What is involved in a Doctorate in France

Le fonctionnement du doctorat en France
Le fonctionnement du doctorat en France

The Doctorate involves training through research, in a research laboratory, and is organised by one of the 270 doctoral schools. The work is completed with a viva voce of a thesis in front of a jury.

Doctorate or Thesis?

In French, the word "thesis" (thèse) is often mixed up with the word "Doctorate" (doctorat).

The Doctorate is the name of the degree that you obtain. It is the highest degree awarded by the universities and internationally recognised. In French, the period spent preparing the Doctorate is often called the "thèse"; people talk about enrolling for a "thèse", which means enrolling for a Doctorate.

The thesis refers to the document that you have to write and present before a jury to obtain your doctoral degree. There is a tendency to say "faire une thèse " (doing a thesis) instead of doing a Doctorate, as the thesis is the biggest part!

And you have to do your Doctorate under the supervision of a "Thesis Supervisor", who will guide you throughout your Doctorate. You must have selected a thesis supervisor, who must accept to supervise you, before you start your Doctorate.

Where to do your Doctorate

A Doctorate can be done in all of the universities as well as in most engineering, management and even art Grandes Ecoles, which are generally associated with a university. The Doctorate is the highest international degree and is awarded after 3 years (in the natural and technological sciences) to a maximum of 6 years (in social sciences and the humanities).

In a research laboratory, with a thesis supervisor

Financer son doctorat

The Doctorate in the natural and technological sciences takes place full time in a research laboratory, in daily conjunction with your colleagues.

In the arts and humanities, the work is often more individual, and does not require a daily presence in a research laboratory. You will often be working from home, but will be able to meet your thesis supervisor on a regular basis and work in the university or school library.

Nearly 15,000 Doctorates are conferred in France each year: 46% in science and technology, 20% in Biology-Medicine, 20% in the humanities and 14% in the social sciences.

The Doctoral schools

Les écoles doctorales

The Doctorate is organised by "Doctoral schools". There are 270 Doctoral schools attached to 2,500 public research laboratories throughout the entire country. Each Doctoral School has several research laboratories.

The Doctoral Schools organise and supervise the doctoral students, in particular with additional classes in methodology, communication, writing scientific papers, starting a company, intellectual property, etc. These additional classes correspond to approximately 150 hrs of classes spread over the total duration of the Doctorate.

The Doctoral schools also organise your enrolment in a Doctorate, and, in collaboration with your thesis supervisor, monitor your progress.

You will find the list of Doctoral schools in our directory.

Writing and defending your thesis

Rédiger et soutenir sa thèse

In addition to experiments and studying, you will have to write a thesis, which is a document at least 200 pages long. In your thesis, you can also include articles that you have published in technical journals. Writing it proves that you have acquired a certain number of skills: deductive reasoning, critical ability, scholarship, etc.

Once the thesis is finished, it must be approved by 2 examiners, and you will then have the right to "defend" your thesis, meaning that you will have to present it orally before a jury. In this oral examination you present your research method and results before debating them with the members of the jury. The viva voce examination, or thesis defence, is generally public.

The viva voce, and the thesis itself, will be published by the university and on the site www.theses.fr.

The different types of Doctorates

The single Doctorate

This is the most common way of doing a Doctorate, involving 3 to 6 years in the same research laboratory. At the end, you will obtain a French degree. Enrolment and the viva voce take place in a single establishment, and the thesis is written under the direction of a single supervisor.

The co-supervised Doctorate

The co-supervised Doctorate means that you have 2 thesis supervisors. One thesis supervisor in the main laboratory, in the establishment in which you are enrolled, and one other thesis supervisor, generally in another establishment, in France or in another country.

You enrol and have the viva voce only in the main thesis supervisor's institute, which means that you will be awarded the degree by this university.

It is an interesting and easy approach that lets you do your Doctorate in the framework of international collaboration.

The joint Doctorate

The joint Doctorate is a co-supervised Doctorate that means you receive a degree from each of the universities of the 2 thesis supervisors.

It is done within a French establishment and a foreign establishment, and results in two degrees conferred by each establishment (and sometimes a single joint degree, with the name of the 2 establishments).

You enrol in both establishments through a degree proposal establishing how the joint Doctorate will function.

Everything must be stated in this document: in which of the two establishments will the viva voce take place? Who will pay the jury's travelling expenses?

Each year, the doctoral student must enrol in both establishments, but only pays in one. This must also be stated in the joint Doctorate document.

The in-company Doctorate (CIFRE)

Doing a Doctorate in a company is an excellent opportunity to enter the world of employment. The CIFRE (Convention Industrielle de Formation par la Recherche - the Industrial Agreement for Training through Research) lets you do your Doctorate in a company, in conjunction with a public university. In this case, a bit like with co-supervision, you will have a thesis supervisor, a university professor, and a supervisor from the company. You are employed by the company, which receives a grant from the State, and you receive a degree from the university.

Some subsidies for nationals of other countries, such as India and Morocco, and some specific programmes like EIT Digital encourage the in-company Doctorate.

The European Joint Doctorate

The European Joint Doctorate was established in Horizon 2020, a 2014-2020 European Union programme for financing research and innovation, as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions.

It is open to all foreign students, and lets them obtain a 3-year Doctorate. The Doctorate is done at 3 European establishments in 3 different countries.


Doing a Doctorate in English

In the natural and technological sciences, you will not be required to have a particular level of French when doing a Doctorate. Discussions with the research supervisor take place in English. The doctoral student can take French classes while in France, but the thesis can be written and defended just in English. Only the abstract must be translated into French.

In the social sciences and humanities, a good level of French is often required (generally level B1 or B2). As for commerce, marketing, political science, communication and law, it is sometimes also possible to write your thesis in English, but that depends on the institute.

Follow the main steps to come study in France