How I won a DAAD

Hi everyone, my name is Artyom, I was lucky to get the DAAD scholarship for my MSc studies, and I would like to share with some of my experiences/impressions I carried out of selection process of 2013, about DAAD and not only. As far as I applied for MSc in molecular Biology, some points are useful for it only.

Step 1: Start a general preparation
1) Start roughly a year before the start of a program. I started intensive googling in the early summer of 2012 to start studying in the October 2013. Because you have to not only pick up the right university and study program, scholarship fund (DAAD is not the only one), but also to write a language test (I did IELTS because I preferred to talk 2 min with a real person than 1 min to microphone like in TOEFL) in such a time frame, that if your result (which you will get in quite a while) is not satisfying, you can rewrite the exam AND to get a new result before the deadline of the program and DAAD. I got my result in beginning of December 2012.
2) Forget about German, unless you apply for BSc program, focus on English (go to American English Center – one of the best schools by Quality/Price ratio, and train your speaking language, there is plenty of free speaking clubs in big cities, just go google).

Step 2: Find 3 Uni’s (study programs) – for DAAD

1) Which Uni. I would not suggest you to apply wherever you expect to have some at least small chance to be accepted. Do you want to waste 2 years on something you might not really like? Apply to really GOOD programs and universities, apply to the best ones (check ratings), there is nothing complicated in selection process and you do not have to be genius to be accepted (Forget about articles! Even not all EMBL students manage to publish during their 4 years of PhD). You just have to be a good student (grades of BSc) with a decent knowledge (just read some classical general in my case book before), maybe some practical experience in the lab would help.
2) Deadlines. Make a scheme of the following year and write there all the deadlines (Uni’s, scholarship funds, language tests etc.). Do not send documents 2 days before deadline, but rather apply near the opening of application period (very important point for summer schools – maybe that’s why I was not accepted to any, applied a night before).
3) Programs. The scheme of a study program must be clear and transparent. I was looking for a program with an emphasis on practice and lab rotations, for example. Some Uni’s have very important connections (with Institutes of Max Planck and Helmholtz Societies, lots of clusters of excellence, medical institutes, technology parks if you want industry, independent institutions like EMBL, etc.), it might be very useful to make a practicum in one of them. E.g., in my program the one is allowed to make a 2-months practicum at any institute around the globe, big Uni’s have also huge networks of connections and exchange programs. By the way, some programs give their own scholarships to accepted students, like Mol.Bio. at Uni of Göttingen – apply there for sure. For technical disciplines I suggest to check Uni’s of TU9 group.

Step 3: Motivation letters, general guidelines.
The most important part of your application. Learn these main (IMHO) principles =)
1) Start writing at least 2 weeks before application, correct once upon few days – important!
2) Be specific. NEVER make one motivation letter, which you can use for few programs (you can’t open all the locks with one key, can you?). EACH application needs a separate writing with specific points in it. You MUST explain, why you want to study on THIS program, explain WHY you need degree you apply for, etc. General words like “modern equipment, cutting-edge research, cool Uni” are just a bullshit, if there are no specific reasons behind of your choice.
3) Point out your background and relevant to field experience, but do not forget that nobody cares about your biography, you are not famous writer, sorry. =)
4) Be short. There are hundreds of applicants, a person in the commission will pay 30s-1min to read your motivation letter, not more, no illusions. 1 page – MAX.
5) Does EACH of your sentences carry a sense, tells something important about you? No – then throw it away.
6) Imagine yourself on a place of a boss, what would you like to know about an applicant, which impression do you make?
7) Ask some native speaker to read your letter. Grammar and structure should be excellent.

Step 4: Preparation to Interview.
1) You have to be able to answer any question about your choice of Uni’s, programs, future plans, reasons you need it, why you do not want to stay at home, how did you choose your field, etc. I suggest to train before, like if you were answering not to committee, but to yourself, as honest as it is. It helped me a lot to find real reasons, why I chose biology, why I need science, why I wanna do PhD in a future, lots of why’s.
2) Make a vast list of questions and answer them to yourself loud, not in thoughts. You will see that giving an answer loud will help to make your speech clear and structured (good for IELTS preparation too).
3) Be honest. You do not have to swear that after your MSc you will proceed with PhD in Germany, if you are not sure yet. It is normal, if you do not know.
4) You have to know DETAILS about your chosen program, Uni, you must be able to explain priorities.
5) Contact potential boss beforehand. You can ask about some details of his last paper, or whether you can make a lab rotation in his lab, when you matriculate the Uni. I was asked during interview, whether I contacted somebody, good that I did.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact =)