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What are the study aims?

Nacaps is designed to provide an “inside view of the academic world”. It will be the first study to collect comprehensive data on doctoral conditions and success, career aims and career paths and the general life situation of doctoral candidates and doctorate holders in Germany. We also aim to relate findings about individual career paths to overarching national and international developments in the higher education and science system. In this way, the significance of early career young researchers for the higher education and science system, and for Germany’s leading role in innovation, can be systematically and scientifically examined for the first time.

What topics are covered in the survey of doctoral candidates?

The Nacaps topics and research questions are developed on the basis of a broad set of theoretical approaches. On the one hand, Nacaps ties into current research issues with long-term relevance about the qualification process and career paths of doctoral candidates and doctorate holders in Germany. On the other hand it also picks up additional, special information requirements of the HEIs, relating to e.g. their own quality management. You can find an overview of the core topics and research questions by clicking on the menu item “Topics”.

Who is carrying out the study?

The Nacaps panel study is being implemented by the German Centre for Higher Education and Science Studies (DZHW), an institution that carries out application-oriented empirical research. The main focus of its work is on higher education research with analyses focussing on students and graduates, issues of life-long learning, controlling and funding, as well as on science and organisation research. DZHW’s participation in the National Report on Junior Scholars (BuWiN), the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), and social surveys, as well as its own relevant panel studies such as ProFile, the doctoral candidates panel, WiNbus, the online panel for early career researchers in Germany, or the “Careers of Doctorate Holders” project, exemplify the Centre’s competence and experience in the field of online surveys in the higher education and science area. The project team combines expertise in empirical social research, technological competence in data management, and years of experience in the implementation and evaluation of longitudinal studies.

Who is funding this study?

The study set-up is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).


How do I participate?

If the HEI at which you are taking your doctorate is a Nacaps-partner you have been invited to take part in our survey either in 2019 or 2021. If you have already taken part, at the end of the survey we have asked for permission to contact you again. In case you have given us the consent to do so and additionally an email-address you will receive invitations for the follow up survey.

You can find an overview of our partner HEIs here. Is your HEI on the list? If not, you could suggest it to your doctorate office or the management of your HEI!

How long does it take to complete the survey?

Depending on the respondent’s answers, the survey takes between 25 and 35 minutes. Basically, the surveys are designed to be as interesting, varied and concise as possible to motivate respondents to take part in further surveys for our panel study.

Who is behind Nacaps?

Nacaps is a research project of the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW), that is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Nacaps is collaborating with a large number of partner- HEIs throughout Germany that are authorised to award doctorates, and we will carry out the survey jointly with them.

How and when will I find out about the study findings?

The first results of the study are accessible via a data portal. If you would like to be informed about the publication of the study findings in a timely manner, we recommend that you enter your details in our Mailing List. We also announce publications via Twitter and here on the Nacaps website.

Can I omit certain information in the questionnaire?

Yes, you can participate even if you don’t answer certain questions. However, we are of course delighted to receive the most complete information possible. To find out what research interests we pursue with individual questions, click here.

Data Protection

What will happen to the information I give on the questionnaire, i.e. with the survey data?

As soon as the online survey is completed, we will save the survey data separately from the respondents’ names and addresses on DZHW servers that are specially safeguarded for this purpose. Project staff are the only people with access to this protected server area, and only with express permission from the Nacaps project management. The survey data will subsequently be prepared for future use. Before being passed on to third parties such as secondary researchers (on application), we will ensure that they are anonymised.

The data will be aggregated to varying degrees, depending on the purpose for which they are to be used. Those data that are available via the data portal are allocated to the highest aggregation level; this ensures that it is not possible to trace them back to any individual. To achieve this, technological measures are also taken, e.g. setting a minimum cell size. The project team itself as well as other researchers are only permitted to use the data for statistical evaluations, i.e. for anonymised data processing.

What exactly will happen to my contact data if I participate?

Generally, the contact data will initially be held by your HEI only. In some cases, they will be passed on to us, for the sole purpose of sending invitations, after which they will be deleted.

At the end of the first survey, you will be asked to give us your contact data and your agreement to us contacting you in future for annual follow-up surveys. The information is not mandatory and will not be passed on to third parties. However, Nacaps is dependent on your long-term commitment to provide longitudinal data and we therefore would very much welcome your cooperation in providing your contact details.

Your contact data can be deleted at any time, if you so wish. In this case, please get in touch with us: Contact

How did you obtain my address details?

We are carrying out the survey in partnership with the HEI at which you are registered as a doctoral candidate. Therefore participants will usually be invited by their HEI itself, in the form of an email with a personalised link to enable you to take part in the study. If you have already taken part and given us the consent to contact you again, you get an invitation for the follow-up surveys. We would be pleased to answer any further questions you may have about the protection of your data: Contact.

