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aprs le doctorat > Western Switzerland > Careers and jobs

Professions and careers within the academic sector

In Switzerland, basic research is carried out in principal at the hautes écoles universitaires (cantonal universities and federal polytechnic schools). However, the hautes écoles spécialisées (specialised vocational universities) focus on applied research and development, as well as the transformation of knowledge into market innovations.

French-speaking Switzerland is home to 5 HEU (including 3 within the Lake Geneva region):
Université de Genève,
Université de Lausanne,
Université de Fribourg,
Université de Neuchâtel
École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Each of the four universities serve their particular canton, while the EPFL is a federal institution.

The HEU provide bachelor’s and master’s degree training courses, and are specialised in numerous research fields. They are the only institutions with the authority to award doctorate degrees, and they collaborate with the cantonal university hospitals.

The postdoc

The postdoc is most common in the natural and technological sciences, but over the past few years it has become more common in the humanities and social sciences. The postdoc profile remains poorly defined. 

The objectives of the postdoc phase are: to carry out personal research projects and specialise in a particular field of study; to publish, to widen one's professional network and create a clearly defined research profile. Postdoc students may also be called upon to carry out teaching and supervisory tasks. One must keep in mind that postdocs vary in pertinence according to the student's specific research field and his/her professional goals. Indeed, the postdoc – especially if extended – can prove a disadvantage for finding a job in the industrial sector.

Postdoctoral funding is principally covered by the FNS (“National Scientific Research Fund”), as well as by European funds. Postdoc positions are always fixed-duration. 

In Switzerland, moving from a postdoc to a professorship is not easy, and is even difficult due to the very hierarchical structure of the HEU. There are few permanent positions besides professorships and it is difficult to become established and move forward in an intermediary position.

The academic career path

The number of professors has grown by 60% since 1990, while the number of postdocs has increased by over 110% over the same period (Source: OFS). This unequal growth can be linked to the growth of outside sources of funding dedicated to encouraging research, superior to the funding of base salaries. 

Most Swiss academic researchers are therefore scientists occupying fixed-duration positions and dependent upon full professors: postdocs, maîtres-assistants (MA), maîtres d’enseignement et de recherche (MER), assistant professors, etc.

These positions are designed to allow their holders to improve their teaching and research skills. The postdoc is not a necessary precondition to be selected for either of these positions. The MA and MER can supervise a thesis (depending upon the rules and regulations of their HEU), but they depend hierarchically upon a full or assistant professor.

These positions are designed to allow their holders to prove themselves as group and research-project heads. They are assigned teaching tasks and generally other tasks and responsibilities comparable to those of a full professor. These positions can be made open to competitive recruitment via fixed-duration tenure track, through a special nomination procedure. The tenure track allows an assistant professor to obtain a permanent professorship.

These positions benefit from permanent-position contracts. Full professors are responsible for research and teaching, and are often involved in university management (directorate, dean, vice dean, etc.). The Swiss Federal Council is seeking to improve the situation of the next generation of scientists. Among the measures currently under consideration are tenure tracks for assistant professorships, and the creation of extended-duration positions accessible to doctorate holders, such as senior scientist, MA and MER positions. Such measures should facilitate young graduates’ pursuance of an academic career, while rendering the academic career more attractive.


The Hautes Ecoles Spécialisées (HES) and Hautes Ecoles Pédagogiques (HEP)

The 27 institutes of the HES for the cantons of Vaud and Geneva are part of the Haute École spécialisée de Suisse occidentale (HES-SO).
These institutes are active in training (bachelor’s and master's degree courses), applied research, technology transfer and further education. 

The main research and training fields of the HES-SO are: design and the visual arts, engineering and architecture, economics and services, music and the performing arts, health, and social work.

Research for the doctoral thesis can be carried out at an HES, but the student must be registered at an HEU (haute école universitaire) and have a thesis director employed by an HEU.

HES instructors very often benefit from professional experience outside academia, such as in the private sector, and/or are familiar with the environment of the region's Swiss businesses (SME).

The hautes écoles pédagogiques (HEP) provide initial training and further education to teachers and instructors at all scholastic levels, as well as carrying out research within the field of education. To pursue a career as a teacher and researcher at an HEP, an intermediary staff member must possess practical professional experience and the necessary academic qualifications (if possible, a doctorate degree).

Doctorate holders represent:
  • Around 62% of professors in the field of agriculture and forestry economics.
  • 58% of professors in chemistry and the life sciences.
  • 48% of professors in applied psychology.

Other professions within the academic sector

Doctorate holders can also be employed as educational advisers, programme coordinators and experts in doctoral training, scientific mediators, research consultants (funding, collaborative projects, etc.), and career centre supervisors.

Private specialised training courses

In addition to the HES and HEU, there exist numerous private schools and universities based in Switzerland that also hire doctorate holders.