HOWTO: do a PhD in stats, in France

Posted in General by Pierre Jacob on 25 August 2011

Hey there,

Following questions from master students interested in doing a PhD in France, I thought I’d share some answers here. I’ll try to explain how the French universities work for PhD students (it’s a bit peculiar). It’s gonna get boring for any other reader, so if you don’t want to apply for a PhD in France, skip this post (and sorry). Basically three things are separated:

  • the university to which the PhD student is affiliated. Every student has to be affiliated to an university (or more exactly to an “Ecole doctorale” = “doctoral school”). For instance CREST is a research centre, but there’s no doctoral school attached to it (yet), hence a PhD student at CREST has to have another affiliation. One more thing about doctoral schools: the PhD student is affiliated to the same doctoral school as the supervisor. So once you choose the supervisor, you don’t choose the doctoral school: you pick the same as his.
  • where the money comes from: you have to get a funding, and the funding can come from various places: the university itself, the research labs (like CREST), some big private firms (e.g. EDF, the main French energy supplier, funds a lot of research on stats and economics), some private funding programs (for instance I’m funded by AXA Research), etc. There are many different institutions funding PhDs so at first, it’s hard to know where to search.
  • where you actually work: that is, the place where you actually got an office (and possibly even a computer!). It could be in a third institution, in the university, in a research lab, etc. Not difficult to find when you have a funding, because at least the institution that agrees to fund you for a few years will also agree to give you a seat.

So for example I’m funded by AXA Research, my “doctoral school” is Université Paris-Dauphine (where my supervisor is affiliated) and my office is at CREST.

All this seems complicated but in practice it is not so difficult if you apply with the right professor, that is, the professor who knows the system and where to get the money from. So the hard part is to find the professor and to convince him that you would be worth his efforts. Obviously, when you contact a professor, it’s better to show that you’re motivated by having some understanding of the educational system, so that he / she doesn’t feel like he / she’s going to do all the administrative work alone. I can’t say much more about how you can convince a professor to take you for a PhD; that’d be for professors to answer (professors, if you read this…).

Some practical information: PhDs usually start during Fall, so the deadlines for applications are usually in Spring before (but it is not centralized, so some institutions put deadlines in January whereas others put them in June; the best is to contact professors quite early during your final year of master). It does not cost money to apply for a PhD. The PhDs funded by most universities and CREST are totally research-based: there is no classes to attend (you can attend courses if you want but you don’t have too), you can go to seminars (but you don’t have to either). The fundings are usually for three years, and they pay decently well: the CREST funding is around 1400€ per month I think, so you can live with that, even in Paris, though you won’t go to strip clubs every night with that kind of money (of course it’s pure speculation, I never went), and you would need to share a flat if you’d want to live in the city centre. You can earn additional income by giving classes (usually practical lessons for bachelor or master students), which can pay pretty well (up to 50€ per hour). Some funding contract will force you to teach, while some others will not. This is an important difference, both in terms of time and money. The best is obviously to have the possibility to teach without having to (CREST’s funding is in that case, at least for now).

Many students take a bit more than 3 years to finish their PhD, so there are usually possibilities to find an additional funding for the end of your PhD: be prepared to spend 4 years instead of 3. It’s rare that people would need more than 4 years, in statistics.

Finally, compared to other countries a PhD in France is really unrelated to a master so if you want to a PhD at university U, you don’t necessarily need a master from university U. As long as your master is research-oriented, you can apply for a PhD in the same field at any university.


34 Responses

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  1. Jeremy_G said, on 25 August 2011 at 13:52

    A list of public fundings can be found here (but it is not translated in english yet):

    The fundings accorded by firms are named “CIFRE” : a student with such a funding is considered as a salary of the firm, so the work conditions are very different from one firm to another.

  2. Roy said, on 25 August 2011 at 23:21

    Sweet as 🙂

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  6. mahesh said, on 27 January 2012 at 13:58

    i am trying to do phb from france could you guide me sir

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 27 January 2012 at 14:10

      Hey Mahesh. Your question is a bit general, I don’t really know how to help.

  7. ark said, on 21 March 2012 at 18:11

    I am currently pursuing B.stat (bachelor of statistics) in Indian Statistical Institute(ISI), kolkata. Now, I am in 3rd year (i.e. last year) of B.stat. I had economics as elective in my course. And I will be taking Quantitative Economics as specialization in my M.stat course. After completion my master degree I want to apply for Phd. in TSE. please help me how to prepare myself for applying there with sufficient grant. And also by looking at my profile should I apply for M1 or M2?

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 21 March 2012 at 18:32

      Hey ark.

      TSE as in Toulouse School of Economics? If so, then I would suggest browsing through their website, seeing which topics are the most interesting to you (by looking at the professors’ webpages or googling their names, at the topics of their latest seminars, etc). This way you would see who you should contact there, and more importantly, if you’d be happy to go there.