Can my HEI find out my answers?

The Nacaps findings will be made available to our partner HEIs via a data portal, where they can only see aggregated results. If smaller-scale data (microdata) are passed on to a partner HEI for analytical purposes, the data will be pseudonymised beforehand; in other words, names will be replaced by randomly generated identifiers. Partner HEIs and DZHW are contractually committed to handling data responsibly.

Study Design

For how long and how often will panel study respondents be surveyed?

First, doctoral candidates will be recruited for the panel through the initial survey carried out with the cooperation of the HEIs. Panel participants will then be surveyed annually, to gain information about the progress of their doctoral studies, their graduation and their next career stages. The current aim is to continue the observations for up to 15 years after completion of the doctorate.

What is the purpose of a full population survey of doctorate holders?

The aim of the full population survey is to enable us to provide timely statements about the subsequent career paths of doctorate holders and to gain representative data for a cohort of doctorate holders. These data give us a reference point that can be compared to official statistics for monitoring on the topic of early career researchers. This survey also brings people into the panel study who were previously not included in the doctoral candidates survey, for example in the case of those who completed a doctorate in less than a year.

Which HEIs are eligible to cooperate with the study?

All HEIs that are authorised to award doctorates in Germany can cooperate with Nacaps, including universities and technical, educational, theological and art colleges, as well as those universities of applied sciences that are authorised to award doctorates. The only condition is that the cooperating HEIs can set up the contact to their doctoral candidates for the survey and provide information about the total number of their doctoral candidates.

Who will be surveyed in the study? Who is part of the survey’s target group?

The study’s target groups comprises doctoral candidates and doctorate holders in Germany. On the one hand, the study aims to collect data about doctoral progress and on the other hand, on career paths after completing a doctorate. This includes examining careers both in and outside the academic world.

How will participants be contacted after they have completed their doctorates?

In the initial survey, respondents will be asked to give DZHW their contact data for follow-up surveys. If respondents agree and are willing to be surveyed in future, they will later be contacted annually by DZHW to take part in follow-up surveys. Respondents will also receive invitations to participate after completing their doctorates, in order to track their career paths. DZHW carries out the follow-up surveys independently, as well as taking on the maintenance and integrity of the contact data.

How is “doctoral candidate status” defined? Who is counted as “taking a doctorate” or as a “doctoral candidate”?

We base our survey of doctoral candidates on the definition given in the German Higher Education Statistics Act (HStatG), according to which doctoral candidates are persons who have received confirmation of their acceptance as a doctoral candidate by an HEI that is authorised to award doctorates (Section 5, HStatG).

How does the study take account of external doctoral candidates at universities of applied sciences?

The study will collect data about all groups of doctoral candidates, regardless of whether they are at the same time employed at the HEI as scientific assistants, or members of a doctorate programme, or external doctoral candidates. Candidates under a cooperative doctorate arrangement at a university of applied sciences are also included, because registration always has to take place via an HEI that is authorised to award doctorates.

How does the study take account of doctoral candidates at non-university research institutions?

Doctoral candidates at non-university research institutions are also included, because registration always has to take place via an HEI that is authorised to award doctorates.

How are doctoral candidates included who only register at a later point during the doctorate process?

Due to the survey design and the recruitment of doctoral candidates via the HEIs, all doctoral candidates can only be surveyed from the time when they are accepted as candidates. However, this doesn’t mean that candidates are excluded. People who only register later, after they have started working on their doctorate, join the panel study later. In order to take account of such delays in the evaluation, the survey asks about the date of acceptance as a candidate, but in addition, also asks when the candidate began work on their doctorate, as recommended by the University Association UniWiND and other authorities.

Research Data and Reporting

How will the Nacaps study findings be published and used?

To enable the various user groups (HEIs, politicians, scientific researchers) to use the study findings as they require, they will be made available in three ways:

  • via a data portal in which the cooperating HEIs have exclusive access to their own findings
  • in the form of scientific publications and reports (e.g. in specialist journals or the Federal Report on Junior Scholars (BuWiN))
  • in terms of Open Science, as anonymised research data sets (scientific use files) in the DZHW’s Research Data Centre.

In what form are the findings made available to the HEIs?

The Nacaps partner HEIs are given access to the specific findings relating to their institution via a data portal. The findings relating to individual HEIs can be accessed via individual, protected accounts.

How can external researchers use the Nacaps study data?

Nacaps makes the data available for scientific examination free of charge in the form of anonymised scientific use files in DZHW’s Research Data Centre. You can find the access conditions on the DZHW Research Data Centre website.

Are any questions left unanswered? Get in touch with us: Contact