phd in switzerland

phd in switzerland

You are a Master student in Switzerland or abroad and you are looking for a job in research to accompany your PhD. Below is some basic information about the PhD degree in Switzerland.


Doctor of Philosophy – abbreviated to PhD/Ph.D. or DPhil/D.Phil. in English-speaking countries and Dr. Phil. or similar in other countries (for the Latin philosophiae doctor, meaning "teacher in philosophy") – is an advanced academic degree awarded by universities. In Switzerland, a second PhD is the highest degree one can earn after the habilitation. The PhD or equivalent has become a requirement for a career as a university professor or researcher in most fields. The academic level of a PhD degree varies considerably between countries and fields of study.


Recognized PhD titles (EN: Doctor, FR: docteur, DE: Doktor) are only awarded by the 12 official Swiss universities. Universities of applied sciences and companies do not have the right to award PhD titles. However, you are usually free to carry out the research work where you choose: at one of the universities, in a private company, at home. The arrangement is that the results of your research work must be accepted by a professor at one of the 12 universities.


The requirement for starting a PhD is a recognized Masters degree (diploma, licence). Unlike in the USA, a Bachelors degree is not sufficient. Sometimes, a certain final mark is needed to be admitted to a PhD program. Each university has its own admissions requirements. Ask at the university about the exact conditions.


In Switzerland, a PhD is usually started immediately after the Masters thesis (at the age of about 25 to 28 years). The average age of PhD candidates at the end of the PhD is 31. Unlike in the USA, Swiss PhD candidates are expected to start their research project immediately after beginning their PhD, and do not attend classes. However, they might have a few advanced lectures, summer schools or PhD programs.

How long?

The duration of the PhD is not standard: usually, it is between 2 and 7 years, depending on the research field, the university and the employment (parttime/fulltime). A PhD in natural and exact sciences usually takes about 4 years. In economics, for example at the University of St. Gallen, the duration is only 2 years. In arts and humanities, a PhD is generally completed in 5-7 years.

How much?

PhD candidates are normally hired as Research Assistants/PhD Candidates at a university. The salary greatly varies depending on the university and the research field: from CHF 2000 to more than CHF 6000 per month. The salary must be indicated in the employment contract.

A research position in a company or at a university of applied sciences is also possible though less common. (In this case, the PhD will be conducted in collaboration with a university.) PhD candidates can also bring their own money, e.g. if they have fellowship or if they have a parttime job outside the university.

For more information about salaries, see the salary section.


The working conditions vary from institution to institution. Some disciplines are organized in PhD programs or doctorate schools. It is quite common for PhD candidates to be employed only part-time (e.g., 50 or 60%). Sometimes, you can use the whole time of employment for your research, sometimes you have to give lectures or to supervise students in addition to your research. This must be specified in the job description (Pflichtenheft, cahier de charge) you are given together with the employment contract. If you are employed less than 100%, you are free to do what you want in the remaining time, e.g., you could take on a second job. This is quite common in arts and humanities, where PhD candidates often have several jobs. In natural sciences, PhD candidates are often expected to work 100% even if they are only employed part-time. However, legally, they are not obliged to work full-time.

How to proceed?

PhD positions are usually published on job portals (like or university websites and you can apply directly. It is also usual to contact a professor or research group whose work interests you and ask for opportunities.

Students from abroad can apply for the Federal Excellence Scholarship. This government scholarship promotes international exchange and research cooperation between Switzerland and over 180 countries.