Prior to the doctorate
For anyone considering to pursue a doctorate, we recommend not only reading the FAQs dedicated to «before starting the doctorate» but also reading “during the doctorate” and “after the doctorate” (especially in terms of career chances) – as well as reading step 1) at "Registration Doctorate/ Enrollment" to be informed about the formal admission requirements.
Further ways to find information can be found under Links “General Information Doctorate”.
Although a doctoral program follows after a master's program, it is not comparable to it. Here at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Humanities (GSL), the emphasis lies on writing a dissertation (also known as a doctoral thesis). In most subjects, this means writing a monograph. In the Political Sciences, the is also the possibility of writing a "Cumulative Dissertation" (see § 8 in the Guidelines to the PhD Regulations). The writing of the dissertation is embedded in an individually compiled framework of studies in agreement with your first supervisor (see academic achievements).
Those who think that a dissertation is simply a master's thesis of double length are mistaken. The aim of pursuing a doctoral thesis is to increase and apply the skills and knowledge acquired in the master's program with regard to research in a chosen field (see professorships for subject areas) in order to advance the field through an independent research effort.
The type of doctorate suitable for those interested in a doctorate - i.e., in which framework a doctoral program is completed depends significantly on the primary motivation for a doctorate, the desired career path as well as the available opportunities.
To put it more precisely: We strongly recommend that the type of doctorate pursued be adapted to the primary motivation for one's doctoral studies. For example, the chance of an academic career increases if the doctoral program is completed with a close connection to the university. However, if it is clear from the beginning that no academic career is intended, an independent doctorate with employment in a meaningful field of work outside the university, is more suitable.
Here are the most relevant types of doctorates:
A free doctorate means that the doctoral studies are conducted without employment at the University of Lucerne. The only affiliation with the University of Lucerne is the enrollment as a doctoral candidate and the corresponding membership at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences (GSL). How much time is − or can be − put into gainful employment and/or supervisory activities outside of the doctoral program should be discussed with potential primary supervisors (see supervision) from the get-go and renegotiated as life circumstances change.
Doctoral studies at a «Scientific Assistant position»
Scientific Assistants are usually employed directly by a department (i.e. a research area managed by a professorship at an institute). They are involved in research and teaching by the chair (e.g. giving bachelor seminars as well as supervising papers of bachelor students). Furthermore, involvement in internal university committees (e.g. organization of mid-level organizations, committees) is encouraged. Scientific assistants are required to use part of their employment for their own doctoral studies.
There are usually only a few scientific assistant positions per chair. Since these are usually granted for four years, such positions are rarely available in the relevant subject area. These positions are advertised on the job portal of the University of Lucerne.
Doctoral studies within the framework of a third-party funded project
In Switzerland, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is the largest provider of research funding. Under the funding instruments "Projects" and "Programs", advanced researchers (from assistant professorship onwards, i.e. potential first supervisors) can submit applications which include funded doctoral positions for up to 4 years duration.
These positions are not always publicly advertised, as applications are often based on dissertation topics that have already been considered and, in the event of a positive funding decision, are taken on by doctoral candidates who are already known to the applicants. In the case of intensive and long-term contact with a potential first supervisor, it is worthwhile to approach them about the possibility of including the desired dissertation topic in an application to the SNSF. However, it must be taken into account that first supervisors may only have a very limited number of ongoing projects with SNSF funding and thus often do not have the opportunity (or the interest) to submit a further application.
Doc.CH is the only SNSF funding instrument through which doctoral candidates can independently apply for funds to finance their doctoral studies over several years. However, it has been announced that Doc.CH will be suspended as of 2025 (see Multi-Year Program 2025-2028, p. 37).
In addition to the SNF, there are also fully funded doctoral positions in research projects financed by private foundations or EU funds. However, these are extremely rare. Enrolled doctoral candidates as well as doctoral candidates who have already received a commitment from a first supervisor at the University of Lucerne can contact the Universitätsstiftung [University Foundation] and the Research promotion unit for information on funding opportunities.
Double doctorate (cotutelle de thèse)
It is possible to complete a doctorate simultaneously at the University of Lucerne and at a partner university. It should be noted that a double doctorate (also called cotutelle de thèse) involves a considerable amount of additional work for both doctoral candidates and the universities and institutes involved and should therefore be well considered. For each double doctorate, an individually designed cooperation agreement tailored to the respective doctoral project must be negotiated − which often takes months. If you are planning a double doctorate, you must initiate this in the first months of your doctoral studies, since the cooperation agreement must be signed no later than one year after enrollment as a doctoral candidate. Information and guidelines for the double doctorate can be found on the website of the International Relations Office.
