You’ve done it! You’ve completed your undergraduate degree, aced your Masters and now you’re finally ready to pursue your PhD and earn that prestigious ‘Dr.’ title.
As a potential Life Science (LS) student, there are thousands of universities who offer your course. While the decision might seem daunting, you may not have even considered studying abroad.
Why not picture yourself living in Switzerland’s largest city?
Zurich hosts one of Europe’s largest graduate schools for PhD studies in Life Sciences. It is a roof organisation of 18 different LS PhD programmes with research groups at both universities in Zurich: the University of Zurich (UZH) and ETH – or in German: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule.
Moaraj Hasan, a PhD student at Life Science Zurich Graduate School (LSZGS) specialising in Molecular Biology, left his old lab in Boston because he was “looking for something a bit different”, something he found in Zurich.
While Moaraj was offered the chance to study in Japan or Canada, he found that Zurich really was the perfect fit. The School is “insanely well-funded and has the resources to facilitate students”, he says, joking that you won’t have to “fight over pens” as “there’s [sound funding] in every department”.
There are clear standards for admission to the programmes, for all PhD curricula, as well as for submission of that long-awaited thesis. You will be fully-funded for your three-year study, and on some programmes funding is extended to four-years. All PhD students receive an employment contract which allows them to live “a comfortable life in Zurich”.
The admissions process is “organised like speed dating,” Moaraj laughs, where students get a “face-to-face conversation straight away”, unlike other PhDs.
“I’ve not seen this in any other grad-school system”, Moaraj states. “The process is efficient. You chat with eight different professors…which gained me a lot more exposure than I otherwise would have had”.
Zurich is an international city where many languages are spoken. “The community is super vibrant,” he claims. Although English is the working language at the institution, many students benefit from taking up a second language. Lessons take place on campus, are free for Masters students, and are heavily discounted for those at the PhD level.
In 2017 alone, the Life Science Zurich Graduate School enrolled over 1,500 enrolled PhD students. These carry out their research in over 500 research groups, offering a comprehensive and challenging PhD education in an international research environment where a vast array of disciplines are covered.
Moaraj claims that “they are trying to make applying for grad-school easier. You can apply whenever and start whenever so it’s super flexible.”
Offering two enrolment deadlines throughout the year – one in July and one later on in December – prospective students have plenty of time to perfect their application before submitting it for review. But if you have been offered a PhD position by a Graduate School Professor, you can submit your application at any time of year, giving you the chance to plan your studies around existing responsibilities and commitments.
There is a “fully open class structure” so you can turn up to any programme of interest to you. “They don’t restrict you at all. The categories are broad and you can take the project in any of the disciplines they have.”
Moaraj loves how “transparent” the courses and professors are. “There is a tonne of flexibility. You know what the lab expects of you and what they are recruiting you for”.
Whilst studying here, you benefit from a strong mentoring system within an incredibly global programme, with students and researchers from over 50 countries. Moaraj stresses the importance of the regular meetings: “I frequently gain feedback from other students and professors, as well as regular meetings with other people in the LS school”.
Students here benefit from tight connections to the LSZ Young Scientist Network, entirely made up of volunteer students, which aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry through career-related courses and events.
Zurich is a major financial centre and studying here promises proximity to many biomedical and biotechnology companies. Moaraj, for example, recently found employment with a local drug company. Through successful research at both universities, Zurich is a hub for many industry start-ups and just a stone’s throw away from pharmaceutical giants based in Basel or the wider Geneva region.
But it’s not all work and no play; students also have access to “an exceptionally wide range of sports facilities […] – Zurich offers everything from ice skating to beach volleyball. In summer, the city’s numerous public swimming baths along the river and lake are especially popular.”
Zurich embodies the best of country life and unique city living. The diversity in districts is phenomenal: District One has a medieval feel; while District Five is alternative, bursting with art and quirky bars. The lakeside city has mountains close enough for a day out hiking or skiing.
Here, there is also a high living standard. It was even voted the “most desirable place to live” in 2006 and the “most sustainable city in the world” last year. In 2014, the Lonely Planet placed Zurich in the top ten “best in travel” destinations for its “nocturnal hedonism […], famous-name fashion houses and boutiques by the bucket load, [as well as its] fine dining and bijou cafes”.
Disney selected Zurich to be the only place outside the US to actively conduct research. Markus Gross, Director of Disney Research Zurich, told Greater Zurich Area that his decision to work here was clear: it is “simply an outstanding location. It offers a high quality of living, is home to one of the top institutions of higher education in the world, and provides an employer-friendly climate”.
Zurich plays host to the largest international airport in Switzerland, flying to hundreds of destinations and located just 10km from the city centre. There are also direct trains to many European cities including Berlin, Milan and Amsterdam for little money.
Regardless of your chosen PhD programme, Zurich is a city that really has it all: a wide range of companies which specialise in your field, an outstanding academic reputation, magnificent scenery, notably good public transport and seemingly unlimited opportunities. Zurich is ready and waiting to be your new home.
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