
Oh yes. A lot.
The employment gives you at least five weeks of paid holidays. That provides you with many vacations during the year.
For many Vietnamese people, we save a lot of holidays for long visits to Vietnam during the summer or winter break.
II. How To Find A Ph.D. Position And Apply
Like a job, a Ph.D. study in Denmark can be started anytime during the year. The job starts immediately when the money for the project is ready and the professor has found a candidate.
Anyone who has a Master’s degree and can communicate well in English can apply for a Ph.D. study in Denmark.
You can find Ph.D. positions from the job vacancies of your university of interest. You can also find them from the job portal of the research topic of interest.
I found my Ph.D. position in the Open Positions in Cryptology, a job portal for the area of cryptography (my research topic 14 years ago).
a. Application process
The application process acts as the job procedure, too. Apart from the documents, you might need to discuss your understanding or ideas about the proposed project with the professor. It proves your background is best matched for the job.
You will be called for an interview or two if you are on the shortlist.
The head of the Ph.D. school and a Ph.D. committee will decide whether you are accepted.
b. Where to find Ph.D. positions
There are a lot of institutions in Denmark. However, only the eight biggest universities have Ph.D. programs. From their job portals, not only are there current open Ph.D. positions, but you can also find other types of positions there, e.g., PostDoc, Researcher, Professor, etc.
1. University of Copenhagen (KU)
Founded in 1478. With over 38.000 students and over 9.000 employees, KU is one of the largest research and education institutions in the Nordic countries. Today, ten Nobel Prizes have been awarded here.
2. Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
(My university) Founded in 1829, DTU is the leading technical university in the Nordic countries. It is also one of the best technical universities in Europe and the world.
3. Copenhagen Business School (CBS)
Established in 1917. CBS is one of the largest business schools in Europe. Its recognized graduate programs attract many of the best international students and leaders worldwide.
4. Aarhus University (AU)
Founded in 1928. AU attracts a lot of international students for its rich courses in English.
5. Aalborg University (AAU)
Established in 1974. Although AAU is a fairly young university, it is already ranked amongst the world's best and most acknowledged international universities.
6. University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
Established in 1966. SDU is one of the top fifty young universities in the world.
7. Roskilde University (RUC)
Founded in 1972. Ranked 101–150 in the Times Higher Education Young Universities Rankings.
8. IT University of Copenhagen (ITU)
The IT University of Copenhagen is an independent educational and research institution focusing on information technology. It has various graduate programs and research at the highest academic level.
Ph.D. study in Denmark is considered a job. You are paid to work. That is why the money is higher when compared with the Ph.D. scholarships from other countries.
The duration is short. You have to work on many things within three years. It is tough. You have to have a good plan. I had Peter help me a lot during my study. So I could finish it on time.
Denmark is a small but rich country. It has excellent infrastructures to do any research at top levels.
Denmark is a very good place to consider if you are looking for a Ph.D. position.