International PhD program in Basic and Applied Molecular Life Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Publish Date: Jun 23, 2015

Deadline: Dec 15, 2015


The Faculty of Sciences of the University of Geneva offers an outstanding research environment for studies in the Biomedical and Life Sciences. The departments of Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Genetics and Evolution, Molecular Biology and Plant Biology have united their efforts to provide an extensive educational background and possibilities in research that are necessary to meet the scientific challenges of the future. All students in the program take part in a common curriculum creating a team spirit and facilitating exchange. Over thirty research groups participate in the program offering a wide variety of research themes. There are currently over 80 PhD students in the host labs and we predict approximately 15 new entries each year.

All students entering the program are remunerated according to the standards of the University of Geneva, which are above those of the Swiss National Science Foundation and generous when compared to other international PhD programs.

Geneva is a central point in Western Europe, the home to several important international organizations and businesses, has a wide range of cultural activities for all tastes, and provides an outstanding natural environment for outdoor activities.

The program

The normal duration of a PhD thesis is 4 years, but funding can be secured for up to 5 years when necessary. A dedicated program including formal course work in the first year (3 hours per week, 30 weeks) is team taught and covers advanced topics in Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, including 2 weeks on the ethical conduct of science. All course work is in English. During the first year the students begin research in the laboratory that they have chosen and produce a written thesis project to be defended orally in front of their thesis advisory committee (their thesis advisor, a co-advisor, and a third group leader from another department).

As far as is possible the students can choose their thesis advisor. The subsequent years are devoted mainly to research, seminars, and a yearly student retreat. At least one external workshop (for example, SKMB, FEBS, EMBO) should also be attended during this time. Students will be given the opportunity to communicate their passion for science in a variety of teaching activities ranging from helping undergraduate students in laboratory courses to hosting the public during "open house" days. A moderate amount of teaching is expected as it is considered an important aspect of PhD training.


While most of the successful candidates will have a strong background in molecular life sciences (Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Molecular Biology/Genetics, Cell Biology), exceptionally motivated students from other scientific branches (e.g. Physics, Chemistry) with a strong interest for life sciences are encouraged to apply.


  • Applicants should have a Master’s degree in the Sciences or its equivalent
  • An equivalent usually includes 9 semesters of University level training with a written research project
  • Applicants should have a good knowledge of English


The admissions committee will base its decision on the applications and interviews. Students living in Europe will be reimbursed for their trip to Geneva by train. Interviews of students outside of Europe will depend upon the circumstances. Invitations for interviews are sent within a few weeks after the deadlines and a final decision should be made approximately 4 months before the beginning of the program.

Prospective students should submit:

  • Copies of your diplomas and grades
  • A brief description of your research and scientific interests
  • Two letters of recommendation from professors or teachers who have followed your work
  • Application form (with a list of preferred laboratories for thesis work)

Student evaluation

Student progress will be assessed by the supervisor and the student’s Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC). Prior to TAC meetings, students should prepare for their TAC members a written summary of 1500 to 2500 words, (~3-5 pages, excluding references) outlining the goals of their project, what has been accomplished and what is planned for the future. Please remember that the quality of the feedback that you get from your committee members will be proportional to the quality (detail and comprehensiveness) of this report! During the TAC meeting students should briefly present this material as a prelude to an open discussion with the committee. Subsequently, TAC members will privately discuss the student’s progress in terms of:

Intellectual potential as demonstrated by their participation in the paper course
Integration into the host lab
Potential to carry out independent research
The conclusions of TAC meetings will be recorded on this report form, which will be sent to the programme chair.

Students’ first TAC meeting will take place approximately 6 months after beginning in the host lab. At this time, the supervisor, with input from the TAC will decide if the student should remain in the PhD Programme. Subsequent TAC meetings should be held yearly.

Ultimately, the TAC will decide when a student is ready to write and defend their thesis.

NB: Written and oral exams must be passed before submission/defense of the written thesis.

The candidate will be evaluated by 2 examiners (3 if the candidate's thesis advisor is to be included). Examiners must be defined before the exam begins as they need to be consulted regarding the choice of the topic for the written exam. Normally, the same examiners will grade both the written and oral exam. Please also register for both doctoral exams at the "Secrétariat des étudiants de la Faculté des Sciences" (floor 0 of Sciences 3), giving different titles for the two exams.

The candidate may choose one of the following two formats for the written exam:

Complete an EMBO or HSFP post-doctoral fellowship application (or equivalent if approved by the designated examiners). Ideally, this would be based on research that the candidate would like to pursue during his/her post-doctoral work
Write a ~2500 word review on a topic not immediately related to the candidate’s own thesis work
The oral exam should be scheduled between 1 and 4 weeks after submission of the written exam.

In this exam the student should be prepared to defend what he/she wrote for his/her written exam. The exam will begin with a 10-15 minute “chalk talk” by the candidate (no other visual aids should be used, since the examiners have received the written report). This presentation will be continued with a scientific discussion of relevant topics. The duration of this examination will be approximately 1 hour.

Other, specific requirements vary slightly between the departments and are detailed at the links below.

Cell Biology
Molecular Biology
Genetics and Evolution
Plant Biology
More informations, see Guidelines for the doctoral thesis


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