During the doctorate
Here are a few "check questions" to ask yourself no later than the beginning of your doctorate, and to revisit from time to time during the doctorate.
Input GSL: It is strongly recommended to familiarize oneself with the official requirements as early as possible, otherwise problems may arise at the latest when completing the doctorate. In particular, refer to the PhD regulations and the guidelines to the PhD regulations, study achievements, choice of second supervision and the possibility of taking a leave of absence.
Input GSL: For offered courses, refer to the direct GSL course opportunities ("Courses and Workshops"/ "Events"); Graduate Academy, Campus Lucerne "Joint PhD Promotion", Digital Skills; as well as the current University of Lucerne course catalog.
Input GSL: It is highly recommended to discuss this question with your first supervisor.
Input GSL: When searching for primary material, be sure to consult your first supervisor as well as advanced researchers in your own research discipline.
Input GSL: Note the difference between primary sources (inquire with subject representatives about commonly used programs apps, e.g. ATLAS.ti) and secondary sources (e.g. Zotero, Citavi - see information on the ZHB website). The ZHB Luzern also offers information on research data management on a regular basis.
Important tip: When using sources, always clarify copy-right issues, in light of a future publication.
Input GSL: There are no requirements in the PhD Regulations and the Guidelines to the PhD Regulations regarding the formatting of the manuscript, only recommendations on the part of the GSL, which can be viewed in the "Information and Sample Pages for Submitting and Publishing Theses".
Another input regarding usable word processing programs: When using Word, we strongly recommend the use of templates, as these make it very easy to revise the layout with regard to publication.
Input GSL: It should be considered whether and to what extent employment, care of family members, etc. are required in addition to the doctoral studies. Please also refer to the information on types of doctorates .
The Office of Equal Opportunity provides information on support services for doctoral candidates with care responsibilities or with special challenges.
Input GSL: Please refer to the Information under “Supervision”
Further FAQ during the doctorate
Please refer to this information on the GSL website.
A physical workstation and safe deposit box can be requested at the ZHB Luzern. More information on the ZHB website.
Please refer to this information on the GSL website.
Yes, you must be enrolled for the semester in which the disputation takes place. After passing the disputation, you can be dis-enrolled.
After the doctorate
Career opportunities after a doctorate?
In a nutshell: A doctoral degree proves that the holder is a recognized researcher in his or her field.
As the list of career paths of GSL alumni and alumnae (see Alumni) shows, a doctorate degree qualifies you for follow-up positions in a wide variety of career fields, both within and outside of universities. In addition to the skills acquired in doctoral studies, the career path is often influenced by the type of doctorate chosen (see above).
Within the academic world (i.e., the world of universities and universities of applied sciences), a doctorate qualifies graduates to apply for advanced positions as researchers. The terms for such positions vary from university to university and from research context to research context. In the humanities and social sciences at Swiss universities, there are usually so-called senior assistantships or post-doctoral positions, which give selected candidates with a doctorate a temporary position (maximum 6 years) at an institute or chair (i.e. research area led by a professor at an institute). Less common are assistant professorships, usually limited to a maximum of 7 years, for which doctoral graduates with excellent grades and usually several years of research activity after the doctorate can apply.
At universities, permanent positions at post-doc level and above are very rare in the humanities and social sciences. In addition to professorships, there are occasional positions as "senior lecturer" or "senior researcher.
At universities of applied sciences, permanent positions at post-doc level and above are more common than at universities. The job titles vary from university of applied sciences to university of applied sciences, so it is important to read the individual job descriptions carefully (e.g., a position as " scientific assistant" can also be open-ended).
It should be considered that pursuing an academic career is usually a challenging path, with an uncertain outcome. For more information on academic career paths, refer to the website of the Swiss Academies of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW) .
A separate career opportunity in the university environment for PhD graduates is the so-called "Third Space". These are exciting positions at the interface between research and administration (hence "Third Space"). Classic examples are coordination positions within research projects or doctoral programs. For more information, see the website of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW).
Outside the academic world, a doctoral degree identifies the holder as qualified to work in positions involving independently conducted research or research-related activities.
In addition to the private sector, institutions within administrations at the cantonal and federal level are frequent employers. In addition to executive positions, there are research associate positions, especially at the federal level (see, for example, Departmental Research at the Federal Government).
The range is vast as can be seen under GSL Alumni and Alumnae. In addition to the choice of subject area for the doctoral program, it is important to consider which professional positions exist alongside the doctoral program for employment outside the academy. Especially for independent doctoral candidates, it is advisable to finance the doctoral studies with jobs that facilitate the entry into the desired professional field after the doctoral studies.