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Department of Geography Graduate School

PhD Program Essentials


PhD candidates in Geography and Earth System Science typically take around four years to complete their dissertations. The regulations for PhD studies can be read in detail underUseful Documents along with a wide range of other useful documents. 

Essentially though, all PhD candidates must write either a cumulative dissertation or a monograph, take part in a structured PhD program (attending courses described below) and carry out between 100 and 420 hours of teaching at the Science Faculty. Some PhD candidates may have been admitted with additional requirements, which will be detailed in both their admission letters and the Student Admin tool. These additional requirements must be completed in addition to the standard PhD program.

Getting started

The administration and documentation of all processes related to PhD studies is performed via the MNF Student Admin Tool.

The tool sets deadlines for specific tasks, and if these are missed, may prevent candidates from registering as PhD candidates for the next semester. 

The PhD committee consists of at least two people with the right to confer a PhD, and one or more additional members. The Head of Committee is always someone with the right to confer a PhD. The PhD Advisor is the main supervisor. These two roles may be fulfilled by the same person.

The PhD committee has to be entered in the system within 6 months of the beginning of the doctorate by the PhD candidate. It must  be confirmed by the Head of Committee and subsequently by the Faculty of Science. PhD committees can change during the PhD, most commonly by adding additional expertise. They should be updated in Student Admin so that the correct PhD committee is recorded on the degree certificate.

Within the first six months of the PhD it is also necessary to enter a short Research Proposal and upload a Job Description. The Research Proposal includes a brief description of the PhD project, a list of expected milestones, and a concise time plan. The Job Description documents rights and responsibilities with respect to working time, most importantly specifying how 70% of a Full Time Equivalent will be reserved for PhD research.

During the PhD

Annual Committee Meetings document and discuss progress with respect to the PhD. Minutes of these meetings are uploaded to Student Admin, and they are the most important formal record of progress. 

PhD candidates are required to gain 12 credit points according to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Of these 12 credit points, 6 must be gained from a core set of mandatory courses which all PhD candidates must attend. The remaining 6 credit points can be gathered from a number of recommended courses and optional courses offered within the framework of the Graduate School or the wider university.

Mandatory Core Courses

All PhD candidates in Geography and Earth System Science must complete six ECTS in mandatory core courses. Of these, four courses are offered annually by the Graduate School itself. Additionally, PhD candidates must attend a scientific writing course (at least 1 ECTS) provided by the Graduate School or another provider, and at least one additional ECTS in transferable skills.

Course ECTS   Short Description
PhD seminar I 1 Introductionary seminar for all PhD candidates providing background to PhD studies at GIUZ. Takes place in autum semester, typically on a bi-weekly basis.
PhD seminar II 1 Residential two-day seminar for PhD candidates in their second or third years. Discusses future career routes and potential gaps in knowledge, skills and aptitudes. Takes place in spring semester.
Interdisciplinary teaching in Geography & Earth System Science 1 Block course introducing methods for interdisciplinary teaching. Takes place in spring semester.
Graduate School Retreat 1 Annual retreat with PhD candidates, supervisors and guests. Focus on presentations from PhD candidates. All PhDs attend at least twice and present once. Takes place in autumn semester.
Scientific writing 1 Scientific writing skills for paper and dissertation writing. Takes place as needed, and offerings of other institutes can also be attended.
Transferable skills 1 Grant writing, CV development, voice training, and more. Transferable skills course as discussed with the PhD committee.



All PhD candidates must complete courses in at least six additional ECTS. Typically these courses cover transferable skills such as moderation, project management, language skills, teaching skills or introduce PhD candidates to theory and methods relevant to their projects. Summer schools and other forms of education are all admissable, providing they are authorised by the PhD committee. 1 ECTS is roughly equivalent to around 30 hours of study. We warmly recommend courses offered by Graduate Campus, UZH Continuing Education, UZH Language Center and Central IT Services.

Finishing the PhD

Registration for Graduation

The following milestones need to be completed and reviewed before it is possible to register for graduation:

  • Course Work
  • Teaching Duties
  • Conditions and Restrictions

The defense typically takes place 8-12 weeks following the registration for graduation.

An expert report is prepared by the head of the doctoral committee as well as by the PhD advisor (if they are not the same person). The doctoral committee also selects an external reviewer. The expert reports must be finished one month prior to the public colloquium.

The dissertation and the expert reports are submitted to the circulation committee at least one month prior to the colloquium. The circulation round includes at least two faculty members of the MNF and an additional member - usually someone with the right to confer a PhD or a group leader. The circulation committee gives brief feedback to the PhD committee on the dissertation and expert reports. Members of the circulation committee are selected by the Graduate School in discussion with the PhD committee chair, and may attend the PhD defence.

The PhD defense consists of a maximally one hour public colloquium on the dissertation as well as a disputation, typically also lasting one hour, which is closed to the public. The head of the doctoral committee invites the members of the doctoral committee and of the circulation round to participate in the disputation.

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