Want to become a French Doctoral student?

Recently a friend of a friend contacted me about how to apply for a doctorate in France, and I asked my professors at my university for a bit of an explanation.  For those who are interested in applying for an undergraduate or master’s degree in France coming from a non-European company, please read my article How to Move to France to see how to go about applying via the CampusFrance website.  For those interested in pursuing his or her PhD in France, read on.

Apparently, applying for a Doctorate is slightly more complicated in that you need to find a “directeur de recherche” right off the bat in order to even get accepted into a program.  One of my professors emailed me back in French a few tidbits of advice, especially concerning whether or not you can do a doctoral thesis “in English” or not.  Here’s a copy of the email:

“Bonsoir Colleen,

Pour vous répondre rapidement: si votre amie veut s’inscrire en doctorat/3e cycle dans une université française, elle a deux possibilités. Elle peut s’inscrire en anglais et rédiger une thèse de civilisation britannique ou américaine en lui donnant une orientation “Histoire des idées” ou “Histoire de l’art”. Il se peut dans ce cas qu’elle ait à suivre un/des séminaire/s en anglais. Chaque faculté a son Ecole Doctorale, et chaque Ecole Doctorale a son programme (ici, par exemple, les séminaires sont interdisciplinaires, comme il y a peu de doctorants, et se font en français). Mais elle ne pourra pas conserver son sujet [nota bone “mon amie” veut faire un doctorat en histoire de l’art].

Ou elle peut s’inscrire en Histoire de l’art et consacrer sa thèse à l’avant-garde parisienne, mais il est assez probable qu’elle aura à suivre des séminaires en français.

Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, elle devra rédiger l’intégralité de sa thèse (environ 500 pages) en français, sauf si elle opte pour une co-direction (un directeur en France, l’autre dans une université anglophone). Dans ce cas, il est possible de rédiger la thèse en anglais, mais si celle-ci est inscrite en France, la soutenance se passera en français.

Dites-lui de chercher “Ecole Doctorale” sur les sites des universités: elle s’y repérera sans doute plus facilement. Chaque faculté a une Ecole Doctorale qui gère l’ensemble des doctorants/3e cycles selon les champs de spécialité (Lettres et Langues, Sciences Humaines, Sciences, Droit, etc.)



If you have any more questions regarding studying in France, as an undergraduate or graduate, don’t hesitate to ask.  I’ve learned a lot in the past five months and am potentially considering pursuing a doctorate here down the line.
Categories: Education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Want to become a French Doctoral student?

  1. PhilippeG

    Hi Colleen,

    Finding a supervisor for a PhD might not be the most difficult thing to do: finding a good one may be… And I don’t speak only about the quality of research, but also the ability to supervise a doctoral project:
    – defining an interesting project, so that the PhD candidates don’t spend a year or two trying to figure out what they will be doing research on,
    – defining a realistic project, so that the PhD candidates don’t spend too many years trying to write their masterpiece,
    – finding enough funding for the project, so that the PhD candidate is paid for the research activity (therefore is fully recognized as a professional as encouraged by the European Union, see http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/pdf/brochure_rights/eur_21620_en-fr.pdf) and the costs linked with this activity (going to a conference to present your work, etc.) are covered by the employer,
    – managing to transform PhD candidates into PhDs in a reasonable amount of time, 3 years in general according to http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000267752&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id
    – having a low enough number of supervised PhD candidates, to be able to give them proper supervision.

    Good luck!

    • Hello Philippe,

      Thank you for all these words of wisdom. I haven’t decided whether I will continue on with a PhD or look for work after obtaining my Masters, but I will definitely keep your comments in mind next year when I decide. How does one go about finding funding for a PhD in France. Does it matter whether or not your are non-European?


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