The Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars and Artists (ESKAS) are special career fellowships awarded to promising young researchers from abroad, who wish to spend a period in Switzerland under the academic supervision of a professor at a Swiss Higher Institution.
ESKAS fellowships contribute to strengthen the international and scientific cooperation between Switzerland and other countries. They also encompass many benefits for both the researchers and the hosting institutions, allowing to improve one’s academic career through mobility and to foster the transfer of knowledge between the Swiss hosts and the fellows.
The majority of scholarships are earmarked for candidates coming from Low Income Countries and Developing Countries. These scholarships are available for researchers with a master’s or a PhD degree and to artists holding a bachelor’s degree.
The different types of scholarships include: doctoral scholarships (12 months, extendable up to 36 months), post-doctoral scholarships (12 months), and research scholarships (12 months).
Applications are assessed by the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS), according to three criteria:
- Candidate profile
- Quality of the research project or artistic work
- Synergies and potential for future research cooperation
The call for scholarships for the 2023-2024 academic year will be published in August 2022. Submission deadlines vary from country to country.
With this article, with start a short news series to present this funding scheme in more depth. In the coming months, you will learn more about these fellowships, their potential impact, the application process and the overall scheme’s aim.
We kick off today with a testimonial from Matías Laporte , doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Informatics and a recipient of an ESKAS doctoral fellowship, and his supervisors, Professor Marc Langheinrich.
Matías, tell us a little bit about yourself, your research domain and your current PhD thesis
"I come from Argentina, where I got my MSc degree in Computer Science at the University of Buenos Aires. Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Informatics under the supervision of Prof. Marc Langheinrich. My research topic focuses on Human Memory Augmentation within the area of Human-Computer Interaction. In particular, my thesis deals with the role of physiological signals for the detection and posterior recall of relevant moments of our lives."
You are currently a recipient of an ESKAS doctoral fellowship: how did you learn about this opportunity and what motivated you to apply for such a scholarship at USI?
"I first visited USI and Prof. Langheinrich’s lab on a 4-month scholarship called MaRS, provided by the Faculty of Informatics and the Hasler Foundation  . During this period, I worked on the topic of human memory augmentation, which I really enjoyed. So when Prof. Langheinrich told me about the existence of the ESKAS scholarship, I was very excited to start the challenging journey of the Ph.D. in his lab."
How did the scholarship affect your personal life and your academic career? Did you encounter any obstacles during your research stay? Tell us a little bit about your current experience.
"Obtaining the scholarship impacted my personal life tremendously, from changing continents to a career change for both my wife and me. The scholarship allowed me to pursue an academic career, while in my country, the opportunities were more limited. More importantly, it has allowed me to work in a dynamic and multicultural environment, making me grow professionally and personally.
During my stay so far, I did not face any particular obstacle that I would attribute to my personal situation. Naturally, the pandemic imposed some practical challenges for my research, which mainly involves human subjects. Therefore, quarantines and lockdowns severely delayed some of my plans, but in the end, we managed to adapt to the current situation."
What are your plans for the future?
"I wish I knew! I try to focus on the present to avoid distractions from what I cannot decide at the moment. Things can change quickly and without notice, as past years have shown us. Nevertheless, once I finish my studies, I think I will return to industry. I want to work in or, even better, to found a startup, hopefully applying all the hard-earned knowledge that this scholarship and USI taught me."
Now, a few questions to Marc Langheinrich, Matías’ supervisor.
Marc, how did you learn about the ESKAS scholarships opportunity? Was the application process easy and straightforward?
"This was my first ESKAS scholarship, even though I had long since received many applications from students worldwide looking for an ESKAS sponsor. However, it is challenging to support a student for ESKAS without first working together for a time. The combination of MaRS and ESKAS scholarships thus proved ideal, for it allowed me to work closely with a student for a summer before becoming their ESKAS sponsor. Once I realized that Argentina was part of the ESKAS program, I followed up with Matías after his MaRS scholarship ended to see if he would be interested in applying. Once he agreed, this was a very straightforward process at my end."
Tell us a little bit about this supervision experience and the benefits of the ESKAS fellowship
"I already knew Matías well, so there were no great surprises regarding our collaboration. He is very independent, curious, and open to new ideas and suggestions. The University of Buenos Aires is the best in the country, and it certainly shows, as Matías was able to quickly pick up his MaRS work and grow it into a strong PhD research topic. Having the opportunity to receive the support of an ESKAS fellowship allowed me to investigate a set of highly exploratory research questions that has the potential to form the foundations for a subsequent large SNF project application."