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Old 14.06.2012, 04:21
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Doing a Ph.D in Switzerland

Hi everyone,

I'm currently a masters student in Canada, seriously considering doing a Ph.D in Switzerland when I finish my current degree (still over a year away, but it doesn't hurt to start planning in advance ). My background is in biochemistry/enzymology, but I wouldn't be opposed to branching out if the project was interesting to me.

Reading through the forums here, it seems that applications for a Ph.D work similarly in Switzerland as they do here (best bet is to contact a supervisor first, and have their acceptance), which I think is the best way to apply anyways (a few schools here have an odd system, where you're accepted by the school, do a rotation in your first year through several labs, and then may or may not be accepted into your lab of choice).

I have a few questions about the whole thing (well, OK, a lot of questions, but I'll try to limit them for now):

1) Does being an international student affect your chances of being accepted (especially one from outside the EU)? In Canada, it can be a large factor, as international students require more funding than Canadian-born ones.

2) Many of the schools seem to only list having a masters degree as a requirement for admission. Obviously, the final say will be the potential supervisors, but I'm wondering if there are requirements past just the degree that I'm not seeing, in terms of GPA or other requirements.

3) In terms of the schools themselves, would there be any to avoid, even if the potential project is interesting? Obviously some schools will have better reputations than others, but are there any that just aren't worth it, in terms of either the city or any other factors?

4) How competitive are Ph.D positions within Switzerland, in general, and is there a fee to apply ($200 for just an application here in Canada )? Obviously ETH is extremely competitive, but how about Geneva, Bern, Zurich, etc.?

Sorry about the long post, and thanks in advance for the replies!
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Old 14.06.2012, 08:08
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Re: Doing a Ph.D in Switzerland

Hi! I'm from Seattle and I'm doing a PhD here in Zürich at ETH. First, good luck to you in your Swiss PhD search! To address some of your questions:

1). I don't think it matters if you're international, at least in my case it didn't seem to. You will get paid what everyone else gets paid, which is somewhere around 45K CHF a year, but I guess it depends on the grant and the agreement between 3 or 4 years duration of the PhD. I never paid any fees to apply or start, but you are required to buy health insurance within the first 3 months.

2. Of course it always depends again on the project whether or not they are interested in your GPA and all the classes that are not relevant to the project. At ETH (and maybe other Swiss Universities?) they may make you do qualification exams if they want you for the project but your grades are poor. But this is only if your grades are really bad, I didn't have to do these exams but know people who did. But you can start your PhD and get settled in before you have to do them, they give you plenty of time to study and I think they are really reasonable exams.

3. I think all Swiss universities are pretty good, of course ETH is probably the most well known. The Swiss have a really good university system, I don't think you need to worry about that. I can only speak of ETH, it's pretty awesome (for me and my PhD).

4. I can't really answer whether or not it's competitive, I think it again would probably depend on the project. We've had open positions where 15+ people applied and positions where no one applied for ages and they had to leave available for months and months before finding someone.

Well I hope this helps you! Best of luck to you and welcome to the forum!
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Old 15.06.2012, 00:18
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Re: Doing a Ph.D in Switzerland

Thanks for the reply robbysue

Its interesting to hear that the exams are only required if your grades are poor; to do a Ph.D in Canada (at least in Ontario where I'm from) you have to take qualifying exams regardless of grades.

Do you have any more information you could share from your experience applying that might be helpful?
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Old 15.06.2012, 23:09
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Re: Doing a Ph.D in Switzerland

I'm also a PhD student at ETH here. And I recommend it.

1) I'm European but I know many students from different parts of the world. As robbysue said; you et paid what the other PhDs in the same group/institution gets paid. you get paid differently dependin on your subject. but it's almost always better than anywhere else (assuming your field is in the natural sciences)

2)For me I think the recommendations from my former supervisors as well as the impression I made during my interview was much more important than grades from former courses. I didn't need to do any test but I think it depends a lot on if ETH (or the university you're going to) recognizes the university you're at now as one of ood quality or not. I've got friends with excellent grades who had to do test due to this. But if you're canadian you're probably safe.

3) I only know ETH and university of Zürich which are both good places to get a degree. I also know great research groups in other places as well though but I dont know about the quality of the schools themselves but generally I think education quality in Switzerland is excellent.

4)Competitiveness depends entirely on the filed you study and on how many other qualified applicants there is so I really couldn't say. There's no fee for application and I'd definitely contact a supervisor and get a position that way. If you have the support of your professor the school will not stop you! At least at ETH the professors have basically all the decisive power in regards to who they hire.
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Old 19.06.2012, 03:00
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Re: Doing a Ph.D in Switzerland

Quote:
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1) I'm European but I know many students from different parts of the world. As robbysue said; you et paid what the other PhDs in the same group/institution gets paid. you get paid differently dependin on your subject. but it's almost always better than anywhere else (assuming your field is in the natural sciences)
Its not how much I'd get paid I was worried about so much as how much I would have to pay to be at the school as a foreign student (Ph.D's aren't about making money.... at least not while you're still working towards one ), but it sounds like thats not an issue

Quote:
2)For me I think the recommendations from my former supervisors as well as the impression I made during my interview was much more important than grades from former courses. I didn't need to do any test but I think it depends a lot on if ETH (or the university you're going to) recognizes the university you're at now as one of ood quality or not. I've got friends with excellent grades who had to do test due to this. But if you're canadian you're probably safe.
I like that the recommendations of former supervisors is taken into account more than grades, especially since grades in a Masters program seem to be a lot less meaningful than undergrad grades in general (at least from my experiences so far). I assume they'll also look at papers and other work you've published?

Quote:
4)Competitiveness depends entirely on the filed you study and on how many other qualified applicants there is so I really couldn't say. There's no fee for application and I'd definitely contact a supervisor and get a position that way. If you have the support of your professor the school will not stop you! At least at ETH the professors have basically all the decisive power in regards to who they hire.
Canada is the same in that regard, so at least it won't be too different than when I applied for my Masters. The trick now will be convincing a supervisor that they want me
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