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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the PhD program, including application and admission and student life


PhD Program Overview
  • In what subject areas can I do a PhD?

    The subject areas in which you can do a PhD are closely related to the research topics which our faculty members specialize in.

    A good starting point would be to browse through the scientific research topics being conducted at ISTA, and see which area suits your background and interests best, as well as whether you have the relevant experience.

    Ultimately, however, you will be awarded a PhD from ISTA: no subject specialization will be listed on your diploma.

  • Is there funding for the PhD?

    All our PhD students are fully funded, at internationally competitive salary levels, and receive full social security coverage.

    There is also financial support for students to cover travel expenses for attending scientific conferences and workshops.

    See our funding page for more information.

  • How much is the tuition fee?

    ISTA does not charge any tuition fees.

  • How long is the PhD program?

    The PhD program is typically 5 years in length, depending on the student’s individual progress.

  • Does ISTA offer bachelor's or master's degree programs?

    No, we do not.

    You may be able to perform research for your bachelor’s and/or master’s thesis as a scientific intern in one of the research groups. Please check the page “BS/MS Thesis” for more information.

    Additionally, ISTA now offers the Master’s degree en-route to PhD option. With this option, students can earn a “Master of Science (MS)” degree in addition to their PhD degree, under the condition that additional curricular components are fulfilled whilst working towards their PhD. Please see the “For BSc Students” page for more information.

  • Can I start my PhD earlier than September?

    The annual start date for the PhD program is September 15. It is not possible to start your PhD earlier than September.

    However, some students choose to do a research internship with a group of their choice before this date. For more information, have a look at the internship possibilities we offer.

  • 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 ISTA, the PhD program is set up in such way that students 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 ISTA, 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 ISTA, 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 ISTA, 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 ISTA. The PhD program at ISTA 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. Students also have the option to take courses at the University of Vienna or TU Wien: please see the Courses page for more information. 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. Students are also expected to offer teaching assistance (TA) for at least one half-semester course before graduating.

    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.

    Find more information on the structure of the PhD program here.

  • How do I find out more about ISTA?

    The best way is to browse the main ISTA website, the most up-to-date source for events and institute-related announcements.

    “Like” our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter or on Instagram to stay in the loop about ISTA and the whereabouts of our scientists!

    We also have a quarterly newsletter, which is a summary of the highlights of our institute, in a compact quarterly format. You can also choose to have it delivered straight into your (virtual) mailbox, by filling out this form.

    Or, better even, visit us during the Student Open Day, or Open Campus Day, to experience first-hand ISTA’s excellent infrastructure, warm sense of community and the excitement we all share for science!

Application Requirements & Admission Process

2022-11-21: a cyberattack in late October/early November has affected all ISTA databases, including the application portal. We are working hard to get the portal back online. However we do not have a timeline when this will happen. If you have created an application, it is very likely that you will need to submit your documents again. We will adjust deadlines accordingly and will keep you posted here. 

  • Who is eligible to apply?

    If you want to do a PhD program at ISTA, you need to have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in science. You will be asked to submit proof of your previous degree(s) when you apply.

    Students who have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in the following (or related interdisciplinary) areas are eligible to apply:

    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Neuroscience
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • and interdisciplinary or related areas (f.ex. biochemistry, engineering, medicine, pharmacy, etc.)

    You also need to be proficient in English oral and written communication.

    Please have a look at the research groups of ISTA to see if your skills and interests match one or more of those groups. The research interests of successful applicants need to match those of the research done at the Institute.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • When will a decision about my application be made? When can I expect to hear back from you about the status of my application?

    The selection committee will start its review process after the deadline for submission of the reference letters. The first part of the review process will be completed in mid February.

    Candidates will be notified about their status by the end of February.

    Shortlisted candidates will be invited for further interviews, either on-site or remote interviews.

    Offer letters will go out in mid to late March; candidates have to accept or decline by April 30. The start of the PhD program is uniformly on September 15.

  • What is the minimum GPA?

    We do not have a fixed GPA requirement for applicants. However the GPA of successful candidates typically is in the top quartile of their field of study.

