PhD Studies

I (Christian Wüthrich) receive many enquiries concerning the possibility of doing a PhD at the University of Geneva under my supervision—about one every other week on average. In order to facilitate the process, this page offers some information about admission, funding, and the infamous French exam.

(1) The general procedure

First, it is a necessary condition that your intended project falls within my research areas, broadly understood. These are philosophy of physics, philosophy of science, and metaphysics. Second, another necessary condition is that you have an MA degree (or are in the process of obtaining one). Third, I would generally expect that my PhD students write their thesis in English, though exceptionally French may be acceptable. In either case, I expect proficiency in English (oral and written).

If you satisfy these conditions, and are interested in doing a PhD in my group, you may of course informally contact me. In order to fully determine whether I am also interested, I will need your CV (preferably in English), a project description (1-5 pages, preferably in English), a writing sample (necessarily in English, no more than 20 pages please), and (at least two but better) three letters of reference. The writing sample should be a philosophical essay which demonstrates your ability for analytical and hopefully original philosophical work. Ideal is an essay of perhaps 15 pages or so, but if you only have a shorter essay, this may be fine as well. Don’t hesitate to ask if you are uncertain.

Please send these documents except for the letters of recommendation in PDF to me at ‘christian DOT wuthrich AT unige DOT ch’. The letters should be sent directly to me by your letter writers.

If we both decide that you will become my PhD student, you will have to be formally admitted as a PhD student to the University of Geneva. For this, you will have to do some forms for our administration. I will also need to officially inscribe you in the School of Humanities (‘Faculté des lettres’) as doctoral student. For this, I will need a (possibly provisional) title of your PhD thesis and an abstract in French. If you are not a native speaker, I can also have an abstract in English translated. The abstract should be no more than one paragraph long.

(2) Funding

I expect no one to write a PhD thesis on their own dime, though it is in principle an option. If it is not an option for you, here are the main funding sources I am aware of:

  • If you are a Swiss citizen or have an MA degree from a Swiss university, you can apply for a fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation. This is a great funding scheme, but it is competitive. For more information, go here.
  • The Swiss government offers Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars. These are competitive as well, but how much so will largely depend on your country of origin. For more information, go here.
  • For applicants from Germany, you may want to contact the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, as they fund PhD project abroad (i.e., in Switzerland).
  • Like all professors in our department, I have an assistant who is also my PhD student. Assistants generally have to teach discussion sections to the courses I offer and help me with admin work. In general, I expect excellent French for the position. If there is an opening, it will be advertised here.
  • I sometimes have PhD positions as part of my research grants. PhD students on these grants don’t have to teach (though sometimes they do so voluntarily), but their PhD projects have to align well with the scope of the larger research project. If I have an open position in one of these projects, it will also be advertised here.

These are the obvious possibilities. There are of course private foundations, such as the cogito foundation, which may fund a PhD project. I expect that someone who wants to do a PhD with me (and requires funding for it) will actively search for possible ways to fund their PhD. At the end of the day, it is your task to find the funding. Unfortunately, finding the funds to pursue a PhD is far from trivial.

(3) French exam

All PhD students in the School of Humanities at the University of Geneva (who are not native speakers or have a degree from a French-speaking university) have to pass a French exam (usually within a year, though the date can be deferred). This is a short oral exam where you are expected to be able to keep a simple conversation (e.g. about your PhD project) in French. This sounds scarier than it is. So far, all my PhD students who had to take the exam passed it.

(4) Coming from physics

I am regularly contacted by students who have done an MA/Msc degree in physics (or even a PhD) and who wish to do a PhD in philosophy of physics or philosophy of science. This is great, since you will likely already know a lot about the physics or science you will be reflecting on during your PhD (though don’t expect that you are done learning about it!). But students without background in philosophy are nevertheless generally ill-prepared to directly undertake PhD-level research in the philosophy of physics. In this case, it often makes sense to do an MA degree in philosophy/philosophy of science/philosophy of physics. There are many great MA programmes in philosophy of science (including ours in Geneva), let alone in philosophy more broadly (including the recently founded programme in English at USI in Lugano). I am aware of specialist MA programmes in philosophy of physics at Oxford, Bristol, and Columbia.

Regardless of whether you’re coming from physics or from philosophy, you may benefit from Dustin Lazarovici’s thoughts on studying philosophy of physics.