Program requirements

PhD Program in Evolutionary Biology (Status: January 2016)

The aim of the PhD Program in Evolutionary Biology is to provide PhD students in evolutionary biology with a broad overview of the field, with useful skills for their professional life, whether this be in academia or not, and with networking opportunities with peers and professional academics.
PhD students from the University of Zurich may participate in this PhD Program. Participating students are expected to finish their degree in approximately three to four years. To obtain the Graduate Study Certificate in Evolutionary Biology, a total of 12 credit points (CPs) is needed, approved by the student’s committee.

Program Director & Steering Committee

Program director:
Prof. Kentaro Shimizu
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

Deputy director:
Prof. Marcelo Sánchez
Paleontological Institute and Museum

Steering committee:
Prof. Andreas Wagner
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Prof. Elena Conti
Institute of Systematic Botany
Prof. Carel van Schaik
Anthropological Institute & Museum

plus the director and deputy director.


Members of the PhD Program are those who are eligible to supervise PhD dissertations (faculty with Promotionsrecht and non-faculty members with and without Promotionsrecht) and are active in evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich or the ETH.
The membership list is found at:Evolutionary biologists in Zurich

Structure of the PhD Program in Evolutionary Biology


Each student in the program will have a committee, consisting of the supervisor, and at least two other members (at least the supervisor must be a program member). According to University regulations, two of the committee members must have Promotionsrecht. The committee has to be formed within six months and the Doctoral Agreement has to be signed by the student and the supervisors.
The student will present and defend a research proposal during their first committee meeting, taking place within the first year months after starting his PhD. A positive evaluation at this meeting and at the subsequent annual committee meetings is essential for students to continue in the program.


The student must compile at least 12 credit points from the following courses:

A. Transferable Skills (4 credit points)

scientific writing and a course related to teaching are mandatory

The additional required credit points can be obtained from another transferable skills course offered by the LSZ Graduate School or Überfachliche Kompetenzen für Doktorierende. Language courses offered by UZH are accepted.

B. Evolutionary Biology

Annual Research Symposium contribution (no credit points)*
Survey course: Topics in Evolutionary Biology     1cp

C. Any other approved courses considered necessary by the advisor or PhD committee

Components A and B are compulsory. Courses under A focus on special, transferable skills that prepare students for professional life, be this inside an academic institution or elsewhere. The committee can decide to waive part or all of the requirement if it is established that the student has already satisfied the relevant requirement.

Component B contains the compulsory annual seminar that forms part of the PhD Program and fosters research collaborations, the exchange of experiences among PhD students from the different institutes, and a broadening of the horizon within evolutionary biology. It also contains the introductory survey course taught by the program’s members collectively.

Component C is made up of courses on specific subject matters and on methods/ techniques that would complement the required background for their dissertation topic. Acceptable courses are those approved by the student’s committee.

Credit point system

Credit points for courses follow the Bologna system. Thus, as a rule, one credit point is awarded for a course that meets for one hour a week, every week for one semester, or for a course that lasts for two full days(plus additional study and preparation hours). Credit points are awarded only when the exam was passed. In addition, following the rules of the Faculty of Sciences of the University, a talk or poster presented in a professional meeting is awarded 1 credit point. A maximum of 2 credits points can be obtained through contributions to professional meetings.

The certificate

To obtain the Graduate Study Certificate in Evolutionary Biology, a total of 12 credit points is needed. The credit point distribution within the Program must be approved by the student’s committee. The certificate must be submitted when registering for the doctoral examination (Doctorate regulations "Studiendekanat der Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Universität Zürich", January 31 2011). The committee can decide to waive some of the requirements for those students who are close to finishing their dissertation when entering the program upon its initiation.

Relationship with Zurich Life Science

The PhD Program in Evolutionary Biology is part of the Life Science graduate School, which can be found at:

* It is an important goal that the participants of the Ph.D. program exchange their scientific results between different institutes and the host institutions. Any such results shall be kept strictly confidential by all participants of the program and shall not be disclosed to persons outside of the program as long as the results are not published by the author/originator of the results. No participant of the Ph.D. program shall use any scientific result to the detriment of one of the host institutions, in particular, no participant shall impair a host institution’s right to seek protection for intellectual property contained in such results by way of a premature publication or other premature disclosure of results.