Working in the Sustainability Research Group at the Department of Social Sciences, candidates can obtain a doctoral degree in sustainability research from a social science perspective. The group’s current work focuses on the philosophical and social-theoretical foundations of sustainability (sustainability theory) and on questions concerning the governance of social transformations toward sustainability, both in terms of individual behavior and collective action (sustainability governance). Relevant topics include aspects of the «energy future» (within the context of the Swiss Competence Center for Research in Energy, Society and Transition, CREST), questions of well-being in different settings (global North and South), and the sustainability-oriented transformation of the state. In addition to fulfilling the University of Basel’s formal admission criteria, project ideas must be drawn up in consultation with the supervising professor (Prof. Paul Burger), and reflect one of the group’s current research areas.
In addition to the information below, we recommend students from abroad to read the information sheet step by step – Preliminary information for international PhD candidates at the University of Basel.
Admission and matriculation
To be admitted to a doctorate, applicants must hold a master’s degree in a field related to the desired subject of doctoral research with an average grade of at least 5.0 rounded to the nearest tenth (the Swiss system awards grades from 1 to 6 with 6 being the highest grade and 4 being a “pass”). Other degrees from a higher education institution recognized by the University of Basel may be deemed partially or fully equivalent on the condition that the applicant acquires any missing credits. Acontinuing education program qualification from a university (e.g. Master of Advanced Studies) does not entitle an applicant to be admitted to a doctorate.
Admission applications must be submitted online to the university’s Student Administration Office. Applications can also be submitted after the official application deadline has passed. However, there is no guarantee that the application will be processed in time for the desired semester, or that the applicant will be able to attend courses in the current semester.
Admission to a doctoral program
Before you can be accepted onto a doctoral program, you must successfully apply for admission to doctoral studies in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Basel. Once you have been admitted, you can begin your search for a place on a doctoral program. For application information, please see the website of the relevant doctoral program.
Cotutelle de thèse
The University of Basel website provides information about how to conduct a doctoral project at the University of Basel and at a second university in a foreign country, leading to a double doctoral degree or “cotutelle de thèse”.
The main languages of instruction in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences are German and English (with the exception of the Department of Languages and Literatures). To ensure your studies are successful, you should be proficient in the languages of instruction for your doctoral subject to at least C1 level as defined in the European Framework of Reference. The Language Center at the University of Basel helps students to attain the required level of proficiency.
A doctorate usually lasts between three and five years and includes a dissertation, curriculum-based courses, and the doctoral examination. Curriculum-based courses make up at least 12 credit points in individual doctorates and at least 18 credit points in doctoral programs. First, however, a doctoral committee must be formed that will define the framework for the doctorate and work with you to draw up a Doctoral Agreement including an individual study plan.
Structure and tasks
Every doctorate is supported by a doctoral committee. This committee usually consists of a first and second supervisor but can also include a third person. The first supervisor is primarily responsible for making sure that the doctoral project is conducted correctly and that suitable supervision is provided. The doctoral committee defines the curriculum-based courses to be completed and provides the doctoral candidate with feedback on the quality and progress of his or her work during regular supervisory meetings. All members of the doctoral committee produce an independent, graded evaluation report on the dissertation submitted.
Forming and appointing the committee
The first supervisor must be appointed when the application for admission to a doctorate is submitted. The application to act as first supervisor must be submitted to the Student Administration Office together with the application for admission. Ideally, all other supervisors should be appointed by the time the doctorate begins. However, the doctoral committee must be named and appointed by the doctoral board at the latest 12 months after the start of the doctorate. The deadline by which the doctoral committee must be appointed is provided to the doctoral candidate along with their admission letter.
Any Group I professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Basel can serve as first supervisor. Members of Group II (assistant professors without tenure track, honorary professors who hold a doctorate, and private lecturers with a postdoctoral qualification from the faculty) can serve as first supervisor provided the second supervisor is a Group I professor. In this case, the second supervisor must be named in the first supervisor’s application when the application for admission to a doctorate is submitted. Upon request to the doctoral board – the doctoral agreement shall suffice in this case – honorary professors from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences who hold a doctorate and Group I members from a different faculty at the University of Basel may be deemed equivalent to Group I members from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in matters concerning the doctoral committee.
Any of the Group I and II faculty members mentioned above may serve as second supervisor. Upon request – the doctoral agreement shall suffice in this case – the doctoral board may also permit a second supervisor to be appointed from outside the faculty or outside the University of Basel. This person must hold a comparable qualification and position as internal second supervisors and hold the right to confer doctorates at their home institution. All contact details for the external second supervisor requested must be specified in the doctoral agreement (connection to their university, postal and email addresses). The doctoral board decides whether to approve the external second supervisor.
