Study Biology in Switzerland

Biology has a long tradition of excellence in Switzerland, which has lead to a high output of top quality publications and several Nobel prizes. This excellence has contributed to, and benefited from, the development of pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Because of the small size of the country, most Swiss researchers and teachers have spent a few years abroad as post-docs and have kept international connections. This ensures an open mind and facilitates contact with foreign colleagues and students who choose to come to Switzerland for work or study.

Study Biology in Switzerland

Even though Switzerland is a small country, it offers biology curricula at 9 universities: 2 Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Zürich and EPF Lausanne) and 7 cantonal (local) universities (Basel, Bern, Geneva, Fribourg/Freiburg, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, and Zürich). Teaching is mainly in french in Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel, german in Bern, Basel and Zürich, and bilingual in Fribourg/Freiburg, i.e. depending on the teacher. Advanced courses, especially at the Master level, are also taught in english, as many of the teachers are not natives of the local language, and it is also considered most important to train the students to use the international language of science.

The curricula have just been (or are just about to be) reorganised according to the Bologna agreement: a Bachelor of Science in Biology for three years and a Master of Science of one and a half to two years. They are thus likely to be modified in the next few years. The BSc is meant to provide a solid general basis onto which the students can specialize. Most universities offer a choice of advanced courses in the third year of the BSc: either a choice between a few programs (i.e. majors or minors) or a free choice among inummerable single courses. The courses are validated with the European credits (ECTS).

Three universities offer distinct curricula of BSc in the general field of biology: The universities of Berne and Zürich both offer a BSc in Biochemistry and a BSc in biology. The ETH Zürich offers a BSc in Biology, but also four related BSc in Agriculture, Earth Sciences, Food Science and Environmental Sciences. The EPF Lausanne offers a BSc in Life Science and Technology.

The students are expected to be mobile after the BSc and to choose the Master of Science which corresponds best to their interests and professional ambitions. Therefore, the BSc titles from each university are accepted as equivalent in order to enter a MSc program, as are in fact the BSc in Biology from all other European universities applying the Bologna system. Foreign students are also welcome to apply for the master programs in all the Swiss universities.

The Master curricula reflect the various specialties of each university, which already had gave a distinct "flavour" to the BSc curricula:

  • The university of Basel offers a MSc in Animal Biology, a MSc in Ecology, a MSc in Molecular Biology and a MSc in Plant Biology
  • The university of Bern offers a MSc in Molecular Life Sciences (with a major in “Cellular and Molecular Biology”, “Chemical Biology”, “Microbiology/Immunology” or “Plant Physiology and a MSc in “Ecology and Evolution” (including animal and plant sciences). The interdisciplinary MSc in “Climate Sciences” also includes aspects of Biology.
  • The university of Fribourg/Freiburg offers a single MSc in Biology with options in Developmental & Cell Biology, Ecology & Evolution, and Plant Biology
  • The university of Geneva offers a MSc in Biochemistry and a MSc in Biology
  • The university of Lausanne offers a MSc in Biologie, Evolution and Conservation, a MSc in Genomic Sciences and Experimental Biology and a MSc in Medical Biology
  • The university of Neuchâtel offers a MSc in Biology of Parasites, a MSc in Evolutionary Ecology and Ethology, a MSc in Functional Biology, and 2 interdisciplinary MSc in Biogeosciences and in Ethnobiology
  • The university of Zürich offers a MSc in Biochemistry and a MSc in Biology
  • The Federal Institute of Technology EPF Lausanne offers a MSc in Life Science and Technology with several options (starting in 2006)
  • The Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zürich offers a MSc in Biology curricula starting in 2006 will offer specialization in ecology and evolution, neurosciences, microbiology, integrative biology, biotechnology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and biological chemistry. Other MSc will also be offered in the fields of Agriculture, Earth Sciences, Food Science and Environmental Sciences.

All universities offer the possibility to continue the training as a PhD student, supported with additional courses in doctoral schools, which are often linked to the few National Centers of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Frontiers in Genetics (Geneva), Molecular Oncology (Lausanne), Neural Plasticity and Repair (Zürich), Structural Biology (Zürich) and Plant Survival (Neuchâtel). The universities of Western Switzerland also offer a joint 3d cycle courses and lectures.

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