      TSE actually has a nice website in English: see for instance
      You can also try to contact the PhD students there,, they might have valuable information!

      Knowing whether you should apply for M1 or M2 in econometrics is definitely out of my reach. I have no contact whatsoever with TSE, although I’ve heard it was a prestigious institution.

      Good luck!

  8. Catherine Xyla said, on 23 April 2012 at 12:34

    Hey Pierre,

    Thats was a really good write up…!!! thank you. Actually I was planning for a Ph.D from France on Interior Architecture. ( I have bachelors in architecture and a masters in Design). But I tend to have a lot of “if” and “but” to go on with my research work.

    1) I would like to keep my job. I am working as a lecturer in Middle east(Oman). So basically I am looking for a Ph.d which can be done as part time. (Having visit my guide, professor, once in a year and rest of all correspondance/submissions made online).

    2) I would like to have a research work carried out which has funding from an external source. (which I think I would only be getting details once I find out the Professor)

    3) I have chosen France as it has good universities and I hear funding for Ph.d programmes are plenty. But my primary catch was France providing citizenship to those who have completed a masters or Ph.D from a french school/university(i.e min of two years). I hope if part time Ph.D are available in France my yearly visit would be counted for the two years required for the permanent citizenship.

    I would like to have light thrown upon my concerns

    Thanks again pierre

    Catherine Xyla.

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 23 April 2012 at 13:29

      Hey Catherine,

      About your two first points, as you said if you find a professor who would be happy to supervise you, I don’t think it would be a problem. Universities usually don’t ask PhD students to be there all the time, and in practice they have no clue whatsoever where the PhD students are actually located. So this wouldn’t be an issue. However, finding a PhD advisor, who would be happy to see you only once a year, is a different story. I don’t know of such cases, but there’s nothing impossible in theory.

      Maybe you can find out if there are joint programs between Oman and France? Maybe get in touch with the French community in Oman to get more information on the topic?

      About your third point, I’m not an expert on the current immigration laws but I doubt that if you do a PhD based in another country, those years would count to get the French citizenship. From what I heard, the citizenship requires something like five years in France, and you have to establish that you really live here. I would be very surprised that having a PhD is of any help to get the French citizenship.

      Good luck,


      • Catherine Xyla said, on 23 April 2012 at 14:09

        Thank you Pierre, that was quick and prompt..!! i am impressed..!! making France more and more interesting..!!

        I have sent in a mail to the French consulate and fingers crossed I atleast get a reply from them. It would be great if you could lead me to any contacts if by chance you happen to meet someone in the field of architecture pursuing his research.

        So until then its Bye from Oman!!!

  9. Cynthia Basu said, on 10 July 2012 at 20:06

    Hi! I’m currently doing the last year of my MStat at Indian Statistical Intitute in India. I’m interested to do a PhD in France but I’m a little lost with finding out universities that let you do PhD in Statistics and how would i know which ones are good..

  10. Emma said, on 17 November 2012 at 22:07

    Hello, My name is Emma, I am currently studying in M1 in France. My question is, can I opt in for PhD after M1 without doing M2? Thanks.

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 19 November 2012 at 08:45

      Hi Emma,

      In France as far as I know you’re expected to finish a M2 (and more specifically, a research-oriented M2) before starting your PhD, but I don’t know if it’s an absolute requirement.

      In any case you don’t just opt for a PhD, you first find a PhD advisor and a topic (which you typically do during your research-oriented M2, by talking to the researchers and professors whom you meet), and then funding. If you already found an advisor before your M2, then ask him what to do!


  11. Christian said, on 4 December 2012 at 16:05

    Great information. Thanks for this. I’m concluding a M2 research oriented thesis on sociology/digital culture. I would like to do a PhD in Paris or Toulouse and will follow your advice among others. However my French language skills are low. My questions are simple: Can I conduct the entire project in English, and wouldn’t this require my supervisor to have good to excellent english language skills? How likely is it that I can find a supervisor in my field, willing to take me on, who has the required language compatibility?

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 5 December 2012 at 06:08

      Hey Christian,

      It’s a good question. In my university they accepted thesis in English (with like a few pages of summary in French in the beginning, but essentially in English; you can look at mine if you want to see what it looks like: ). Since researchers write their articles in English, in order to publish in international journals and to attend international conferences, it’s getting more and more common that PhD thesis are in English too, especially the ones that are based on a series of articles. As a result, all the French researchers that I’ve met are fluent in written English; although they might have a strong accent ;-). There are also a number of foreign PhD students in French who write their PhD in English, and after a few years in France, writing a few summaries in French is not a problem.

      However, I guess that it would depend on the university and on the field. In Sociology it might be common practice to work in French, especially when it’s about phenomenons happening in France; I don’t really know. What I know is that the PhD thesis is quite “important” in Sociology (compared to maths where nobody reads PhD thesis since all the results are published in separate articles), and usually consists of 500+ pages; it is more like a book than a series of articles, and sometimes gets to be published as a book. Hence language might be more of an issue. The best would be to find a PhD advisor whom you would be willing to work with, and ask him directly if he’s happy for you to work in English.