The doctoral candidate may apply to the doctoral board to add a third supervisor to the doctoral committee. In the case of a three-person committee, either the second or third supervisor does not need to hold the right to confer doctorates; however, this person must have a demonstrable link to a higher education institution or possess a high level of expertise in the doctoral topic. An informal application letter must be submitted to the doctoral board explaining why the supervisor has been chosen and providing details of their position, institutional connection, and addresses (postal and email address). The application must be supported by the first supervisor. The doctoral board decides whether to approve three-person committees.
Registering for the doctoral examination
Once doctoral candidates have written their dissertation, passed all curriculum-based courses, and fulfilled all other requirements, they can apply for admission to the doctoral examination. Each candidate must complete the following steps:
- Submit a copy of the dissertation manuscript to each supervisor. The faculty does not bear any of the costs incurred in sending out dissertation manuscripts.
- Submit a written application for admission to the doctoral examination (via Phil App or email) containing all documents specified in the information provided about registering for the doctoral examination.
Candidates should register for the doctoral examination at the latest four months before the desired oral examination date. Doctoral examinations cannot be held during master’s examination sessions. Doctoral candidates are admitted to the doctoral examination once their dissertation has been accepted by the supervisors. The Dean’s Office must be informed of their decision to accept or refuse the dissertation within the four months after the dissertation was submitted. The candidate will be provided with confirmation that the dissertation has been accepted and they have been admitted to the exam when they receive their examination invitation and schedule.
Exam organization and doctoral examination
The examination is held at the latest within two months of acceptance of the dissertation. Doctoral candidates must remain matriculated until the exam takes place. The examination is organized by the Student Administration Services of the Dean’s Office. The doctoral examination is accepted by the supervisor who is chiefly responsible; where possible, the other supervisors on the doctoral committee should always take part in exams. Examiners may participate via Skype upon request, provided that they are participating from a foreign country and that the first supervisor and the candidate attend in person. For an examiner to participate via Skype, all exam participants must provide informal, written consent to the Student Administration Services of the Dean’s Office. The candidate is responsible for the technology required. The Dean’s Office is usually able to provide the necessary devices and internet access.
Doctoral examinations last for 60 minutes and are not usually open to the public (exceptions must be arranged beforehand with the Student Administration Services of the Dean’s Office). The exam includes a dissertation defense based on the evaluation report provided in advance. The defense starts with a presentation lasting around 15 minutes followed by a discussion, which can cover the wider subject area to which the dissertation belongs. Once the candidate has passed the doctoral examination, the examination chairperson confers the provisional doctorate. Until the doctorate becomes legally binding, the candidate may use the title Dr. phil. des. (Doctor philosophiae designatus).
Doctoral degree transcript and graduation ceremony
The degree transcript is presented at the graduation ceremony. Candidates who pass their exam between February 1 and July 31 attend the ceremony held the following September; candidates who pass between August 1 and January 31 attend the ceremony held the following March. Candidates who are unable to attend the ceremony in person may receive their graduation documents by post upon request.
Publication, doctoral certificate, and right to bear title
The doctoral process is not deemed complete until the candidate has fulfilled their duty of publication and the certificate has been presented. The candidate is obliged to deliver the dissertation in the format specified in the faculty publication guidelines within three years of the doctoral examination. The university library’s instructions for printing and binding dissertations must also be taken into account. Detailed instructions on how to publish dissertations in electronic format can be found in the E-Dissertation section of the university library’s edoc document server.
Once the candidate has fulfilled their duty of publication, the doctoral certificate will be issued, ideally within two months. The doctoral certificate entitles the bearer to use the academic title «Dr. phil.», or «PhD» in English. The doctorate will be announced in the Kantonsblatt Basel-Stadt.
Financing options for doctorates
A doctorate usually lasts between three and five years. It is important to start thinking about financing for a doctorate at an early stage and to work with your first supervisor to find a solution before you start your studies.
Doctoral students should consider preparing a competitive application for a scholarship or a project position during the first project phase in order to continue and successfully complete their doctorate within the framework of third-party funding. Information on funding opportunities (Doc.CH, Swiss National Science Foundation, University of Basel research fund, foundations, etc.) and the University of Basel advisory services can be found on the relevant webpage of the Office of Early Career Researchers’ Development. The Research Professional database is anotherstructured tool for identifying suitable financing options.
Printing cost contributions for dissertations
The Max Geldner Dissertation Fund grants contributions to the printing costs of dissertations at the Faculty of Philosophy and History. In addition to costs incurred in the printing of monographic dissertations, contributions are also made for articles published in the open access procedure for cumulative dissertations. Furthermore, applications for language editing can be submitted if the dissertation was not written in the author's first language or if the author's language skills are not sufficient for a high-quality final editing.
The application form (see below) must be submitted together with a recommendation from the first supervisor before going to press.
Applications received by the Office of the Dean of Research by February 15 or September 15 at the latest will be considered at the following meeting in February/March or September/October respectively. For more details, please see the information sheet.
Applications and documents should be sent to:
Dekanat der Phil.-Hist. Fakultät
Subsidies for doctorate printing costs can also be requested from the Vice President’s Office for Research at the University of Basel.