Counselling Centre Universities of Bern

Basic concept and supervision

Now is the time to find or narrow down a topic area and find a doctoral supervisor for your project. Then you can register as a doctoral student at your chosen university.

Finding a topic and drawing up a basic concept

Students who decide to write a dissertation are usually interested in a particular topic area. You now need to outline this area in more concrete terms, narrow it down to a specific topic and then draw up a basic concept that you can use to support your proposal in your search for a supervisor.

Finding a doctoral supervisor

If you are involved in a research project or work as an assistant to a professorial chair, your employer is usually also your doctoral supervisor. You therefore do not have to look for a suitable supervisor.

If this is not the case, however, you need to actively search for a professor who is willing to supervise your dissertation.
You have a great deal of individual freedom when it comes to choosing a doctoral supervisor. The aim is to find a person who is interested in your dissertation topic and can also provide specialist impetus based on his or her own research activities. Your main supervisor must be a member of the faculty in which you intend to complete your PhD and is usually a professor, although lecturers are also sometimes permitted to supervise dissertations. This supervisor must not be associated with the university where you completed your previous studies, but he or she may be working for another university in Switzerland or abroad.

In addition to your main doctoral supervisor, you will also need a co-supervisor. This may be a member of another university or a professional practitioner, but he or she must have a postdoctoral lecturing qualification. You do not need to have a co-supervisor in place right at the start of your doctoral studies; you can wait to find one until your work has progressed further and you are able to schedule a date for completing your degree.

The nature of the dissertation supervision provided is not regulated across the university as a whole. This varies depending on the preferences of individual supervisors and should be discussed and negotiated with them. It is therefore important to clarify your own requirements before deciding on a particular supervisor:

  • What would be my ideal supervision situation?
  • Do I prefer working independently or will I need regular reviews to motivate me to write my dissertation?
  • How important is it to me to discuss things with other doctoral students?
  • Would I be interested in institutionalized opportunities for sharing ideas such as seminars or specialist conferences?

Once you have examined these questions from your own perspective and perhaps discussed them with other students, you will be ready to arrange a meeting with your chosen professor.

In your search for a doctoral supervisor, it is up to you to take the initiative. Most professors are interested in supervising a group of doctoral students, so you will usually find them willing to consider your proposal.