Information for Doctoral Candidates

The decision as to whether a doctorate makes sense or not depends on many different factors, and there is more than one way of approaching a doctorate. On this website, I have compiled information that may help in making an informed decision. Please note that this website is not intended to be comprehensive or balanced. It reflects and relates to my personal point of view and considers aspects that are particularly relevant for a doctorate in my research group in the field of Music Information Retrieval (MIR).

It is worth thinking about these aspects carefully before starting a doctorate. After making an informed decision, I hope you will perceive your doctorate as a challenging, fascinating, fulfilling, and formative phase (typically three to five years) of your life. For questions, feedback, and suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

General Information: Do I want to do a doctorate?


As mentioned in the QZB guide (a very informative document as I think), the question "Do I want to do a doctorate?" is more complex than you might think at first glance. Maybe the following aspects and more specific questions are helpful in approaching this question.

  • Personal motivation:
    • Why do I want to pursue a doctorate (e.g., research, curiosity, career, title)?
    • What do I want to achieve with the doctorate?
    • What career am I striving for (e.g., academia, industry, management)?
  • Thematic and scientific aspects:
    • Which research direction am I interested in (e.g., field, theory, methods, application)?
    • Which concrete research questions fascinate me?
    • Do I want to explore specific techniques or methods?
    • To which extent am I willing to adjust thematic priorities?
  • Supervision and integration into a research environment:
    • Do my research interests fit the profile of the potential research environment and supervisors?
    • Which kind of support and feedback do I expect from my surrounding?
    • Do I want to work as a team player or as a lone fighter?
    • Can I use the research institute's resources (e.g., office space, equipment, devices)?
  • Interpersonal aspects and communication:
    • Do I have the same wavelength as my potential colleagues and supervisors?
    • Do I feel that my needs are understood?
    • How do I deal with negative results and criticism?
    • How high is my frustration tolerance?
    • How do I deal with phases of high stress and time pressure?
    • Do I have a high degree of autonomy and personal responsibility?
    • What is my gut feeling about the potential research environment?
  • Additional tasks and qualifications
    • Which tasks besides the actual research interest me?
    • Which additional qualifications do I want to gain during my doctorate?
    • Do I like scientific writing and giving public presentations?
    • Do I like teaching and supervising students?
    • Do I want to gain insights in industry-related research?
    • How do I feel about academic self-administration, committee work, and project management?
  • Risk taking and alternatives:
    • How big is my willingness to take risks and my need for security?
    • Do I have a "Plan B" in the case the doctorate does not work out?
    • Am I willing to change location and move to another city or country?
    • What financial risks can I bear?
    • What is a reasonable time perspective for me?
  • Organizational aspects:
    • Am I well organized and can I look for information independently?
    • Do I have an idea about a realistic schedule of the doctorate and how is my time management in general?
    • How can I network well within the scientific community?
    • Do I know the criteria of the university/faculty for admission to doctoral studies?
    • Do I know the doctoral regulations of the responsible faculty?
    • Do I know the scientific rules of good research practice?
  • Financial aspects and funding:
    • How can I get financial support for my doctorate?
    • What are my tasks as a research associate working at university?
    • Can I do a doctorate if it is financed by a publicly funded project (e.g., DFG or BMBF)?
    • How can I get a PhD scholarship and what are the pros and cons?
    • Can I do a doctorate while working in industry?
    • May the type of doctoral funding change during the doctorate?
    • What happens if the funding runs out before the doctorate is completed?
    • What are the legal regulations for financing doctorates (e.g., Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz)?
    • Do I have social and health insurance?