  • What can you tell me about the interview process?

    Interviews may be conducted online or onsite (online interviews: first half of March, onsite interviews: late March). It is at the discretion of the professors conducting the interviews whether they invite you for an onsite interview or online interview; however if you would prefer to be interviewed online then you should let us know when the invite for interviews are released, so that we can take your preference into account.

    In case you are invited for onsite interviews, we will reimburse your travel and accommodation costs (up to a certain limit).

    The interview format and interview styles will vary by field and by professor, ranging from one-on-one meetings with individual professors, to group interviews consisting of 2-5 professors. A typical interview slot will last 20-40 min, with group interviews typically lasting longer than one-on-one interviews. In most cases you will not need to prepare a presentation on previous work done and/or articles unless you are explicitly asked to do so by the interviewing professor(s). You can expect to be asked to talk about your past research experience, to explain some of your work and/or concepts on the blackboard, and to be asked why you want to do a PhD and what attracts you to this particular program.

  • How many positions are available?

    We typically admit around 60 students per cohort. The exact number hired per field depends on the quality of the applications.

    You will be applying to the program as a whole, not to a particular group. In the online application, you will find a form in which you can list any three to five research groups you are interested in.

     

  • Do I need to contact a specific group leader with whom I wish to work before applying?

    No. It is neither necessary nor recommended to contact group leaders directly at the application stage. In the online application, you will find a form in which you can list three to five research groups you are interested in. Your application will be reviewed by professors within your chosen research areas.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • What documents do I need to provide during the application process?

    The following documents are required:

    • CV
    • Statement of purpose
    • University transcripts and diplomas of all degree programs and all years you have attended and/or are currently enrolled in (in English and in original language)
    • Contact information of 3 referees

    All documents need to be in English; copies of university transcripts should also be uploaded in their original language.

    A instruction manual is available here.

  • Do I need to have my certificates translated into English and authenticated?

    We need ALL transcripts translated into English (also for applicants coming from German speaking countries!). There is no need to have your certificates authenticated prior to the online application and you may provide the translation yourself for this purpose.

    Applicants coming from the European Research Area we recommend to use the diploma supplement which are issued in the original and in English.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • I am an international student: can I apply?

    Yes, ISTA does not have any quota on international students.

  • I have not yet completed my studies: can I already apply?

    Yes you can. However you must finish your stated course of study before the start of the PhD program in Austria (September 15 in the  year of application). As a minimum requirement, you must be able to demonstrate that you have completed your first degree by August, before the program starts, at the very latest.

    Download the instruction manual here.

  • What is the age limit for PhD admissions?

    ISTA does not have any age limit.

  • I was not accepted the last time, can I apply again?

    Yes you can, but you should be able to demonstrate significant additional experience and improvement.

    Please also be aware that you will need to create a new application, submit all required documents and request letters of recommendation again.

  • Whom do I contact if I have questions?

    If you have any questions about our PhD program, feel free to contact the Graduate School Office team.

    We would be more than happy to tell you about our PhD program.

Completing the Application
  • Can I modify my application?

    You can modify your application at any time up until the point of your final submission. Please fill out the form using a web browser on a desktop computer. Web browsers on mobile devices (i.e. Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.) are not supported.

    After you have submitted your application, you will need to contact us detailing which changes should be made and/or which documents should be updated. Please note that this can only be done up to the submission deadline (January 8)! Requests for modifications received after the deadline will not be considered. Be mindful of the timezone you are.

    Download the instruction manual here.

  • Can the admission office add or revise information of my application after the deadlines?

    No, we will not accept supporting materials received via other channels after the deadline (January 8). The admissions team will not add or change information within applications after the submission deadline. The deadline is firm and extensions are not granted.

     

  • Can I have an extension for submitting my application?

    No, we do not grant any extensions.

    The deadline for submission of your application is January 8. Be mindful of the timezone you are in! Do not leave it to the last minute to submit your application, to avoid any technical problems.

  • What is the "statement of purpose"?

    The statement of purpose (SoP) is an important part of your application that will tell the admissions committee who you are and explains why they should admit you.

