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Department of Economics

10 Years Zurich GSE

This summer, the Zurich Graduate School of Economics (Zurich GSE) celebrates its 10-year anniversary. Zurich GSE is the first choice for a PhD in Economics in continental Europe and sets its students up for a career in academia or research positions in the private sector.

We do not tire of repeating ourselves: If you want to make a real impact and a difference, you should study Economics. Economists create risk analysis, evaluate the effectiveness of economic and social measures, brief politicians and take on advisory functions in companies, banks, public authorities and non-governmental organizations. A Master’s degree in Economics is the best prerequisite to take on tasks that require analytical skills and an understanding of global contexts.

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It’s not over after the Master’s degree
In order to pursue an academic career, whether within academia or in the private sector, a deeper specialization as part of a PhD is required. While structured doctoral programs have been in place for a while in the Anglo-Saxon academic world, they were not even considered an option until the end of the last century in continental European universities. The professorial chair still remains predominant in many European universities, meaning that doctoral students are employed directly by a professor and write their thesis within the area of the chair’s research activities. This proximity to a chair comes with its advantages, but also with a scientific dependency and thematic constraints.
The structured doctoral program the Zurich GSE offers today has a number of advantages: Students are supervised by several professors and thereby gain insights into a broad range of research areas. Research ideas are critically discussed and developed in a multidisciplinary environment. Furthermore, no direct dependency can develop between PhD students and professors or supervisors. This promotes the freedom of research and the scientific development of young researchers.

Department of Economics takes on pioneering role
In 2008, the Faculty of Business, Economics and Informatics and especially the Department of Economics took on a pioneering role within the University of Zurich by designing a completely new curriculum for their doctoral program. The aim was to offer a structured, broad-based and interdisciplinary education, and to make the degree internationally comparable so graduates can enter an international academic career more easily. Not only the academic world benefits from the course being organized according to international standards. By hiring Zurich GSE graduates, non-academic organizations and the private sector can be sure to have an employee with a solid and broad understanding of economic matters, the methodological tools for conducting independent research and experience in conveying their knowledge to others.
The Zurich GSE started in 2009 with nine students. Today, almost 100 PhD students are obtaining an excellent education with research opportunities within the Department as well as abroad. Zurich offers an outstanding infrastructure, multidisciplinary training and the possibility to gain research and teaching experience early on.

Strict criteria and performance orientation
In addition to reviewing applicants’ CVs, records of accomplishments, letters of motivation and academic references, a series of interviews in Zurich decides whether an applicant is accepted into the program. On average 400 applications from across the world are reviewed, but merely 5% are offered a place. During the first two years, students have to pass a number of exams before they devote themselves to their own research.
According to the academic director of the Graduate School, Gregory Crawford, the investment in the Zurich GSE has more than paid off, for the Department as well as for the students «Our graduates receive appointments at top universities or take up positions in organizations in which they can initiate sustainable change».

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Photos: Karin Hofer



Karin Wyss, Head of Graduate Studies, accompanies doctoral students from the entry of their application to the defense of their dissertation.


What makes doctoral program at the Department of Economics so special?
Zurich offers many advantages. We are the strongest Economics Department on the European mainland and believe that the Zurich GSE is on par with the longer established graduate schools found at Anglo-Saxon Economics Departments. In Zurich, multidisciplinary research is not only an option, but actively encouraged. Our students are supervised by professors working at the forefront or their respective research fields. This gives our students a head start to a successful and exciting career.

How do students cope with the pressure?
The training in Zurich is demanding and we expect a lot from our PhD students. Our competitive study program is aimed at ambitious and curious young people with a passion for research. This drive is further fostered by a dynamic of achievement within the class cohorts.  However, it’s not all work and no play. Each class also cultivates friendly exchange and organizes joint leisure activities. Obtaining your PhD is an important time in your life, not only on a professional level, but also in terms of personal development. We would like our students to feel looked after and we are always available if they have any concerns. For example, each student is assigned two mentors, a fellow student from a higher semester as well as a professor as senior mentor. Additionally, there are many other resources and authorities for our students to turn to before problems arise. We take the pressure associated with a PhD very seriously and try to handle it constructively. A doctorate in economics is a marathon. To reach the goal, you not only need talent and commitment, but also a lot of perseverance.

Where do the doctoral students work after their graduation?
Primarily, we prepare our doctoral students for a career in academia, so the majority of our graduates enters the academic job market and takes up post-doc-positions or assistant professorships at universities across the globe. Others choose a career outside of academia. Usually, they take up senior positions in government institutions, central banks, insurance companies, or in the financial sector, where they contribute through their skills and knowledge.

Weiterführende Informationen

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Facts & Figures


Founded: 2009


Nationalities: 30


Current number of students: > 70


Average duration of study: 5 years


Percentage of women: 40%


Students per year: 12-17

Faster does not equal better

While students at Bachelor and Master courses are encouraged to complete their studies quickly, a PhD program in economics can take 5 or 6 years, in some places even 7 years. During this time students gain research experience, establish international collaborations and ideally publish their results in several papers. These three pillars are the decisive requirements for an appointment at a top university.

An education of this duration comes at a price. Thanks to donations from the UBS Center of Economics in Society as well as the Marlene Porsche Foundation the Department can take on more doctoral students and give them the time they need to establish themselves as junior researchers. This would not be possible based solely on funds from the Canton of Zurich.

There are many ways to support young researchers. If you would like to invest in the future and become a part of our Department contact us at