What to know before applying for a doctoral programme

The last academic year was a time of major changes in doctoral studies. The reform changed national acts and university legislation, and thus the principles in general. 

The main aim of the reform was to value and reward the work done during doctoral studies. It also aimed at a clearer organisation of work at the university, a more efficient division of tasks and an organisation of information that better supports the substantive supervision of doctoral research. 

The planning and organisation of doctoral studies are now quite different from before, and there will be a distinction between the two types of doctoral students for several more years: those admitted before the academic year 2022/2023 and those admitted from this academic year onwards. The development of doctoral studies will continue. 

Several types of doctoral students 

Doctoral students are generally junior research fellows. They sign an employment contract with the university, based on which they start to complete the doctoral programme. This allows doctoral students to devote themselves to their research and studies, while other work duties are limited. 

The junior research fellow is paid at least the average Estonian salary (in 2023, the minimum salary for a junior research fellow at the University of Tartu is at least €1,720), and the employment contract provides social guarantees. 

The standard period of study of a doctoral programme is four years. It is also possible to complete a doctorate over a longer period, up to eight years, with a reduced workload. A workload of at least 0.5 is allowed. It is also possible to become a doctoral student without concluding an employment contract with the university. If you are working outside the university and do not want to share your workload between two jobs, read about the possibility of taking up doctoral studies without an employment contract. 

If you are working outside the university on the same topic as your future doctoral thesis, look into the possibilities of an industry doctorate. If your employer is interested in collaborating with a university, this is a good way of combining doctoral research with your day job. 

Doctoral studies under the new programme 

You will be able to devote yourself to your research, writing and publishing.  

You will be able to choose which knowledge and skills to focus on, and your programme will allow flexibility in the courses and training courses you choose. 

The centres for doctoral studies and the Centre for Professional Development offer self-development opportunities that respond to changing labour market needs and take into account feedback from doctoral students. 

You will be supported by your supervisor(s), the representative of your specialisation and the academic affairs specialist at the institute and the faculty's centre for doctoral studies, as well as by the support units of the university, incl. the Counselling Centre and the Human Resources Office. 

The doctoral programme prepares independent researchers and provides you with important transferable competencies. Whether you pursue a career as a leading specialist outside academia or as a researcher and teaching staff member at a university is your choice. It is worth starting early to plan your career and develop the necessary profile. 

Doctoral studies are long-term and require a multifaceted effort. Carefully plan your workload and schedule so that you can progress well in your studies and sustain your health. In doctoral studies, you design your learning path with the help of your supervisor(s). Choose carefully and keep in mind your overall timetable and future career goals. 

Ask the centre for doctoral studies and the representative of the specialisation for more information. See also



Monika Tasa
Development Adviser of the Office of Academic Affairs.

The article was originally published in the journal Universitas Tartuensis.

Tudengid seisavad diplomitega

Student Project Contest 2024


How to successfully apply for internships? Industrial Masters in IT introduction and career counselling seminar.

Sandbox Industry Project, guest speaker Kuldar Taveter

Looking back on the Sandbox Digital Product Management Industry Project