The dominant demographic trend of the 21st century is population aging. Virtually all countries of the world are getting older, creating pressure to transform the ways in which societal and economic structures as well as individual life courses are arranged. Understanding these challenges requires deep demographic knowledge combined with interdisciplinary expertise in epidemiology and population health, and proficiency with econometric, statistical, data science and computational methods.

The International Max Planck Research School for Population, Health and Data Science (IMPRS-PHDS) is a new and unique three-year doctoral program that merges demography, epidemiology and data science. The PHDS school equips doctoral students not only with advanced knowledge of the theory and methods of demography and epidemiology (broadly defined as ‘population health’), but also with strong technical skills in statistics, mathematical modeling, and computational and data management methods (broadly referred to as ‘data science’).

IMPRS-PHDS is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR; www.demogr.mpg.de) in Rostock, Germany. Founded in 2019, the school receives core support from the Max Planck Society, MPIDR, University of Rostock, and ten affiliated institutions. It does not charge fees, and makes available about 15 three-year PhD positions every year. The school’s curriculum is targeted to pre-doctoral students entering the School with a Master’s or equivalent degree and offers

  • strong interdisciplinary research training in population, health and data science;
  • high quality supervision across at least two institutes;
  • extensive networking opportunities across 12 partner sites in Europe and the U.S.;
  • a core training program at the MPIDR.


IMPRS-PHDS is run by two core partners and ten affiliated institutions.

Core Partners:

  • Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research demogr.mpg.de
  • University of Rostock
    Institute of Sociology and Demography uni-rostock.de

Affiliated Institutions:

  • Duke University
    Duke Population Research Institute duke.edu
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
    Public Health erasmusmc.nl
  • University of Greifswald
    Institute for Community Medicine uni-greifswald.de
  • University of Groningen rug.nl
    Faculty of Spatial Sciences rug.nl
    Population Research Centre (PRC) rug.nl
    NIDI - Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute nidi.nl
  • University of Helsinki
    Population Research helsinki.fi
  • University of Oxford
    Department of Sociology sociology.ox.ac.uk
    Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science in Oxford demographicscience.ox.ac.uk
  • University of Pennsylvania
    Population Aging Research Center upenn.edu
  • University of St. Andrews
    School of Geography & Sustainable Development st-andrews.ac.uk
  • University of Stockholm
    Public Health Sciences su.se
  • University of Washington
    Center for Demography and Ecology washington.edu


The PHDS program is characterized by eight components that focus on guaranteeing strong interdisciplinary training in population, health and data science, but also aim to deliver high-quality supervision across more than one institute, give the students extensive networking opportunities, provide the students the opportunity to work at minimum at two leading research institutions, and foster a strong cohort experience despite having the students hosted at several locations.

Joint supervision

Candidates interested in joining PHDS are asked to apply to the school with a research proposal and a clear preference for a hosting institution. Each of the partners in the PHDS qualifies as a hosting institution. Upon acceptance, a student gets assigned a primary supervisor from his/her hosting institution and a secondary, informal supervisor from one of the other partner sites. With these arrangements in place, each PHDS student is jointly supervised by faculty from (at least) two partner sites. This immediately gives the students an unusually broad supervising network, facilitating dissertation work for which expertise at one site is not enough.

Annual academies

The academies are held once per year, are attended by all students and their supervisors, and run for three to five days. Each academy consists of five components: research presentations and lectures by eminent scientists who are external to the PHDS network, faculty research presentations and instruction, student presentation of dissertation research with feedback from their peers and faculty, a kick-off event for the incoming cohort, and collegial exchange between faculty and students. The first academy is scheduled for 4-6 November 2019 and will be held at the MPIDR in Rostock.

Core training program at the MPIDR

The MPIDR organizes a core training program for the core students that are based at the core partners MPIDR and University of Rostock. The core training program at the MPIDR is mandatory for the core students and optional for the affiliated students based at the affiliated partner sites. The core training program involves a mix of basic and advanced courses. Three basic courses focus on (i) demographic measures, (ii) population health and (iii) data science and population processes. These basic courses provide an introduction to key themes of PHDS involving practical (computer) exercises and will normally be presented as 10-day intensive courses in November and December. Several advances courses focusing on specialized topics in population, health and data science are offered throughout the entire year.

Seminar courses at partner sites

PHDS partner institutions will open their already existing courses on population, health and/or data science to PHDS students. Students will thereby be offered the opportunity to participate in courses at all partner sites. A list of seminar courses at partner sites will become available in winter 2019/20.

Thematic workshops

From 2020 onwards, PHDS will offer optional thematic workshops focusing on specialized research topics within the overall theme of the school. A thematic workshop will run for two to three days and will bring together students, faculty as well as external experts working on this particular topic. Students attending thematic workshops are encouraged to present at these workshops.

Graduate workshops

From 2020 onwards, one graduate workshop will be held per year, always in Rostock. Graduate workshops will bring together the PHDS students. They will present progress reports, research outlines as well as preliminary and advanced dissertation research. Students will receive feedback from their peers and from one or two PHDS faculty.

Research stay abroad

Each PHDS student is required to complete one three-month stay abroad at one of the partner sites. For most students, this will be the site where the student’s secondary supervisor is based. Students may combine their research stay abroad with attending a course and/or a thematic workshop at the partner site. Thus, PHDS students will be internationally mobile and benefit from exchange with other European and US universities. Affiliated students are encouraged to complete their research stay at one of the core partner sites (i.e., MPIDR or University of Rostock) because most of the PHDS activities take place in Rostock.

Thesis Advisory Committees (TACs)

TACs are established as a supervisory structure for all PHDS students. A TAC generally consists of a maximum of 4 members, selected by the PhD student in close consultation with his/her primary supervisor and assisted by the Dean. In this way, TACs provide an opportunity for students to expand their professional network in a targeted way that favors their employment opportunities after the doctorate. In most instances, TAC members are recruited from the PHDS teaching faculty. When composing TACs, particular attention is paid to the fact that TAC members are independent of one another. TAC meetings are held at least once a year and are documented.

Model Schedules

Involvement in and effort for PHDS varies slightly for core versus affiliated students.

  • Model schedules A and B in the PDF below present an overview of mandatory and optional curriculum elements for core students from core partner sites MPIDR and University of Rostock.
  • Model schedules C and D in the PDF below present an overview of mandatory and optional curriculum elements for affiliated students from affiliated partner sites (i.e., all sites outside Rostock, Germany).

Model schedules A and C show basic participation (only mandatory curriculum elements) while model schedules B and D illustrate intensive participation (mandatory and optional curriculum elements). Note that optional curriculum elements can be arranged individually according to the students’ interests and needs.


Core Courses 2019

Demographic Methods
11.11.2019 – 15.11.2019
Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany
Course coordinator: Alyson van Raalte
Course Outline (PDF)

Population Health
18.11.2019 – 29.11.2019
Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany
Course coordinator: Yana Vierboom
Course Outline (PDF)

Fundamentals of Digital and Computational Demography
02.12.2019 – 13.12.2019
Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany
Course coordinator: Emilio Zagheni
Course Outline (PDF)


Application in 2019 was restricted to current doctoral students from the current PHDS partner sites. The first open IMPRS-PHDS Call for Applications will be published in February 2020.

Please register with us and we will send you a copy: phds@demogr.mpg.de.