    In your SoP you introduce yourself, your interests and motivations, summarize your undergraduate and previous graduate career, discuss the relevance of your recent and current activities, elaborate on your academic interests and what motivates you to apply to this particular program.

    You should also indicate what you would like to study in the graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes. Please specify up to three research groups at ISTA that you find the most interesting.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • What language should my transcripts/diplomas be in?

    We require all transcripts/diplomas to be submitted in their original language AND in English. Translations do not need to be notarized. If available, please use English translations issued by your university.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • Do I need notarized translations of my transcripts/diplomas?

    Translations do not need to be notarized. If available, please use English translations issued by your university.

  • I get an error message in the Education section when entering my grades/month of graduation. What should I do?

    Please make sure you correct the fields that come up with an error message (marked in red). Please fill out the form using a web browser on a desktop computer. Web browsers on mobile devices (i.e. Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.) are not supported.

    The fields referring to the grade and the year/month of graduation allow number entry only. Please make sure that you do not enter any letters or special characters in the fields that ask about the grading system used in your country (i.e. %, /, A,  etc.).

    E.g., if you have a grade of 95%, mark this as 95, and the max. grade is 100. If you have a grading scheme of A-E, translate it into a 1-5 grading scale.

    For the graduation month, enter 05 for May etc.

  • Do I need to submit a TOEFL/IELTS or GRE score?

    No, you do not. However, if you have them, you can upload any language tests you may have to the section: additional documents. Download the instructions manual here.

    A formal proof of competence in English (IELTS, CPE or TOEFL) is not required. The program language is English throughout. Therefore proficiency in written and oral English is expected and essential.

    If selected for interviews we will evaluate your English skills in the interviews.

     

     

  • I’m enrolled in a dual BS-MS program. How should I enter this in the application portal?

    If you are enrolled in a dual BS-MS program, please enter the same start and end dates for both programs.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • My university uses a percentage system instead of grades or scores. What do I indicate?

    In this case, please indicate the percentage you obtained and which percentage is required to pass. Enter them in a number format only, i.e. 1.0. Special characters like % or letters (A, B, etc.) are not supported.

  • Can I submit my application before all references have been received?

    Yes, you can submit your application even when your referees have not responded yet. The portal for referees will remain open until January 15, 20223

  • I am having problems uploading my documents. What can I do?

    Make sure that the documents are according to the format specified in the application form (PDF files only). The files need to be unencrypted, password free and allow document assembly. The maximum size per file is 39 MB.

    You can upload one file per upload field. If your document (f.ex. transcripts) consists of several files, you will need to combine them into a single PDF document.

    Download the instructions manual here.

    If you still experience problems with our online system, please contact phd.admissions@ist.ac.at

     

  • My institution is not on the list/ I cannot find my institution on the list. What should I do?

    We are using the Research Organization Registry (ROR). If your college is associated with a university and not listed as separate institution in the database, you need to indicate the university listed in the database. You can use https://ror.org/search to determine the nomenclature used in the list.

    Please note that ISTA does not maintain this list and cannot add institutions to the list.

    If the institution is not listed in ROR, you need to indicate another institution and mention this in the section: additional information

    Please consult the PhD application instructions for applicants (here)

  • What documents do I need to provide during the application process?

    The following documents are required:

    • CV
    • Statement of purpose
    • University transcripts and diplomas of all degree programs and all years you have attended and/or are currently enrolled in (in English and in original language)
    • Contact information of 3 referees

    All documents need to be in English; copies of university transcripts should also be uploaded in their original language.

    A instruction manual is available here.

  • Do I need to have my certificates translated into English and authenticated?

    We need ALL transcripts translated into English (also for applicants coming from German speaking countries!). There is no need to have your certificates authenticated prior to the online application and you may provide the translation yourself for this purpose.

    Applicants coming from the European Research Area we recommend to use the diploma supplement which are issued in the original and in English.

    Download the instructions manual here.

References
  • How do I choose my referees?

    Choose your referees carefully; in general, they should be familiar with your research performance. Choose 3 referees who have taught you or supervised your academic and/or research work and are therefore able to evaluate your academic and research performance. These can be professors, assistant professors, postdocs or equivalent positions. We will accept up to one letter from a non-academic work environment.