      Note also that in Sociology, PhDs take longer than in Stats, so compared to what I’ve written in this post, be prepared to spend four or five years on a PhD.



  12. Tanujit Chakraborty said, on 3 June 2013 at 22:04

    Hiii!!! I am a pass out in statistics from India. I will be enrolled for in statistics in Calcutta university,India. I have my interest to do a ph.d in France. So,is this necessary to know French or any other language other than English to get admission for ph.d in the universities in France. Suggest some good universities for research in operations research,advanced probability fields. . . .

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 4 June 2013 at 02:15

      Hey Tanujit,

      I’d say after a few years in France you will speak French, and it’s definitely very useful in France! But it’s not necessary for admission to a PhD, if you’re PhD advisor is happy with you speaking English then it’s fine.

      I don’t know about the good places for OR or probability, but as I wrote in the post, find a supervisor first, and wherever he is, that’s where you want to go.



      • Tanujit Chakraborty said, on 4 June 2013 at 21:46

        Thanks for the reply. Then I have to talk with the Prof first. As U said is not necessary for pursuing ph.d in France. Is it really TRUE?

        • Pierre Jacob said, on 5 June 2013 at 10:48

          You might have misread what I wrote: you don’t need a master degree from the university at which you apply for a PhD, but you certainly need a master degree or equivalent from some other institution. Good luck!

  13. Aybuke said, on 2 August 2013 at 13:01

    Hi Pierre,

    I finished MA on Philosophy in England but I want to do PhD in France. I already have a scholarship which covers both university fees and my living. I have started searching recently, but I could not find any uni yet which has english PhD on philosophy. (I found one with a french requirement). I don’t know french but I am willing to learn. I am writing to you because you wrote it is possible to find a supervisor who is willing to work in english. Is it possible for supervisor to decide even if the uni has a requirement?
    P.S: I have a friend with the same situation and he is looking for PhD in areas like public management, administrative science, public policy, governance. Do these answers apply to him as well?

    Thank you for your help and effort. 🙂

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 13 August 2013 at 03:04

      Hello Aybuke,

      Again I don’t know much about PhDs outside of Statistics. But anyway, you’re not going to choose the topic of a 4 years PhD thesis based on language requirements. So you should find a professor willing to supervise you first, and deal with the administrative constraints with his help later. If you choose your advisor based on admin constraints, it’s a recipe for disaster.

      Good luck!


      • Aybuke said, on 15 August 2013 at 22:52

        Hi again,

        I will give a shot and see what happens. 🙂 Thank you.

  14. Ramy said, on 3 November 2013 at 12:25

    Is it true that if i am going to do phd in france , i will be eligible for french citizenship after 2 years of residence, is it straight forward as it looks like ? or there are hidden obstacles, i love france very much and i want to live and die there

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 3 November 2013 at 14:56

      Where did you read that? I doubt it very much.

  15. Ram said, on 15 November 2013 at 03:34

    This was written in the charter !! and yes if you spend 2 years toward your PhD in a French institution you are eligible for a French citizenship but you have to show fluency in French and assimilation to the French society and culture.

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 16 November 2013 at 15:15

      Mmm I wouldn’t count on this then. It means the prefecture can grant you the citizenship or not in an arbitrary fashion. There’s often stories about people with a perfect profile, speaking French fluently, not getting the citizenship even after many years. Sad…

      • ram said, on 20 November 2013 at 15:30

        sad you 🙂

  16. Shane said, on 28 March 2014 at 19:44

    Thank you Pierre! currently building my application and research proposal, with a UK MBA thesis ongoing. still looking to find for a tuteur interested in my research area. im guessing economics and transportation as I geek on Airport Advisory and consultancy. I received a question from a past Licence Pro Teacher, willing to look a my proposal. However, she asked if I had financing for the program. Now, I do has a small reserve (kind of 3 years france minimal wage stash). Should I disclose this as a mode de financement? because i understand that we get a contrat doctorale with a 1600-1900 euro wage. Maybe she wanting to know if the thesis will bear additional cost to complete (travel expenses, simulation softwares or other costs related to the research?), that might fall under the university as per legal requirements of funding a doctoral candidate. Anglish and Franch, desolé pour le mix, et merci pour le blog!

  17. Abdulhameed Osi said, on 24 September 2014 at 12:36

    HI! Iam Nigerian obtained Msc. Statistics from Ahmadu Bello University Nigeria, I want apply for phd in France or UNIGE. need your help especially on how to apply, the university to apply, funding and tuition fees of the university. i studied in English. thanks

  18. sumitsssrt said, on 14 February 2015 at 09:08

    Hello this amazing post you have written here…I would like to suggest you a blg where you can find phd thesis ans seminar reports

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