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PhD thesis: "Doing a doctorate means going through hell"

He takes the laptop with him to bed so as not to waste time. She hasn't read everything she quotes. Four doctoral students on fears and mistakes in their doctoral thesis

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In February, Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) was accused of cheating on her doctoral thesis. The work contains "numerous literal and analogous text adoptions that are not identified as such," criticize plagiarism hunters. Another accusation of plagiarism, many moan afterwards. A few years ago, the education minister Annette Schavan (CDU) had to give up her doctorate and give up her office, in 2011 the defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU) resigned after plagiarism was discovered in a fifth of his work - these are only two of them more famous plagiarism cases. In an interview with ZEIT Campus ONLINE, law professor Stephan Rixen said that multiple and overburdening is underestimated, especially with external doctorates, and that sometimes people no longer work carefully enough. How stressful is it actually to do a PhD? Does the time pressure lead to mistakes and is it knowingly cheated? Why do a doctorate if the title seems to be losing value due to the plagiarism allegations? Four doctoral students report anonymously about their experiences.

"I want to have the opportunity to make a scientific career"

Maria, 29 years old, a linguist, fears that her title may no longer be worth anything after the plagiarism allegations.

For some positions in my doctorate, I ask myself: Does this offer more than a Wikipedia article? I'm in the process of correcting my work and I keep coming back to places where I realize I could have been more precise. I then do some research again. In other places I have to make compromises: A chapter that takes into account all the relevant literature would go beyond the time frame for a part-time doctorate. And there are other things that I simply cannot change any more. For my empirical part, for example, I would have liked to interview more people, but the survey has been completed.

My doctorate would be better if I had more time. I was always afraid of going too slowly. My topic is very topical and an incredible amount is published on it. I don't want to be overtaken by anyone.

I want to finish my doctorate in the summer. I met my doctoral supervisor for the first time in 2014, then years came when I often felt very alone. I always wanted to do an external doctorate in order to get ahead in my job as a translator. Nevertheless, I missed the scientific exchange. Often I would have wished for someone I could have asked whether my doctorate was going in the right direction. I doubted myself a lot. I never thought of breaking off. I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. And I always knew why I was doing it: I want to have the opportunity to pursue a scientific career.

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But sometimes I wonder whether a doctorate is still enough for that. I'm wondering whether the title has become less valuable because of the many allegations of plagiarism. I'm afraid that at some point you will need three doctorates, or preferably a professor, to get recognition.

"There is a wall of silence about problems with a doctorate"

Sarah, 29 years old, is working on her interdisciplinary doctorate in order to be recognized as a woman.

Doing a doctorate means going through hell. You constantly feel time pressure and financial pressure. Sometimes I ask myself: why are you doing this? Just out of interest in the topic? For me it's about more: I'm doing my doctorate because I'm a woman and still want to get ahead.

During my Masters in American Studies, I worked for a foundation in the field of international politics for two and a half years. Men in gray suits discussed on panels. Asserting yourself there as a woman was incredibly difficult. Either you are considered the loud, shrill woman or the little mouse. Again and again I was told by my colleagues: "The only thing that takes you seriously is a doctorate."

When I started my interdisciplinary doctorate a good two years ago, my doctoral supervisor and the foundation, from which I received a scholarship, told me that you could be finished in two and a half years. I believed that. I felt like I owed my supervisor and the foundation that everything was going well. And I was scared of the moment my scholarship expired. In order to finance myself, I worked at my old institute alongside my doctorate and have a position as a project assistant.

My scientific work has suffered from this pressure of time and expectation. For example, I haven't read everything I quote and I felt pretty guilty about it. A doctorate should be scientifically clean, but this does not work in our doctoral system. I don't have time to read 600 pages for each quote.

There is a wall of silence about problems with a doctorate. Everyone pretends that they can do it all and move forward quickly. I've now admitted to myself that it's okay if I take longer. In order to escape the time pressure, I changed my doctoral supervisor, among other things. After I switched, some PhD students came to me and wanted to know how I did it. Changing the doctoral supervisor is quite a taboo subject, nobody talks about it. I recently turned in my first chapter. If all goes well, I'll be submitting the rough draft in a year. At some point I would like to be able to say: I made it. It motivates me to know that I will then be perceived as an equal - equal to men without a doctorate.