    We recommend including the principal investigator(s) who supervised your thesis work.

    When entering the names and e-mail addresses, make sure that the e-mail address is still valid and the spelling is correct!

  • Can I request a recommendation letter before I submit my application?

    Yes. You can do this by saving your application and thereafter clicking on the “Contact referees” button  at the bottom of the application page.

    The referee will then receive an email including a unique link to the recommendation form and instructions to complete the recommendation electronically.

    Please note that as soon as you choose to contact a referee (or when you submit your application, if you have not already clicked the “Contact referees” button), he or she will receive this email. You should only contact referees when they are prepared to receive this email, and to submit a reference letter for your application. Please inform your referee to watch for the message to arrive.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • Can I upload a letter of recommendation myself?

    No, we require that letters of recommendation are submitted by the referee themselves.

    Uploading a letter of recommendation by yourself will lead to an automatic disqualification and your application will no longer be considered.

  • My referee has not received the e-mail link. What should I do?

    Once you have submitted your application or chosen to contact your referees, the e-mails to your referees are sent automatically. If you have not yet submitted your application, make sure that you have used the “Contact referees” button.

    You need to make sure that you provide correct information and should also inform your referee about the time of registration to ensure that our email is not in the spam filter or institutional fire walls.

    The email could have been categorized as spam by the referee’s email provider. Please contact them directly and ask them to check in their spam or junk folder, review their email security settings, and approve requests from phd.admissions@ist.ac.at. If the e-mail is lost in the institutional firewall, you should ask your referee for an alternative e-mail address and contact us to correct it.

    Double check the spelling: you may have entered their email address incorrectly when you submitted your application. In this case, please contact us to correct it.

    Note: the deadline to exchange or update a referee is Jan 8, 2022. No changes will be made thereafter to allow the referee time to respond.

    The reference letters need to be submitted by January 15, 2023 (11.59PM CET).

  • My referee submitted a recommendation, but it is not marked “submitted” in my online application.

    Most likely, you have more than one application in the system and the referee received multiple requests to submit a letter of recommendation.

    If this is the case, you are probably checking one application while your referee responded to a different application. Please check for all applications you may have and verify the status of each recommendation.

    If your referee has used the wrong link to submit their reference, please ask them to resubmit using the correct link.

    The second most common mistake is that the referee has only saved the reference in the system, but has not submitted their recommendation. Once they have done so, the system will send an automated thank you email.

  • How do I check the status of my reference letters?

    Please log in to your account and choose See status of referees.

    The status “requested” indicates that the referee has been contacted, but the recommendation is not submitted yet.

    The status “reminded” indicates that a reminder e-mail has been sent to the referee, but the recommendation is not submitted yet.

    The status “submitted” indicates that the letter has been submitted and received.

    Download the instructions manual here.

  • I get an error message when entering my referees. What should I do?

    You need to enter details of three (3) referees. If you enter fewer, then you will not be able to submit.

    Make sure there is no space in front or end of the email address.

    Do not copy and paste the e-mail address from a website. Invisible 4 byte unicode character inserted in the email address. Please clear the column and re-type the email address using the keyboard.

  • Can I exchange one referee for another one?

    You may replace one referee with another. Please send all the required information regarding the referee you would like to add (name, institution, country, e-mail address). Indicate clearly which referee we should replace.

    1. which referee should be replaced, and
    2. the title, name, e-mail address, country and institution of the new referee.

    Keep in mind that we can only answer requests during standard office hours (Mon – Fri, 9 AM – 5 PM CET). Note the following public holidays: Dec 24-26 and 31, Jan 1 and 6.

    Note: the deadline to exchange or update a referee is Jan 8, 2023. No changes will be made thereafter to allow the referee time to respond.

  • How many reference letters are required for my application?

    Your application needs to be supported by a minimum of three reference letters submitted by January 11, 2022 (11.59PM CET). Be mindful of the time zone your referee is in! Download the instructions manual here.