Look for Personal Conversation

Before accepting an offer for a possible PhD position, look for a personal conversation with your potential supervisor and professor to clarify the key aspects of your doctorate. The following questions could play a role here:

  • How much time does the professor realistically spend on supervision (per week or month)?
  • How easily can I reach the professor for a technical discussion?
  • Are there post-docs who can take on supervision tasks?
  • With whom can I exchange ideas on a technical and practical level? Are there colleagues in the group working on a similar topic?
  • Is there already a specific topic, or can I work on a topic of my choice?
  • Is financing available, and how long is this secured?
  • Is there a project I will I work on, and what is the type of the project (e.g., industry project or DFG-funded project)?
  • Can it happen that I have to change my topic during the doctorate depending on the project situation?
  • What are expectations of the professor for achieving the doctorate (e.g., duration, number and type of publications, citations)?
  • What are the tasks (e.g., supervision, organization, teaching, assistance) I am expected to do besides my doctorate?
  • Is there support in the doctorate's final writing phase, and how long does it take from the first version of the dissertation to the defense?

In order to better understand the result of such a conversation, it is helpful to think of alternatives and to talk about them with independent people.

Be Aware of a Doctorate's Common Goals

Common goals for doing a doctorate are advancing the knowledge in a specific research area and acquiring the skills for becoming an independent researcher and problem solver. As the above questions indicate, doing a doctorate involves much more than achieving novel scientific results (which is hard enough). Doing a doctorate also involves to

  • recognize problems as such and develop solutions,
  • write up the essence of your ideas in a compact and understandable form,
  • disseminate your results in the form of publications,
  • communicate and defend your results to a critical audience,
  • collaborate with and guide other people in their scientific work.

Enjoy your Doctorate

Concluding this section, I would like to emphasize that a doctorate does not require superhuman abilities. You will enjoy your doctorate

  • if you keep your fascination with the subject,
  • if you are persistent and diligent,
  • if you have a strategy and are well organized,
  • if you communicate your ideas and needs clearly,
  • if you get support from and give support to your environment.

Doctorate in Music Information Retrieval (MIR)

The revolution in music distribution, storage, and consumption has fueled tremendous interest in developing techniques and tools for organizing, analyzing, retrieving, and presenting music-related data. As a result, the field known as Music Information Retrieval (MIR) has matured into an independent research area related to many different disciplines, including signal processing, machine learning, information retrieval, musicology, and the digital humanities. This diversity opens up many opportunities for challenging, interdisciplinary, and fascinating research projects at the intersection of engineering, computer science, data science, artificial intelligence and humanities. In our research group, we aim to apply, understand, and further develop technologies to substantially advance the state of the art in MIR. Furthermore, we also aim at aspects of data and model understanding, cross-disciplinary applications, science communication, and education. In this way, our overachieving mission is to approach learning from different perspectives in the context of challenging MIR applications.

  • First, we apply and develop machine learning techniques to learn from training examples with the aim to make accurate predictions for previously unseen data.

  • Second, by learning from the experience of traditional engineering approaches, our objective is to understand better existing and to build more interpretable systems.

  • Third, learning with and from domain experts about musical works and their recorded performances, we explore the potential of computational tools by considering complex music scenarios of musicological relevance.

  • Fourth, we will explore how music may serve as a vehicle to make learning in technical disciplines such as signal processing or machine learning an interactive pursuit.


Given the complexity and diversity of music, MIR research has to account for various aspects such as the genre, instrumentation, musical form, melodic and harmonic properties, dynamics, tempo, rhythm, and timbre, to name a few. Furthermore, being an applied field of research, MIR research often proceeds in research cycles starting with a concrete application and continuing with task formulation, mathematical modeling, development of algorithmic approaches, implementation, data preparation, evaluation, experimentation, and reflecting on all steps in the context of the given application. The close interlocking of the various aspects of MIR research is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, one can feel overwhelmed by the variety and complexity of MIR research questions, and it is often unclear where to start to advance research. On the other hand, one can contribute to MIR research in many ways and achieve substantial progress when concentrating on certain aspects.

