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Frequently Asked Questions on the ISTScholar PhD program.

The following is a list of frequently asked questions on the PhD program at IST Austria. If you’re interested in applying, see also the FAQ on Admissions.


The PhD Program FAQ
  • What is a rotation?

    A rotation is a period in which students spend time in a research group (a different one for each rotation period) performing a research project.

    It is on the basis of this experience that students can choose to affiliate with a research group. It is also an excellent opportunity for students to learn to think across disciplines and build up cross-disciplinary skillsets.

    Students are required to do at least three rotations with three different research groups. For more information, have a look at our PhD program requirements page.

  • How do I find a supervisor?

    A supervisor guides a student throughout Phase II of the PhD studies, when the student performs research towards their thesis.

    Since it is quite a commitment to do a PhD and work towards a thesis, it is important that the student’s research interests and skills match those of the PhD supervisor.

    At IST Austria, the PhD program is set up in such way that students can do rotations with at least three different research groups, before they decide who their supervisor is going to be. This way, students experience what it is like to perform research in the respective research groups, and can make a more informed decision, while learning useful cross-disciplinary skills along the way.

    If you’re thinking about applying for a PhD at IST, a good starting point would be to explore the different research topics that our faculty specialize in and think of whether you’d like to join any of the research groups to do a PhD in.

  • What if I already know who I want as my supervisor?

    At IST Austria, students apply to the PhD program, rather than to individual research groups, and only decide on the thesis supervisor at the end of the first year.

    Our experience is that even those students who already have a clear idea of whom they want to work with greatly benefit from the rotation process. In some cases rotations confirm a student’s original choice, and in other cases rotations open up new horizons or help catalyze collaborations. In all cases, rotations help ensure a good fit between the student and their thesis supervisor—one of the key requirements for a successful PhD experience.

  • What is a qualifying exam?

    A qualifying exam is an exam which students need to pass in order to transition from Phase I to Phase II of the PhD studies.

    In preparation, students need to appoint a thesis committee, prepare a research proposal, and a reading list. The qualifying exam trains students to establish a road map for their own independent research project, a first step to becoming an independent scientist.

  • What is a thesis defense?

    A thesis defense is the final examination that decides whether a PhD student can successfully obtain a PhD degree. The thesis committee is the same as that for the qualifying exam.

    After a student passes the thesis defense and submits the final copy of their PhD thesis, they will be awarded a PhD.

  • Why does the PhD consist of two phases?

    At IST Austria, our mission is to equip students with the technical know-how and skills to communicate and perform research across disciplines. This interdisciplinary spirit is fundamental to the excellence of scientific research conducted at IST Austria. The PhD program at IST Austria is therefore designed with both breadth and depth of scope in mind.

    In Phase I, students perform rotations, which allow them to gain research experience in three different labs. On the basis of this experience, students can choose a PhD supervisor and join the respective research lab, as well as prepare a research proposal and reading list for the qualifying exam. Students also attend interdisciplinary courses, in addition to more specialized courses. This breadth of exposure helps students to gain a wide variety of skills and to identify their strengths and research interests.

    In Phase II, students focus on their chosen specialization and perform research towards their PhD thesis.

    It is through the combination of these two phases that our PhD students obtain a well-rounded scientific education, which forms a solid foundation for a future career in science, but also equips them with transferable skills beyond academia.

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