    Two of the recommendations need to be from an academic environment, one can be from a work environment. We can only consider recommendations that are submitted via the online recommendation form and not via email.

    Choose your referees carefully; in general, they should be familiar with your research performance (we recommend including the principal investigator(s) who supervised your thesis work).

Campus & Community
  • Is on-campus housing guaranteed?

    ISTA strives to guarantee on-campus housing for the duration of your internship and/or for the first year of study as a PhD student, however this is not always possible due to demand. Certain groups, f.ex. those relocating from further afield, may be given priority.

    Students selected for the ISTernship summer program can choose between housing on campus, according to availability, and housing in Vienna provided by the OeAD.

  • What extracurricular activities are available on campus?

    There is a variety of extracurricular activities such as sports, student groups and social clubs. Read more here.

  • What dining options are available on campus?

    You can choose to have breakfast or lunch at the cafeteria. Other options include a café/pub, a Starbucks corner, coffee kitchens in each building, and vending machines. See more about Dining here.

  • Where do ISTA students come from?

    At the moment, we have scientists from over 70 different countries and a very diverse and international student population. About a quarter of our students are Austrian.

    ISTA is committed to promoting diversity and equality, and we encourage applicants from all over the world to apply to the PhD program at ISTA.

  • Do I have to pay for health insurance?

    Austria has a statutory social security system; this means that you will be automatically covered by social insurance as soon as you start your PhD program or scientific internship at ISTA. ISTA will take the necessary steps to register you with the Austrian health insurance company (Österreichische Gesundheitskasse – ÖGK). Social insurance is funded by social insurance contributions, which are paid both by the employer – ISTA – and the employee – PhD student or intern. Insurance contributions are calculated on the basis of the employee’s gross income. Read more here.

    The OeAD will support students selected for the ISTernship summer program with their registration with the Austrian health insurance company (Österreichische Gesundheitskasse – ÖGK).

  • Do I need to speak German?

    No. English is the language used for communication at the Institute.

    However, being able to speak German makes a lot of things much easier in daily life in Austria. For this reason, ISTA provides free German courses for students enrolled in the PhD program.

  • Do I need a visa?

    If you are not from an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, you will need to apply for a visa in order to legally take up employment and register as a PhD student at ISTA.

    When you get an offer from ISTA, you will be sent information on how to apply for your visa from abroad.

  • Where is ISTA?

    ISTA is located just outside of Vienna, in Lower Austria. The ISTA campus is a 25-minute bus ride from Vienna Heiligenstadt station (U-Bahn line U4) using the ISTA shuttle bus. Please see this page for directions to the institute.

     

  • Where can I live?

    Housing is available on the ISTA campus. International students are prioritized if they choose to live on campus.

    There is a guesthouse with 38 rooms (24 single rooms, 6 single rooms equipped to be suitable for persons with disabilities, 4 double rooms, 4 junior suites), for short stays of up to 2 months. For longer stays (2 months to 1 year), there are 28 short term apartments and 90 long term apartments. There are both single and family/shared apartments.

    A room or apartment can be rented for a period of up to one year after arrival, giving incoming international students time to find suitable accommodation for the subsequent years. Housing on campus is subject to availability.

    Please find more information on the ISTA website.

    Students selected for the ISTernship summer program can choose between housing on campus (subject to availability) and housing in Vienna provided by the OeAD.

    Many ISTA PhD students and staff actually prefer to live in the hustle and bustle of Vienna, since Vienna is consistently voted one of the best cities in the world to live in, with affordable accommodation and excellent public transport connections meaning there is no problem in commuting to campus.

    Students also have the choice of living in the nearest town of Klosterneuburg (a quiet area with beautiful woods and close to the world-famous monastery Stift Klosterneuburg).

     

  • What is student life like at ISTA?

    Our PhD students are an integral part of the scientific community, and apart from scientific research activities, they are also actively involved in various sports and other leisure activities.

    There is the annual ISTA Institute Retreat, which scientists and staff of the whole Institute are invited to attend, and at which students are a significant presence.

    Some of our students also live on campus, and are actively involved in all the activities that the Institute has to offer.

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