Our research group is anchored in the International Audio Laboratories Erlangen. We look at MIR research with a focus on the processing and analysis of music signals while assuming a more technically oriented perspective. We particularly welcome doctoral candidates who

  • share our fascination in working with music data,
  • have a good understanding of mathematical concepts,
  • are interested in machine learning and signal processing techniques,
  • can turn ideas into code and implementation,
  • really want to understand things, and
  • are open for an interdisciplinary dialogue with musical domain experts.

In case you want to find out more about our research group and interets, you may find the following links useful:

Doctorate with University

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Most doctoral students in my group work as research associates employed by the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and are a member of the International Audio Laboratories Erlangen. They formally work in the public sector of the federal state of Bavaria, and as for most doctoral candidates in engineering, they obtain a 100% position at the salary level TV-L E 13. I try to provide such a position for every doctoral student throughout the doctorate. However, such positions are rare and difficult to obtain. Besides qualification positions assigned to a professorship, most of these positions come from third-party funding sources. For example, I have some project positions financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG), where the project's content is usually directly linked to the doctorate. Depending on the position and project scope, a limited amount of teaching, including the supervision of students and student research projects, is part of the official tasks. This type of position is ideal for a doctorate and an academic career.

Doctorate with Fraunhofer

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The International Audio Laboratories Erlangen (AudioLabs) are a joint institution of Fraunhofer IIS and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). Thanks to a close connection between FAU and Fraunhofer IIS, we can offer different models for doing a doctorate with either a more academic or industry-related orientation. In the following, we introduce a specific doctorate path called Doctorate with Fraunhofer as supported by the Fraunhofer Society.

The Fraunhofer society attaches great importance to supporting its employees in their individual career development. One aim is to allow young scientists to do a doctorate (formally supervised by a university professor) during their time at Fraunhofer. The requirements for doctoral candidates at Fraunhofer are described in the Code of Conduct. This document covers topics including the specification of a doctoral project, the organization of doctoral supervision, and responsibilities of the people and institutions involved.

Doing a more traditional doctorate working at a university, the professor often takes over the role of direct manager, scientific supervisor, mentor, and first reviewer. In contrast, in the Fraunhofer model, these roles are assumed by a team of several people, which forms the thesis advisory committee (TAC). The responsibilities may be summarized as follows (note that the lists are not exhaustive, and the division into roles is not defined strictly):

  • Doctoral candidate:
    • Develops an expose with a content description of the doctoral project, including a work plan and timetable.
    • Conducts independent research.
    • Publishes the results in the form of peer-reviewed publications.
    • Adheres to the work plan and timetable and informs the TAC of deviations.
  • Fraunhofer direct manager:
    • Ensures that a suitable research project is assigned to the candidate.
    • Ensures that the candidate is given adequate time for the doctorate (alongside project-related activities).
    • Advises on thematic orientation and organizational issues.
    • Provides a qualified Fraunhofer supervisor.
  • Fraunhofer supervisor:
    • Experienced member (typically completed a doctorate herself/himself).
    • Is an expert in the doctorate's research direction.
    • Provides regular (day-to-day) and continuous scientific supervision until the proper conclusion of the doctorate.
    • Supports the candidate in gaining academic qualifications (e.g., scientific writing).
    • Encourages and facilitates independent scientific research by the candidate.
  • University professor:
    • Has the right to award doctorates within the faculty's examination regulations framework.
    • Has a strong interest in the doctorate's research direction, ideally with strong connections to her or his own research field.
    • Provides thematic and strategic advice throughout the doctorate.
    • Supports the candidate in academic issues.
    • Acts as a reviewer of the thesis.

For this model to work, the candidate needs good organizational and communication skills to get support and feedback from the different people involved. Furthermore, in practice, creating suitable synergies in content and structure between the project work and the doctorate will be essential. A trusting relationship between the candidate and the committee is necessary to reconcile the many (sometimes conflicting) aspects.

Further Links and Material


I would like to express my gratitude to my former and current students, collaborators, and colleagues for their feedback and the many discussions on this topic. In particular, I thank Andreas Brendel for his valuable suggestions.